My original plan was to move from acting to directing icons, until Andy Probst’s entertaining biography of Betty Comden and Adolph Green arrived. See my last post for that article. Now we move on, at least for a time, to influential directors.
Generally speaking, the concept, shape and style of a production comes from the mind of the director. Often, the person who stages an original production puts a personal stamp on it, but every generation discovers new things, both good and bad, especially in classic material. (Compare the Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli’s versions of Romeo and Juliet--they’re vastly different interpretations). These three directors--Arthur Penn, Daniel Mann and Jose Quintero--used their stage work to inform their films, and made an impact on audiences as they inspired others.
Arthur Penn (1920-2010)
If for only one film, Arthur Penn must be considered one of the great directors of the 1960s New Wave (which also gave us Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese and Mike Nichols). Penn was an actors’ director: Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Estelle Parsons all won Oscars under his guidance. Arthur Penn’s first film was The Left-Handed Gun, with Paul Newman as Billy the Kid. Based on a play by Gore Vidal, the film was a failure in America, but a smash hit in France, where it was praised for its formulaic style.
Like many others, Penn trained in television, often directing works by such renowned authors as Horton Foote (The Trip to Bountiful), Jay Allen (Cabaret) and Paddy Chayefsky (Network). One television production, written by William Gibson and starring Teresa Wright, Burl Ives and Patty McCormack would lead Penn to Broadway. Having successfully staged Gibson’s Two for the Seesaw, Penn brought The Miracle Worker, first to Broadway and then to the screen.
Penn’s other stage work included the original productions of Tad Mosel’s All the Way Home, (based on James Agee’s A Death in the Family), Lillian Hellman’s underrated play Toys in the Attic, the thriller Wait Until Dark, a variation of Volpone, retitled Sly Fox and the musical adaptation of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy. Starring Sammy Davis, Jr, a show in need of a revival.
Work on Film: Bonnie and Clyde and Alice’s Restaurant
Of course, it’s their film work for which these directors are remembered. Following the success of The Miracle Worker, Penn directed Warren Beatty in Mickey One and Robert Redford in The Chase. Neither film was successful. Penn’s next project, Bonnie and Clyde set a new standard, changing how gangster films were made, while Theodora Van Runkle’s costumes created a fashion revolution (although she lost the Oscar, which went to Camelot instead). Using Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once as a prototype, and boosting the careers of Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Estelle Parsons and Gene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde is a hip, stylish movie, and one of the greats from the past half-century.
While living in Massachusetts, Penn came across Arlo Guthrie’s story-song, “The Alice’s Restaurant Massacre,” Guthrie’s own account of his father, Woody Guthrie’s death, the opening of the restaurant, and the incidents when he reported to the draft board. Alice’s Restaurant is one of the first movies to address death from drug addiction. It features a memorable funeral sequence set on a hill, snow falling all around while Joni Mitchell sings in the background.
Perhaps as a counterpoint to his earlier western, Little Big Man is a revisionist work, based on Thomas Berger’s novel. Dustin Hoffman plays Jack Crabb, a white man adopted by the Cheyenne. With a cast that features Chief Dan George, Faye Dunaway and Martin Balsam, this epic production builds to the Battle of Little Bighorn. The film has been chosen for preservation by the National Film Registry.
After movies like Night Moves, The Missouri Breaks and Dead of Winter, Penn taught classes at Yale and directed episodes of Law and Order.
His final film was The Portrait, is a TV movie starring Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck and his daughter, Celia. Based on Tina Howe’s play, Painting Churches, it’s a character study of a posh family. It’s one of Peck’s last films as well. Arthur Penn passed on in 2009, the day after his 88th birthday.
Daniel Mann (1912-1991)
I’ve long admired the work of Daniel Mann, a fine director who’s led three women to Oscar wins, and is known for the sensitivity he brings to his projects. Born Daniel Chugerman, he trained at Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse, Mann only directed five Broadway shows, but among them were works by William Inge, Tennessee Williams and Lerner and Loewe.
William Inge and Tennessee Williams
While teaching at Washington University, William Inge wrote Come Back, Little Sheba. A beautiful play, it’s set in a small Midwestern town. Lola Delaney has decided to rent her spare room to an art student named Marie. Marie arouses feelings Doc once had for Lola, which led to alcoholism. His hopes of a medical career were shattered when he was forced into marriage due to pregnancy (and ultimately a miscarriage). Doc has settled for work as a chiropractor. Frustrated, he goes on a bender, leading to hospitalization. Realizing how good he has it, he makes amends with Lola.
The original production starred Shirley Booth and Sidney Blackmer, both of whom won the Tony Award for their performances. Booth repeated her performance on film, costarring with Burt Lancaster, who, while up to the challenge, correctly felt he was wrong for the role of Doc. Along with Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday and Vivien Leigh for A Streetcar Named Desire, Shirley Booth became the third actress in a row to win an Oscar for a role created onstage.
Visitors to Broadway this season will have the opportunity of seeing Marisa Tomei in Tennessee Williams’ lovely, underrated play The Rose Tattoo. Tomei is splendid casting. Set in Louisiana, the story focuses on Serafina, a seamstress whose husband was killed by police during a raid. As time passes, she’s withdrawn into herself, but when her daughter, Rosa rebels, Serafina, too, accepts faces changes, including a new love.
Mann directed Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach onstage. They both earned the Tony, as did the play and Boris Aronson’s set design. However. it’s Mann’s film version that’s truly memorable. Williams wrote the play for the electrifying Italian actress Anna Magnani, whose heartbreaking performance is at the center of Rossellini’s masterpiece, Rome: Open City. Appearing opposite Burt Lancaster and Marisa Pavan, Magnani is a force of nature, for which she was honored with a well-deserved Oscar!
