This is a extended version of a lecture I recently delivered at an international conference in Perth, Western Australia, for the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance. It was an absolutely terrific conference with many excellent teachers and speakers. What was one of the most exciting aspects of this conference, however, was the many students from WAPPA, VCA, Federal and others institutions. Their openness, courtesy, bravery, intelligence and imaginations were inspirational to be amongst – thank you.
‘I Know A Dark Secluded Place’ – WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH?
SECRETS & SEX – THE PAJAMA GAME & AMERICAN DRAMA 1949-1954
THE AGE OF McCARTHYISM, HUAC, and THE KINSEY REPORTS.
The years 1949-1954 are truly extraordinary in regard to American drama. The range and diversity, depth and breadth, audacity, grace and sheer brilliance marks this brief period as one of the greatest periods of American drama in theatre and film. To begin with 1949, which saw the premiere of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, one of the most popular works of the American Musical Theatre. At the other end of this five-year period is The Pajama Game, which opened in May 1954. These two works are masterworks in themselves, exemplified by their continued popularity and constant revivals either professionally or in amateur and student productions. It is, however, difficult for young people with their eyes firmly fixated on the modern, contemporary and relevant, to fully appreciate how truly extraordinary these works were (and still are), and how they stand as representative of the times in which they were created.
My argument is one that could be labelled ‘old-fashioned’, or even ‘classicist’. Through a particular method of ‘Research and Analysis’, which I use in my private studies as well as teaching, I intend to focus on the American drama of this period, and particularly The Pajama Game, in a way that will hopefully illuminate as well as enlighten its delicate almost subversive position. The first part of the lecture is devoted to the method I use in regard to ‘Research and Analysis’, the second part provides a somewhat lengthy overview of American Drama 1949-1954, and finally, the third part focuses on The Pajama Game – in the Age of McCarthyism, HUAC and The Kinsey Report.
Part 1: Research and Analysis
To many students ‘Research and Analysis’ can bring forth a shudder with the thought of long hours in a library and/or on the internet, endeavouring to find something that may enthuse or excite them about some dusty old classic that they are being made to write about as part of their coursework. Yes – it’s true. It is something you need to do, and should want to do, but it does require commitment, dedication and concentration.
The purpose of ‘Research and Analysis’, however, is relatively simple. Following the teaching of Constantine Stanislavsky, it is necessary to help unlock the door of ones imagination and creativity, as well as reveal the core or spiritual essence of the play. Furthermore, through stimulating your creative imagination it gives you the possibility of genuinely contributing in-depth knowledge to the creative process, allowing your opinions to have some gravitas and weight and meaning rather than superficial knee-jerk emotional responses. It also has the potential to provide wonderful insights and creative choices in regard to characterisation and a great entry-point into an imaginative world that is not like one’s own present reality. The dragging down influence of ‘relevance’, making everything have a value of immediate worth, otherwise it is useless, is far to censorious to me, and demeans not only the originality of the work, but also the potential creativity of the student.
The notable and successful actors whom it has been my good fortune to know and/or train, and there have been many, including Ms Blanchett and Ms Kidman (amongst numerous others), all have this one thing in common – a passionate dedication to research and analysis. However, this process does require guidance and limitations. You can do too much. One golden rule is that any research needs to be of value and significance to the actual creative process, otherwise, interesting though something may be, it is actually of little consequence – don’t do unnecessary research.
My method in regard to doing ‘Research and Analysis’ is based on six simple questions that can be applied to any text. These five questions help to provide a structure to your research and analysis of any given text.
1. Who is the author(s)? – The Artistic Identity
2. Why did he, she, or they write this piece? – The Motivation
3. What were the times like? – The historical context
4. What is the story? – The sequence of Events
5. What is the piece about? – Theme
6. Are there any modern or classical equivalents? – The Imaginative Web
This paper is primarily associated with the third question. Nonetheless, let me briefly state what each question is actually about.
