1. Who Is Tennessee Williams?
According to The American Masters (1999) website Tennessee Williams was born as Lanier Williams from Columbus, Mississippi on an undisclosed date in the year 1911. A happy and carefree young man, he was born to a shoe company executive and Southern belle in a highly loving and secure environment. His family moved to St. Louis, Missouri later on, causing the young man to grow inward and write because he felt a lack of satisfaction in life (The American Masters).
He was considered to be one of the best and brightest playwrights of his generation, producing such unforgettable plays like a Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, and The Rose Tattoo. His huge popularity stemmed from his risk taking in the stories that he wrote and controversial use of explosive dialogues and topics like infidelity, impotence, alcoholism, and unhappy marriages.
In fact, critics were his stage plays were “… simultaneously praised and denounced for addressing raw subject matter in a straightforward realistic way. ” (The American Masters).
Just like all highly prolific writers, he was a troubled soul who turned to alcohol and drugs in order to try and find a sense of purpose in his life. He died in a New York City hotel in 1973, surrounded by half open bottles of hard drinks and bottles of pills. (The American Masters).
2. The Rose Tattoo – The Stage Play
Tennessee Williams wrote and informally staged The Rose Tattoo in 1950’s Chicago. The New York Broadway premiere took place the next year to critical and audience acclaim. Considered to be the least emotionally drenching of his stage plays, it is believed that Mr. Williams dedicated this particular play to his sister Rose and Frank Merlo. (eNotes: The Rose Tattoo).
The original stage play cast Maureen Stapleton and Elli Wallach in the roles of Serafina Delle Rose and Alvaro Mangiacavallio respectively. (IBDB: The Official Source For Broadway Information)
The central character of the play is Serafina Delle Rose. A woman of boastful pride whose life is turned upside down by the death of her husband Rosario. Rosario is killed by police while committing the crime of smuggling.
Serafina who is pregnant at the time miscarries their second child and is left only with her daughter Rosario. As Serafina heads into a downward spiral over the years, she tries her best to manipulate her daughters life into becoming similar to hers. But Rosario manages to escape her clutches and she learns that her husband was unfaithful to her during his lifetime.
The main point of the story is the importance of and the lessons that can be taken from having humility in ones life. As a mixed genre play, it borrows elements from ancient Greek tragedies, Greco-Roman celebrations, and comedic elements (eNotes: The Rose Tattoo). The Broadway play opened at the Martin Beck Theater on February 3, 1951 and closed on October 27, 1951 after 306 performances (IBDB: The Official Source For Broadway Information).
Maureen Stapleton who was born on June 21, 1925, actually took over the role of Serafina from Anna Magnani, the original choice of Tennessee Williams for the role, because Ms. Magnani did not have a good grasp of the English language and refused to do the role on Broadway. So Ms. Stapleton, who is of Irish Catholic origin took on the role to critical acclaim. (Maureen Stapeleton: Imdb.com) She also participated in another Tennessee Williams stage play, she appeared in “Orpheus Descending” as Lady Torrance.
She won the Tony Award for Featured Actress in 1951 for The Rose Tattoo. Her prolific career spanned quite an impressive number of decades, having appeared in various movie and television roles in both major and supporting roles until 2006. Maureen Stapleton is best known as Mama Mae Peterson from the movie Bye Bye Birdie. Her last film appearance was as Mrs. Lundt in Living and Dining. Ms. Stapleton died on March 13, 2006 at the age of 80 (Maureen Stapleton: Imdb.com)
Elli Wallach was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 1, 1915 as Eli Herschel Wallach. Known as one of the true method actors of his time, he worked on the Broadway stage for over 30 years. His stage training was completed at The Actors Studio and Neighborhood Playhouse.
