Dec. 3 marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway. Tennessee Williams' landmark drama, which is generally ranked as one of the top three American plays written this century, premiered at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Dec. 3, 1947.
Set in the Old Quarter of New Orleans, the story tells of crude, selfish Stanley Kowalski watching his marriage get thrown out of whack by the arrival of his wife's sister, the faded belle, Blanche Du Bois.
Marlon Brando starred, of course, and he later recreated the role of Stanley in the somewhat sanitized, 1951 Elia Kazan film. Kim Hunter, who played Stanley's beleaguered but sexually connected wife, Stella, also appeared in the film version, as did Karl Malden as Mitch. On film, the part of Blanche Du Bois went to Vivien Leigh, even though Jessica Tandy originated the role on Broadway. In fact, until recently, it was assumed there was no record of Tandy doing the role, apart from still photographs. However, Jane Klain, of the Museum of Television & Radio, wrote to Playbill On-Line to announce that the museum recently discovered a 1955 broadcast of "Omnibus" featuring a lengthy, re-enacted sequence from Streetcar, performed by Tandy and husband Hume Cronyn.
Says Klain, Tandy and Cronyn first discuss the art of acting, then they perform "scenes of courtship from three different plays." Among them is the 18-minute scene between Blanche and Mitch (Cronyn) after their date. Kim Hunter, appearing at a recent NY Public Library (at Lincoln Center) seminar, affirmed that ths was, indeed, the only record of Tandy playing Blanche. Other actresses to take the role included Ann Margret (on television), Jessica Lange in the last Broadway revival, and Laila Robbins in a recent Chicago mounting.
The Ominbus tape may be viewed at The Museum of Television & Radio, 25 West 52 Street. For more information, please call (212) 621-6600.
A Dec. 1 tribute to playwright Williams at the Algonquin Hotel also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Streetcar and featured reminiscences by actors Myriam Cyr and Michael Wright.
Williams would never again match his work on that play, though his later, maligned-at-the-time plays have been receiving numerous and acclaimed revivals. Among those works are Kingdom Of Earth (a revision of The Seven Descents Of Myrtle), The Red Devil Battery Sign and Sweet Bird Of Youth.
-- By David Lefkowitz