Alan Jay Lerner was fascinated by the history of the California Gold Rush, so, after a short stint in Hollywood where he wrote the screenplays for Royal Wedding and An American in Paris, he teamed with Frederick Loewe for a musical about life in a mining camp during the 1850s. Teaming with designers Oliver Smith, Motley, Peggy Clark and choreographer Agnes de Mille, Paint Your Wagon spent 8 months at the Schubert Theater.
The plot involves Ben Rumson, a surly old man and his daughter, Jennifer. When her father buys Elizabeth, a Mormon woman he plans to marry so his daughter will become refined, Jennifer, in love with Julio Valveras, a Mexican, runs away. The camp becomes a town and the population grows. A year later, Jennifer returns to find everyone planning to move onto another gold claim. Elizabeth has run off with a wealthy man, and Rumson gives his blessing for the marriage of Jennifer and Julio.
With a cast that included James Barton, Olga San Juan, Kay Medford and James Mitchell, Paint Your Wagon was successful, but not a hit. Joshua Logan directed the film version, but very little of the original plot remained, adapted from a treatment by Paddy Chayefsky. Andre Previn, at the time working with Lerner on the musical Coco, wrote some new songs for the movie, but seven songs were retained. Lee Marvin was cast as Rumson, Jean Seberg as Elizabeth and Clint Eastwood played a new character, Pardner. Harve Presnell and Ray Walston were featured. (At a cost of $20 million, the film wasn’t successful).
Mann would later direct Inge’s A Loss of Roses, featuring Carol Haney, Warren Beatty and Betty Field, but it was a failure. The film version, retitled The Stripper, starred Joanne Woodward, Gypsy Rose Lee, Claire Trevor and Richard Beymer was released in 1963, and while largely forgotten, is available on YouTube. This was his final Broadway project.
Mann directed Susan Hayward in her best film role, that of actress Lillian Roth in I’ll Cry Tomorrow. When The Teahouse of the August Moon was brought to the screen, the sexism, racism and political incorrectness was not addressed. In spite of this, it’s a sweet-natured, charming story with Marlon Brando playing Sakini, the Asian leader of a community who convinces the U.S. Army that the school their supposed to build isn’t necessary, and instead they’d really like a teahouse. Costarring Glenn Ford, Eddie Albert and Paul Ford, the film remains delightful. (At the time, Brando was a hot draw at the box office, which is why he was cast as an Asian. Alas such moves are not as much a thing of the past as they should be.)
Paul Muni starred in The Last Angry Man; Elizabeth Taylor won her first Oscar for Butterfield 8 and Mann directed the prestigious American Film Theater production of Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars. He directed James Coburn as the Bondesque Our Man Flint, and Sidney Poitier played the love interest to Abbey Lincoln in For Love of Ivy.
Screenplay by Arthur Miller
An important television production was the last work of Daniel Mann.
The deeply moving story told in Fania Fenelon’s autobiography The Musicians of Auschwitz was adapted by Arthur Miller. Renamed Playing for Time, it’s about a group of women who formed the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz, under the direction of Alma Rose. The film holds nothing back as it explores the abuse the women endured. The all-star cast included Vanessa Redgrave as Fenelon, Jane Alexander as Rose, with Christine Baranski, Marisa Pavan, Verna Bloom, Shirley Knight, Melanie Mayron and Martha Schlamme also giving fine performances.
The film won Emmys as Best Made for Television Movie, Redgrave, Alexander and Miller. It’s an extraordinary achievement, and the greatest jewel in the crown that was Mann’s career. Daniel Mann passed on from heart failure in November 1991.
Jose Quintero (1924-1999)
We should often consider ourselves lucky because of people who were alive in our lifetime. One of those people is Jose Quintero. Working with Theodore Mann he established Circle in the Square Theater in Greenwich Village, which was a leader in the Off-Broadway movement. In 1951, Quintero directed a revival of Summer and Smoke starring Geraldine Page. Thus, he became the nation’s leading expert on Tennessee Williams. Five years later, he staged Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh starring Jason Robards, Jr, and was chosen to direct the premieres of Long Day’s Journey into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten and More Stately Mansions. His revivals of Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, Anna Christie, A Touch of the Poet and Hughie brought these O’Neill works into the modern theatre repertoire. He also staged Williams’ Camino Real, The Seven Descents of Myrtle and Clothes for a Summer Hotel. Circle in the Square continued to do works by Thornton Wilder, George Bernard Shaw, Noel Coward. Quintero staged several operas at the Met.
Teaching and Honors
Quintero taught at the University of Houston, where he has a theater named for him, as well as at Florida State. There’s a theater named for him on West 42nd Street as well. Circle in the Square moved to Broadway in the 1970s, sharing a building that houses the Gershwin Theater. The revival of Oklahoma! is its current tenant.
While Penn and Mann directed many films, Quintero only made one, but the one he made is remarkable. Adapted from Tennessee Williams’ novel and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone is one of the movies that challenged parochial audiences of the early 1960s. It’s major theme is male prostitution, as Warren Beatty romances Vivien Leigh, a widow, who rents a flat in Rome. When his eye strays, Mrs. Stone’s life is shattered. Featuring a remarkable cast that includes Lotte Lenya, Coral Browne and Jill St. John, Quintero’s film skillfully captures the sensitivity and moods of this melancholy tale.
With the help of his partner, advertising executive Nicholas Tsacrios, Quintero overcame his addiction, but was later diagnosed with throat cancer, which led to his death.
Arthur Penn, Daniel Mann and Jose Quintero are indeed influential directors of 20th Century film and theater.