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Sweet Bird of Youth is a 1959 play by Tennessee Williams which tells the story of a drifter, Chance Wayne, who returns to his home town with a faded movie star, Princess Kosmonopolis, hoping she can help him to break into the movies. The main reason he returns to his home town is to get back what he had in his youth; primarily, his old girlfriend, whose father had run him out of town years before.

Contents

Plot

Self-professed to be from the wrong side of the tracks from St. Cloud, Florida, Chance Wayne loves Heavenly Finley, the daughter of wealthy 'Boss' Thomas J. Finley, a corrupt and ruthless politician/evangelist who has a strong belief in chastity and parades his daughter around in a white dress as the perfect virgin, and doesn't like bastards or any one he considers less than around his puppet(Heavenly). Boss Finley entices Chance with the American Dream and fame in Hollywood would let him secure his daughter in order to get Chance to leave town. Chance rolls back into St. Cloud with temperamental and drunken Alexandra Del Lago; She intends to retire because she is embarrassed about her last movie. Chance blackmails Del Lago by a recording in order to get a part in a film, but Chance is distracted by Heavenly and never pursues Del Lago further. Heavenly, who still loves Chance and wants to escape her evil dictator father. Boss Finley wants to run Chance out of town again, but it will be a little more difficult this time if only because of the notoriety of Miss Del Lago.

Production history

Sweet Bird of Youth (film)

original movie poster
Directed by Richard Brooks
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Written by Richard Brooks
Starring Paul Newman
Geraldine Page
Ed Begley
Rip Torn
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) March 21, 1962
Running time 120 minutes

Broadway

The original production was produced on March 10, 1959 by Cheryl Crawford at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City. Directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Sidney Blackmer, Madeleine Sherwood, Diana Hyland, Logan Ramsey, John Napier, and Rip Torn. Bruce Dern also played a small role. The production was nominated for 4 Tony Awards, including Best Actress for Geraldine Page. The play ran for 375 performances.

A revival opened on December 29, 1975 at the Harkness Theatre, in a production directed by Edwin Sherin, starring Christopher Walken as Chance Wayne and Irene Worth as Princess Kosmonopolis. Irene Worth won the 1976 Tony Award for Best Actress.

London

It took 26 years for Sweet Bird of Youth to reach London's West End. It opened on July 8, 1985 at the Haymarket Theatre in a production directed by Harold Pinter and presented by impresario Douglas Urbanski it starred Lauren Bacall and Michael Beck with James Grout. This production later transferred to Los Angeles under the direction of Michael Blakemore.

Film and television adaptations

In 1962, the play was made into a film starring Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight, Madeleine Sherwood, Ed Begley, Rip Torn and Mildred Dunnock. The movie was adapted and directed by Richard Brooks.

It won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ed Begley), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Geraldine Page) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Shirley Knight).

Sweet Bird of Youth was made for television in 1989, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mark Harmon, Valerie Perrine, Ronnie Claire Edwards and Rip Torn. It was adapted by Gavin Lambert and directed by Nicolas Roeg.

The opening scene of the film Death Becomes Her portrays the closing scene of a parody musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth, entitled Songbird! Meryl Streep (as aging film and Broadway star Madeleine Ashton) performs in a song-and-dance number simply titled, "Me." Two disgusted patrons are seen leaving the theatre, one exclaiming: "Can you believe that? A musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth? Who are they kidding?" The other replies, "Thank God you wanted to leave!"

Cultural references

  • "Sweet Bird of Youth" is an album by The Rock*A*Teens.
  • "Sweet Bird of Truth" is a track by the band The The on the album Infected.
  • "Youth of a Thousand Summers" by Van Morrison is based on this play.
  • In the Robert Zemeckis film "Death Becomes Her" (1992), lead character Madeline Ashton is depicted as the star of a Broadway musical adaptation of "Sweet Bird of Youth" called "Songbird!"

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