A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

This play, written by Tennessee Williams, had a major impact on the American Theater, and then on motion pictures. It influenced actors and actresses for many years to come. It is such a powerful story, full of intense emotion and sexuality, it is difficult to watch it without being affected. I know of at least 6 major productions (two in the theater, one in the movies, two television remakes, and one by Andre Previn), and it is almost always being produced in little theater somewhere in the country.

The story centers around three characters. Blanche (a proud, cultured southern belle, at least on the surface) comes to a very poor section of New Orleans to stay with her sister Stella, and Stella's husband Stanley (in contrast to Blanche, he is earthy, and in Blanche's mind, 'common.') But beneath the surface there is in all three characters a sexuality that dictates their actions....they are, in effect, governed by their longings.

But Williams crafted his play so that all the characters are essential to the story, and this is true no matter which version you watch. The story would have been incomplete without Mitch (Poker buddy & Blanche's suitor), Steve (the upstairs neighbor and another poker buddy), Eunice (Steve's wife), or any of the other characters. There is an excellent description of each of the characters at Characters & Setting

Rudy Bond was in three different productions of "A Streetcar Named Desire".

World Premiere

The first, of course, was the Broadway premiere which opened December 3, 1947 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in New York, Directed by Elia Kazan.

Here is the Cast, in order of appearance, as listed in the Playbill. (If the play had been written more currently, the first character would have most likely been listed as "Black Woman".):

NEGRO WOMAN................................GEE GEE JAMES
EUNICE HUBBEL.......................................PEG HILLIAS
STANLEY KOWALSKI...................MARLON BRANDO
HAROLD MITCHELL (MITCH)...........KARL MALDEN
STELLA KOWALSKI.................................KIM HUNTER
STEVE HUBBEL..................................RUDY BOND
BLANCHE DU BOIS...........................JESSICA TANDY
PABLO GONZALES................................NICK DENNIS
A YOUNG COLLECTOR.....................VITO CHRISTI
MEXICAN WOMAN............................EDNA THOMAS
A STRANGE WOMAN..................................ANN DERE
A STRANGE MAN.......................RICHARD GARRICK

We first see Steve near the end of Scene One. Stanley, Steve, and Mitch are talking as they enter the room, so we come in on the middle of a conversation:

Stanley: "Is that how he got it?"
Steve: "Sure that's how he got it. He hit the old weather-bird for 300 bucks on a six-number-ticket."
Mitch: "Don't tell him those things; he'll believe it."

Scene Three, The Poker Night, is one of the most famous from the play, captured in a Thomas Harte Benton painting.

Jessica Tandy's feelings about this painting are rather interesting. Check out Tandy vs. Tennessee.)

I can almost hear Rudy:

Steve [Dealing a hand]: "Seven-card stud. [Telling his joke as he deals.] This ole farmer is out in back of his house sittin' down th'owing corn to the chickens when all at once he hears a loud cackle and this young hen comes lickety split around the side of the house with the rooster right behind her and gaining fast."
Stanley [Impatient with the story]: "Deal!"
Steve: "But when the rooster catches sight of the farmer th'owing the corn he puts on the brakes and lets the hen get away and starts pecking at the corn. And the old farmer says, "Lord God, I hope I never gits that hongry!"

Marlon Brando's performance, as Rudy tells it, was quite rough and unpolished on opening night, but as the weeks progressed, he grew as an actor, until (some would say) he gave the greatest performance ever seen on Broadway. He learned well "The Method", which had been taught at the Actors Studio. The other peformers excelled in their acting, many also using what they had learned at the Actors Studio....but Brando LIVED his part. It was his performance, more than anything else, which inspired many, many actors to take up "The Method".

Roger Ebert has written an excellent review of the movie, but what I'm about to quote is equally true of the effect on the American stage:

"Marlon Brando --- no performance had more influence on modern film acting styles than Brando's work as Stanley Kowalski, Tennessee Williams' rough, smelly, sexually charged hero.

Before this role, there was usually a certain restraint in American movie performances. Actors would portray violent emotions, but you could always sense to some degree a certain modesty that prevented them from displaying their feelings in raw nakedness. Brando held nothing back, and within a few years his was the style that dominated Hollywood movie acting."

Rudy Bond also had discovered "The Method", and you could see it as well in his acting. Over time, Rudy's performances also grew, and the scenes he had with Brando were increasingly more 'alive', more 'real.' Rudy, too, grew to live his part, and forever influenced his future acting career.

Here is a scene from the original Broadway version of the play. Left to right, that's Kim Hunter, Nick Dennis, Marlon Brando and Rudy Bond.

Rudy (as Steve) even had the last words of the play. Sitting at the card table: "This game is seven-card stud."