1. Who is the author(s)? – this is associated with articulating the ‘Artistic Identity’ of a particular writer or writers. By ‘artistic identity’ this is beyond the dry facts of an individual’s life, which is generally easily available and accessible. To help clarify this and the term ‘Artistic Identity’ ask yourself – what do you mean when your say a work, or a person is ‘Shakespearean’? What do you mean when you say something is ‘Chekhovian’?, ‘Chaplinesque’?, ‘Capraesque’?,’Cartoonesque’?, ‘Disneyfied’?, or any other generalised term that signifies a type of artistic genre. These are supposedly descriptors of an ‘Artistic Identity’, but what is your actual definition and opinion?
One way of establishing an ‘artistic identity’ is to look closely at the three ‘T’s’ – What is this artists’ actual Talent, Technique and Temperament? What is their unique skill, vision, methods, obsessions and personality? Look at their body of work and give that pre-eminence over any biographical fact. As T.S. Eliot correctly observed in regard to Shakespeare, poetry and poets in general, it is a mistake to think that Shakespeare personally experienced everything that is within either his Sonnets and plays – he did not; what is far more important is the power of his imagination, and how he turned ‘shadows’ into ‘substance’, giving ‘airy nothings’ a ‘habitation and a home’.
2. Why did he, she, the piece? – this may have many answers of course, and could be related to the biographical facts, as well as to the authors’ Temperament. A playwright such as Berthold Brecht, or David Hare and Howard Brenton may have definite socio-political triggers that spured them to write. Oscar Wilde believed that no great art exists without being triggered by a sense of out-rage, and Harold Bloom’s controversial theory about ‘mis-prisonment’ and ‘the anxiety of influence’ being the actual trigger for creativity, are examples of possible answers to this question. There is also the very pragmatic answer, one that reflects Calvin Coolidge’s comment about ‘What is the chief business of the American people? Business’, i.e. Money. Playwrights, screen-writers, composers etc., need to eat and pay rent and bills, as much as anybody else – they need money. Shocking though this may sound, but even the mighty Shakespeare wrote to make money; that he was highly successful is evident from his rise from being a poor son of a Warwickshire glover to a relatively prosperous owner of land and property in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, primarily through his play-writing and membership of the Chamberlain-King’s Men from 1594-1612. As I have mentioned before, in regards to my own work, I do somewhat flippantly state ‘I don’t do “Art” – I do “Show-Biz”!’ The ‘Show’ may be the art, but the ‘Biz’ is the pragmatic self exerting itself – I need to make money in order to have a life, and in order to make ‘art’.
3. What were the times like – the historical context? – is the subject matter for the second part of this paper, so I wont spend too much on it now. Suffice to say that each work of art exists within a particular historical context, and, as I will later elaborate, may be extremely representative of its time. This does not negate a works universality or even contemporary relevance, on the contrary it can enhance it and give greater depth and meaning and complexity. It also allows for an exploration into the details of social manners of a particular time that can be used on-stage and in performance. Why don’t you explore these following matters and how they help to illuminate certain late nineteenth-century plays by Ibsen, Chekhov and/or Wilde – what is the importance of calling cards? When one went calling on another person, how long were you expected to stay? What did you wear? Gloves? Underwear? Men as well as women wore corsets – how did that change and influence body language and physical expression, such as crossing the legs? Go and find out.
4. What is the story? – this is the sequence of events. E.M. Forster makes this distinction between ‘story’ and ‘plot’. The ‘story’ is the sequence of events, the bare skeleton, whereas the ‘plot’ provides the psychological depth and detailed context of the ‘story’, such as motivation and the actual ‘given circumstances’ for each section, chapter, and/or scene.
How do we tell a story? Listen very carefully how you and others relate the story of a play or film or even a personal experience. Invariably, most of narrative description will be precise and economical in the use of words. Primarily the event or experience will be related through the usage of verbs. Certain lines and statements may be remembered, but the story will mainly be told through physical actions.
