PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Glass Menagerie — Reflections in a Golden Era

By Harry Haun
27 Sep 2013

Brian J. Smith
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The new Menagerie started taking shape after the first of the new year in Boston (specifically, at what has become known as Diane Paulus' "Tony plant" in Cambridge, The American Repertory Theatre), and a more apt starting point would be hard for Quinto to imagine. "Tennessee spent a lot of time at Harvard and has a long history with that part of the country and that university," he carefully pointed out. "He has his archives there so we were able to go in there and literally hold his notebooks and look at his photo albums and really connect with him."

This was also the city where The Glass Menagerie almost came to an abrupt and emphatic end. "There's a great story about Tennessee spending the night in some guy's dorm up there. As legend has it, he kinda made a move on this guy, who really wasn't reciprocating so there was a hasty exit from the dorm room where he ended up leaving his Menagerie manuscript, and he was notorious for having just one copy of his plays and never getting any extra copies of them, never saving copies of them. He left that one and only copy of The Glass Menagerie in this kid's dorm room, but luckily the kid had enough respect for Tennessee to send it back to him."

The next glimmer of The Glass Menagerie as drama was not as a play but as a screenplay titled The Gentleman Caller. Around 1943-44, Williams prepared a few drafts of it for MGM, envisioning Ethel Barrymore (who had just switched her career focus from stage to screen) as Amanda and Judy Garland (then searching for some serious, non-singing roles) as Laura. Unfortunately, Louis B. Mayer, was adamant the daughter would be filled by his personal pet, Greer Garson, British accent and all.

"It almost went into production," Quinto recounted, "but then it got diverted into turnaround — thank God! — because, if it hadn't, it would never have been a play. It's a masterpiece of a play. Although he won Pulitzer Prizes for other works, they were — alongside The Glass Menagerie — less distilled versions of himself." (Its 1945 Pulitzer was, instead, pinned on Mary Chase's six-foot-tall invisible rabbit, Harvey).

When the movie did come out five years later with Gertrude Lawrence (miscast in her final film), Jane Wyman, Kirk Douglas and the only actor Williams approved of, Arthur Kennedy, it was painfully unremarkable. Orson Welles had lobbied to direct a cast of unknowns — to no avail; instead it was directed by Irving Rapper, whose claim to fame is that he directed "Now, Voyager"  — and tried to talk Paul Henreid out of his classic two-cigarettes-at-once routine. Tallulah Bankhead got tested for Amanda, and, although Rapper thought her the greatest Amanda he'd ever seen, Jack Warner nixed the notion because he'd had enough drunken-star worries with Errol Flynn.

The play didn't get its justice done on screen until 1987 when Paul Newman helmed a version with Joanne Woodward, Karen Allen, John Malkovich and James Naughton.

The starry, starry opening glittered with Shea Arender, Teddy Bergman, Sandra Bernhard, Eric Bogosian, JC Chandor, Adam Chanler-Berat, John Ellison Conlee, Tyne Daly, Dana Delany, Colin Donnell, Harvey Fierstein, Brian Gallagher, Jeff Goldblum, Carla Gugino, Kate Jennings Grant, Mamie Gummer, Jessica Hecht, David Henry Hwang, Megan Hilty, Doug Hughes, Marin Ireland, Adam Kantor, Moises Kaufman, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Tony Kushner, Scott Landis, Caissie Levy, Pam MacKinnon, Kathleen Marshall, Michael Mayer, Andrew McCarthy, Cristin Milioti, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leonard Nimoy, Susan Bay Nimoy, Marsha Norman, Steven Pasquale, Diane Paulus, Parker Posey, Sarah Saltzberg, Will Swenson, Richard Thomas, Randy Weiner, Betsy Wolfe and BD Wong.