He was cast as Alvaro Mangiacavallo in The Rose Tattoo in 1951 for which he also won the Tony Award that year. He is still currently living with his long time wife Anne Jackson with whom he has 3 children. In 2005 he published his memoir entitled “The Good, The Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage”. He continues to remain active in both film and television work. His latest film appearance was as Julie Steinhardt in Wall Street: The Money Never Sleeps back in 2010. (Elli Wallach: Imdb.com)
3. The Rose Tattoo – The Film Version
The film rights to The Rose Tattoo were acquired by Paramount Pictures and was subsequently turned into a motion picture in 1955. The film cast Burt Lancaster in the role of of Alvaro Mangiacavallo and Anna Magnani, in the role of Serafina. Ms. Magnani was the original choice of Tennessee Williams for the original Broadway stage play but she declined the role as she had a difficult time speaking in English at the time and felt she would not be able to do the role justice.
Luckily for the film producers, she had already improved in her grasp of the English language by the time the cameras began rolling on the film version so she was finally able to portray the role. The film was directed by Daniel Mann from a screenplay by Tennessee Williams, as adapted by Hal Kanter. (The Rose Tattoo: Imdb.com)
The Rose Tattoo was one of the most multi-awarded films of 1956. Anna Magnani swept the Best Actress categories at the Oscars, BAFTA, Golden Globes, National Board Of Review, and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. The film also won the major Oscar categories Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography for that year. (The Rose Tattoo: Imdb.com)
Anna Magnani, who surname is pronounced as mahn-YANEE was born in March 7, 1908 in Rome, Italy as an illegitimate child of Marina Casadei and Francesco Magnani.
Raised by her grandmother in poverty stricken surroundings, she was a self supporting student who completed her education at the Elenora Duse Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome. Supporting herself by singing in various cabarets and clubs earned her the monicker “The Italian Edith Piaf”. Known as the “perennial toast of Rome, she was once described by drama critic Harold Clurman as having a volcanic acting talent. (Anna Magnani: Imdb.com)
Discovered by Italian film maker Goffredo Alessandrini in 1933, he gave her her first big break in the film La Cieca di Sorrento 9The Blind Man Of Sorrento) in 1934. Having met and impressed Tennessee Williams later in her life, he wrote The Rose Tattoo specifically with her in mind for the title role.
It was his full intention that she star in the original Broadway version but she declined to do so due to language issues. In 1955, the film became her first and most marked English speaking role. It was the role that would earn her a place amongst the greatest and enduring Hollywood talents as she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Serafina, the proud and boastful wife in the film. (Anna Magnani: imdb.com)
So drawn was Mr. Tennessee to this actress that he actually based the character of Serafina on Ms. Magnani and insisted that she be cast in the movie role after she had turned him down a few years before for the same role in the stage version. He described her acting ability as an:
… unconventional a woman as I have known in or out of my professional world, and if you understand me at all, you must know that in this statement I am making my personal estimate of her honesty, which I feel was complete.
She never exhibited any lack of self-assurance, any timidity in her relations with that society outside of whose conventions she quite publicly existed…. [s]he looked absolutely straight into the eyes of whomever she confronted and during that golden time in which we were dear friends, I never heard a false word from her mouth. (New York Times Review: Movies)
She was a highly active actress working in both the Italian and American cinema until 1972 when she was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. She died on September 26, 1973 at the age of 65. She was laid to rest at the Rosellini family vault having counted director Roberto Rosellini as one of her ex-boyfriends and lifetime friends. (Anna Magnani: imdb.com)
Burt Lancaster was born Burton Stephen Lancaster on November 23, 1913. Known for his tough guy image in films, he is regarded as one of the best actors of his generation. He was known to be an acrobat enthusiast and often did acrobatics to keep him in shape during shooting breaks, this is because Mr. Lancaster was once a member of a circus troupe.
He appeared in mostly manly films such as From Here To Eternity , The Cassandra Crossing, and Seven Days in May. He was the first leading man to appear with Anna Magnani in The Rose Tattoo, which, although a big name feature film for the award winning international actress, is actually one of Mr. Lancaster’s lesser known movie works. He died on October 20, 1994 at the age of 80 from natural causes. (Burt Lancaster: Imdb.com)
4. Why Was There An Intellectual Revolt Regarding The Rose Tattoo?
Tennessee Williams plays were known as the envelope pushers of its time. He was constantly testing the limits of public morals and the censors with his sexual overtones and intriguing dialogue. He normally got away with doing these kinds of things in his stage plays but it seems that for one particular group of English people, The Rose Tattoo finally went one innuendo too far.