As an exercise, as well as professional practice, I encourage you, when starting to prepare for a rehearsal period, write down the sequence of events. Do it in dot form – and see if you can write it all down in one page. Put in the ‘Given Circumstances’ and just what happens in the scene. Do not add motivations and justifications, but concentrate on the physical action. For example – Shakespeare’s Macbeth Act 1 Sc. 1 – Three witches meet on a heath in Scotland, and resolve to come together again when the battle is done and meet Macbeth – then and cast a spell.
5. What is the piece about? – This is perhaps the most important question to answer. Why? Because once answered and agreed upon by the creative ensemble it helps to provide a central focus and a means to ensure that everyone is contributing and belonging in the same imaginative world of the play. It is a pet-hate of mine to go and see a play or musical and not all the actors are in the same imaginative world, evident in their acting – some are in melodrama and others are in Chekhov (arguably sometimes the same thing – but that is another essay).
What I don’t want here is the story-line or plot of the piece. That is something different – also important – but different. What is required here is an opinion, preferably one that is simple and economical and can be articulated in one word, phrase or single sentence.This question demands you have an opinion, and one that is based on your research and analysis based on the previous questions as well as you close reading and familiarity with a chosen work; for example – Macbeth is about ‘Death and the Imagination’. You are searching for themes; and there may be more than one, which is OK. But no matter what – right or wrong I don’t care – Have an Opinion! – and bring it to the rehearsal room floor to be tested and discussed.
Theatre is a collaborative art form. It demands a discourse amongst creative artists that sometimes can become rather heated due to the emotional passion that is also a particular requirement for this as for any art form. Have an opinion but also allow yourself to be changed by the in-depth research and opinions of others. Question everything, including yourself. Just remember that your opinion, as well as others, needs to be based on a solid foundation of in-depth research and close examination of a text. Contextual study and analysis is essential. Be an intelligent actor, think – don’t just feel.
6. Are there any modern or classical equivalents? – Did you know that one of the first exponents of a world-wide-web on interconnected things, objects, people, places, politics, art, ideas and themes, was the nineteenth-century novelist George Eliot? You can find it her 1871-72 novel Middlemarch (yes – for those who don’t know, George Eliot was actually a woman, and one of the greatest English novelists of the nineteenth-century). Once you have answered the previous question – What is the piece about? – and have established a central theme, or a identified a number of themes and key issues, then by exploring to see if there may be any modern or classical equivalents may open up a whole new vista of exciting new worlds and works that are interconnected with the chosen text. This can be incredible and extremely stimulating as well as enlightening.
From my teaching experience, once a theme is established young people have no difficulty is finding modern equivalents, and this is where they can teach the teacher. Where they invariably have trouble is knowing ‘classical’ equivalents. Let’s take a very classic example – ‘Star-crossed Lovers’ – one of the oldest themes and subject matter in the chronicles of human history. This theme interconnects with Romeo and Juliet, and subsequently West Side Story and from my experience young people will also connect this theme with the modern film Titanic (I’m cheekily adding the old Barbara Stanwyck film Titanic as it is just as pertinent even if it is more about an older couple). What they may not know are the classical equivalents, star-crossed lover’s, such Phaedra and Hippolytus, Medea and Jason, Tristan and Isolde, as well as Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot – and Camelot. For The Pajama Game, let’s say that it is about ‘Secrets and Sex’ – something that will be further discussed and realized in the second part of this lecture.
Part 2: American Drama 1949-1954
The main focus of this section is to provide an overview of American drama 1949-54, and how it reflects certain issues involving secrets and sex, which is reflective of this period so influenced in the domestic world of the US by the anti-communist witch-hunts, as well as The Kinsey Reports, the first fully detailed research into the sexual behaviour of contemporary American men and women.