The Movie

This play was made into a movie in 1951, which included most of the original cast, including Rudy Bond. Jessica Tandy was originally slated to play Blanche again, but the powers that be at Warner Brothers wanted a name....someone with more box-office appeal. At first, it was offered to Olivia De Havilland, but she refused, so then the role was given to Vivien Leigh.

Marlon Brando almost didn't get into the movie. It was at first offered to John Garfield (again, a big box-office name), but he turned it down because he didn't want to be overshadowed by a female lead.

The script had to be re-written, and re-written again, from the original play, to appease the motion picture censors. And even after the film was finished, some of the movie ended up on the cutting room floor, although Director Elia Kazan fought tooth and nail to try and keep everything in. One only has to read the original play to see how the intensity was tuned down quite a bit for the cinema. Yet, in spite of that, the film is still powerful, and has made the top 100 films of all time list for more than one concern.

Even with all that had been cut, when the film was first released, it created quite a firestorm. Critics claimed that it was lewd, obscene, immoral, decadent, vulgar and sinful. (If anything, that only drew more people to see it!)

In 1993, footage was restored to the film that Kazan had never wanted cut. The restored version made much more sense; the characters were more fleshed out, and the story worked even better. But you can easily see why the censors of the early fifties were having conniptions...the restored version is more sexual, more sensual, and much more disturbing (emotionally and perhaps morally, as well.)


This is a quite famous scene from the movie. That's Rudy Bond (Steve) right in the center with the beer bottle in front of him. Marlon Brando (Stanley) is behind him, to his left. The gentleman with his back to the camera is Karl Malden (Mitch). The ladies are, from left to right, Peg Hillias (Eunice), Vivien Leigh (Blanche) and Kim Hunter (Stella).

And here are some additional photos from the film. Because the poker table was such a frequent part of the movie, the next few are more shots of the players:

Eunice has a habit, when she wants the poker game to end, of pouring hot water on her floor so it drips on the players below. This next scene, the players look up because they hear her getting ready to pour the water...and shortly after this shot they grab the table and move it to a different part of the room.

Stanley and Steve carry Blanche's huge trunk into the house:

Steve and Eunice are always fighting, and at one point she tries to run out of the house and he chases after her:

So Steve runs into his downstair's neighbors apartment and asks, "Is she here?":

Stanley loses his temper at Blanche at one point, and the guys drag him to the shower with Steve holding him under the water to cool him off:

These last three are at the end of the movie, when the people come to take Blanche away to a sanitarium:

ANOTHER REVIEW

Here is another review of the movie, including a few pieces of dialog:
http://www.filmsite.org/stre.html

A sad note: Vivien Leigh suffered from bipolar disorder. In her later years she had difficulty in distinguishing her real life from that of Blanche DuBois. Perhaps for her, "The Method" served to blur the line between reality and illusion.

The Revival

In 1956, they decided to do a revival of the play. This time, Rudy played the role of Mitch, while Tallulah Bankhead starred as Blanche DuBois. Frances Heflin* was Stella and Gerald O'Loughlin played the role of Stanley. Other cast members included Vinnette Carroll, Jean Ellyn, Bruno Damon, David Anthony, Lou Gilbert, Sandy Campbell, Edna Thomas (reprising her role), Dorritt Kelton and Bert Bertram. *(Frances Heflin was Van Heflin's sister.)

There were try-outs in Miami and Palm Beach, and then it opened at the New York City Center February 15, closed February 26 after 15 perfomances.

What a lot of people don't know is that Tennessee Williams wrote the part of Blanche DuBois with Tallulah in mind. She gave what many call the finest performance of her career, and even Tennessee Williams was stunned! Unfortunately, the opening night audiences were expecting Tallulah to camp it up, since that is what they had come to expect from her. But she didn't, and her performance was magnificent.

Rudy as Director

For their 1970-71 season, the Chatham Community Players (Chatham, NJ) produced "A Streetcar Named Desire." And Rudy was hired to direct the production! Opening night was February 26, 1971, and it was performed in the Chatham Senior High School Auditorium. Jim Kirkwood played Stanley, Glenie Phillips was Stella, Peter Kerns was Steve, Victor Kuring was Mitch and Rozanne Kuring was Blanche.

STREETCAR TRIVIA

The play takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana. The story opens with Blanche trying to get to the apartment of her sister, and in order to do so, she must board a streetcar that is called "Desire". Mr. Williams did not make the streetcar name up....it was really the name of a streetcar originated by the New Orleans Railway and Light Co. in 1920, and served the bar and nightclub section of the French Quarter along Bourbon Street. If you'd like to find out more about this streetcar, check out Desire Streetcar


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