The Rose Tattoo opened at the Pike Theatre in Dublin Ireland on May 12, 1957 with Anna Manahan in the title role. The play itself was well received by the theater-goers and was doing pretty well in terms of theater attendance and box office receipts. It was to be a short run however.
The director of the play, Alan Simpson was arrested by the police due to reports from some sectors of society regarding inappropriate scenes in the play. It was only one scene in The Rose Tattoo that was in question but the authorities thought it best to have the play shut down on grounds of decency. (The Pornographer Who Invented Wanderley Dragon).
Mr. Williams had written a scene that required the actor to insinuate that he had dropped a condom onto the floor. Technically, the condom fell out of the actors pocket.
The scene was not explicitly shown in the other theater showings of the play but in this presentation, director Simpson decided to actually show the scene even though he knew that it would cause a world of trouble for the production. (The Pornographer Who Invented Wanderley Dragon). It was that one act of censorship defiance that started the intellectual revolt regarding the closing of the play. According to the police report from that fateful day:
It had been brought to the attention of the police, read the document, that the play being produced that evening contained “objectionable passages”. These passages were to be removed if the performance was to proceed. If the play went ahead without cuts, Simpson and the co-owner of the theatre, Carolyn Swift (also his wife), would be liable for prosecution. The Inspector would not identify what passages were to be removed, and Simpson and Swift went ahead with the performance.(The Pornographer Who Invented Wanderley Dragon)
This was a revolt that was backed by the likes of noted playwrights Samuel Beckett, Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan. So unjust and without legal basis was the closing down of the play that the presiding judge himself, Justice O’Flynn found himself declaring that their only objective was to close down the play which is why the director was arrested. There were no real charges that could be brought forth upon the theater or the plays producers at the time.
The belief of the police at the time was that the play was sex-obsessed and therefore was not fit for public performance. In actuality, the play was caught between a power struggle between the church and the state. It was the events surrounding this highly publicized international incident that became the basis of the book The Pornographer Who Invented Wanderley Dragon.
5. Current Stage Portrayals Of The Rose Tattoo
Like all the other plays of Tennessee Williams, The Rose Tattoo is considered to be one of the classic American stage plays. That is why it continues to be in production across the states and internationally today. The Huntington Theater Company is running the stage play from May 14 – June 13. It stars Andrea Martin and Dominic Fumusa in the lead roles ( What Happened In Boston Willie).
The Manoel Theater began staging the play on May 20, 2011 as part of the centenary birthday celebration of Tennessee Williams and the 60th anniversary of the Broadway play. (Celebrating Tennessee Williams With A Rose Tattoo). Nyack’s Elmwood Playhouse raised the curtains on their current production of The Rose Tattoo on May 21 and it will be running through till June 21. The lead roles are portrayed by Robin Peck and Andrew Lionetti under the direction of Jackie Poquette.
Having this many current theater production open all at the same time more than attests to the timelessness of the romantic and human interest story being portrayed in The Rose Tattoo.
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“Elmwood Playhouse’s production of The Rose Tattoo.” Nyack – PiermontPatch. 20 May 2011. Web 31 May 2011.
“Maureen Stapleton”. Imdb.com.imdb.com. n.d. Web. 30 May 2011.
“Tennessee Williams”. The American Masters. PBS. 8 February 1999. Web. 29 May 2011.
“The Pornographer Who Invented Wanderley Wagon”. Murphy, Colin. 15 February 2010. Web. 29 may 2011.
“The Rose Tattoo”. IBDB. The Internet Broadway Database. n.d. Web. 30 May 2011.
“The Rose Tattoo”. Dir. Daniel Mann. Perf. Anna Magnani, Burt Lancaster. Paramount Pictures. 1955.
“The Rose Tattoo”. Crowther, Bosley. New York Times: Movies. 13 December 1955. Web. 30 May 2011.
“The Rose Tattoo.” eNotes.com. n.d. Web. 31 May 2011.
“What Happened In Boston Willie”. Rossi, Carl A. n.d. Web 31 May 2011.