a streetcar named desire

Hey, Stella!

On this day in 1947, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire premiered on Broadway. The original production featured Marlon Brando as the rough-and-tough blue collar anti-hero, Stanley Kowalski, a role he reprised in the 1951 film. Williams’ gritty drama would have shocked audiences regardless, but Brando’s masterful performance of the brutish Stanley pushed the envelope enough to shove him into stardom. Brando co-starred with Jessica Tandy, who won a Tony award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois. With the exception of Tandy, much of the theatrical production transferred directly to the silver screen, including Elia Kazan’s direction and cast leads Kim Hunter (Stella) and Karl Malden (Mitch). Vivien Leigh replaced Tandy on screen for the sake of having some star power in the credits, but her unforgettable Blanche won her best actress that year.

I have never seen Streetcar on stage, but I’ve read Williams’ script and have seen the movie many times. I’m a huge Brando fan and I absolutely love this story, I think because it’s not afraid to be ugly. Really, Stanley is a male chauvinist-slash-rapist with serious anger issues, and Blanche is a spoiled, washed-up waif with a freakish past. Somehow, though, Williams captures my interest and even makes me care. I personally think his writing broke a lot of ground in demystifying taboos and loosening censorship codes, though it wouldn’t be considered shocking today. I’d be interested in getting my hands on a special edition DVD of Streetcar that includes some stills or a bio on the production.

Happy Birthday, Elia Kazan

Happy birthday to the very talented Elia Kazan, 9/7/1909 – 9/23/2003.

Kazan was born in Greece and immigrated to America with his parents. He studied drama at Yale before going on to work as an actor, director and writer. In addition to founding the Actor’s Studio, the same Actor’s Studio that James Lipton is “inside,” he directed a number of famousĀ films, including my favorites A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Splendor in the Grass and East of Eden. These films alone launched or established the careers of Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, James Dean, Eva Marie Saint, Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood.

In his Actor’s Studio, Kazan promoted the Method, a style of acting that encourages complete immersion of the actor into character. To me, watching Marlon Brando in Streetcar for the first time must have beenĀ like seeing Elvis or hearing Nirvana for the first time–it’s just not like anything before it, but it changed everything after it.

I know and appreciate Kazan’s work in film, but he also had a huge impact on the theater and acting as a whole. He was interested in exploring social justice and controversial issues in his work, but his focus on acting and portraying realness are what set him apart.