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REVIEW-ESSAY WILL BRANTLEY Middle Tennessee State University From Streetcar. to Boom!: Tennessee Williams on Screen Hollywood’s Tennessee: The Williams Films and Postwar America, by R. Barton Palmer and William Robert Bray. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009. xvi, 353 pp. $30.00 paper. INTHEYEARSTHATFOLLOWEDWORLDWARII,HOLLYWOODFOUNDITSELF in a predicament it had not anticipated. The popularity of suburban living, the Supreme Court’s 1948 decision to dismantle vertical integration (which had enabled the industry to control the means of production and distribution as well as exhibition), and the increasing competition of television forced industry executives to find new ways to lure ticket buyers back to the cinema. Biblical epics and blockbusters were one way to do this; social problem films with content more risqué than that of television programming was another. Still another way to reach viewers was the adult drama of Tennessee Williams. In Hollywood’s Tennessee: The Williams Films and Postwar America, R. Barton Palmer and William Robert Bray provide a full assessment of Williams’s often rocky relationship with the medium that brought his work to more viewers than would have been possible had his plays been confined to Broadway productions and regional revivals. Williams knew from early on the value of cinematic adaptation—its financial rewards and its ability to increase the popularity of his work —and he soon came to know something about its liabilities. Although much of his writing seemed inherently “cinematic,” Williams often chafed at the compromises he had to make with studio bosses, with other writers assigned to his projects, and with both official and unofficial censors. With fifteen plays produced on Broadway between 1945 and 1961, Williams became one of the most adapted writers in the American literary canon, but he never had complete autonomy on any of the productions based on his plays. The fact that he worked with relative 322 Will Brantley freedom on the screenplay for Boom! helps to explain why he valued this project even though it was a critical and commercial failure. Palmer and Bray draw on a wide range of sources to illustrate the topic at hand, be it a biographical detail such as Williams’ psychotherapy with Lawrence Kubie and its relevance to the play and film of Suddenly, Last Summer, the poster art for various productions (most crucially that of Baby Doll, which appears on the cover of their very handsome book), or historical facts such as the number of movie receipts in 1946 as opposed to the number of theatres that had been forced to close by 1963. The two authors have scoured every open repository, and their book is enriched by its many citations of letters to and from people within Williams’s orbit. An example is this caustic note from Jack Warner regarding his studio’s adaptation of The Glass Menagerie: Am surprised at Tennessee. He should be thankful that anybody would have brought this property to the screen and made as an important picture out of it as has been done. . . . These temperamental derelicts who get rich on the efforts of others after they create something should offer prayers of thanks instead of finding fault with producers, studios, directors, cameramen. Am not interested in any form shape or manner with his being indignant. (58) Jack Warner’s legendary temper aside, this message suggests something of what Williams was up against as he watched his plays metamorphose into films. The Glass Menagerie (1950), directed by Irving Rapper, is the first of the adaptations covered in Hollywood’s Tennessee, and it is the film that initiated Williams into the collaborative nature of Hollywood filmmaking. Warner Brothers saw Williams’s breakthrough play as the basis for “a different kind of woman’s picture” (Palmer and Bray’s subtitle for their chapter on this film) but not one that could forgo an upbeat ending. Scriptwriter Peter Berneis insisted that the film show exactly how “a bitter experience can prepare a soul for a new life” (52). After publicly expressing his displeasure with the new ending, Williams found himself issuing a mea culpa: Of course the stage and screen are two different media and it is always a mistake to try to transfer a story...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 321-326
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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