From Bestseller to Broadway: A History of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

By Robert Simonson
19 Jan 2014

James Franco
James Franco
Photo by ABC

A revival of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men begins previews March 19 on Broadway. Playbill.com offers a look at the play's history, describing how the novel came to be adapted and how it was received by audiences after its 1937 Broadway debut, as well as what now-popular classic it bested in the annual awards. 

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Of the many novels by John Steinbeck that have been brought to the screen or stage, his 1937 work Of Mice and Men has proved an enduring favorite. The reasons for this are arguably twofold. First, the story of two itinerant farm workers looking for work in California is less attached to the social politics of the time in which the story is set, as is often the case in other Steinbeck works such as The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl. In other words, the story is less dated; it's a tale of people more than grand themes.

More importantly, however — in terms of the title's producibility — is the allure of the two leading roles to actors. Since the book came out, the parts of smart, protective George and his large, dim-witted friend Lennie have been catnip to performers. It is no wonder that the book was adapted for the stage the same year it was released, and was made into a film just two years later.



The show will return to Broadway for its third visit in 2014 with James Franco playing George and Chris O'Dowd playing Lennie. Performances begin March 19 at the Longacre Theatre.

The 1937 Broadway stage production of Of Mice and Men was written by Steinbeck himself — the first stage work to reach Broadway, as well as the first Steinbeck story to be mounted there. The book, in fact, was written by Steinbeck as a kind of hybrid between a novel and a play, with the story divided into three acts consisting of two chapters each, and was intended to work both as a literary and theatrical text. (Steinbeck would attempt a similar thing with his later works The Moon Is Down and Burning Bright, both of which would also play on Broadway.)

The Broadway production was backed by a team of seasoned pros. It was produced by Sam H. Harris, the onetime producing partner of George M. Cohan, and staged by playwright-director George S. Kaufman. The cast included Wallace Ford, an English-born actor with numerous stage and film credits, as George and Broderick Crawford, then an unknown, as Lennie. Crawford would go on the Hollywood fame as the Oscar-winning star of "All the King's Men" and "Born Yesterday." Sam Byrd played the taunting Curley, Claire Luce was Curley's flirtatious wife, Will Geer was cast as the kindly Slim and Leigh Whipper — the first African-American member of Actors' Equity Association — played Crooks.

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