The Post World War II years for the USA were extremely important in that they influenced national and international events and people in a way that is still very much with us today. War was good for the US economy, and under President Harry Truman, the continuation of a war economy was deemed ideal for the American people. If that meant an international war against those damn Russian and Chinese Commies to prevent a kind of domino effect of virulent Communism sweeping through the civilized democratic world – then so be it. If that also meant a war on the domestic front against so-called American citizens, then so be it. This marks the beginning of what collectively has become known as The Cold War (1947-1991). As Gore Vidal noted, America under Truman decided to become the world’s ‘watch-dog’, the world’s ‘police force’. The first major international salvo was the Korean War (1950-53), meanwhile on the domestic front the US Government, under the guise of ‘national security’ declared war on its own people, or rather a certain section of people, notably from the world of academia, literature, and the performing, as well as government and business.
With the advent of the Cold War, and the government declaring war on its own citizens, enter Senator Joseph McCarthy, closely followed by HUAC, the House of Un-American Committee, and their passionate, some might even say insane and hysterical hunt for ‘Reds Under the Bed’, Commie spies and other nasty corrupters of the idealized (sanitized-white) American democratic way of life. They are responsible for many things, but most importantly for American drama they helped to create a culture of fear, an in particular a fear of the ‘other’, the outsider, and fear of one another.
It was a witch-hunt, a kind of perverse and perverted civil war that was anything but civil. Anyone who was who deemed non-conformist to the ‘American way of life’ as envisaged and idealised by arch conservatives exemplified by Joseph McCarthy and his cronies, which included Richard Nixon, and HUAC and its supporters, such as J. Edgar Hoover, Head of the FBI, were consider ‘outsiders’ and ‘aliens’, and subsequently could be considered as possibly being a ‘Commie spy’, and therefore needed to be rooted out and removed. Somewhat predictably the focus descended upon Jews, and outspoken academics and African-Americans, exemplified by the tragedy of the Rosenbergs, as well as Arthur Miller, and Paul Robeson, the great African-American singer-actor who first sang Jerome Kern’s ‘Old Man River’. One of the great American films that deals with anti-Semitism on the domestic from is Elia Kazan’s Academy Award winner for Best Film Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947). As will later be touched on, there is a certain amount of irony in regard to this and Elia Kazan’s involvement in the anti-Communist witch-hunt in the early 1950s.
‘You read books, eh?’
‘All we want is the truth as we see it’
‘It’s Okay – We’re Hunting Communists’
“Say, What Ever Happened to ‘Freedom-From-Fear’?”
‘We Have Documentary Evidence That This Man is Planning a Trip to Moscow”
‘Report to me on the traitors and queers in my administration and I may or may not tell the people’.
“Stand Fast, Men…they’re armed with Marshmallows”
Deleted Photos / Faked Letter
‘It makes no difference what I say. You’ve already decided I’m guilty.’ ‘Gasp! The witch can read minds!’
Actually, I’m not going to dwell too long on these separate and yet intertwined tentacles of evil (sorry – but they are both truly repugnant and should not be given too much air time). The various images I have provided speak enough for themselves. I wish to concentrate on their effect on American drama at this time. However, a quick sideline that I do wish to relate is the issue of Elia Kazan, that kind of encapsulates the complexity of this time and how works from this period should not be underestimated in regard to hidden depths and meanings.
Elia Kazan – a genius – responsible for directing and shaping some of the most memorable works in American theatre and film in the twentieth-century. This includes – The Skin of Our Teeth (play), Death of a Salesman (play), A Streetcar Named Desire (play and film), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (play), Sweet Bird of Youth (play), The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (play), Tea and Sympathy (play), Gentlemen’s Agreement (film), Pinky (film), Panic in the Streets (film), East of Eden (film) and On the Waterfront (film). He was also an informer. In front of HUAC Kazan informed against old colleagues and friends (as did Jerome Robbins and Ginger Rogers), particularly his former Group Theatre colleague, the playwright Clifford Odets, effectively ending Odets’ career. One of Odet’s final successes was performed in this 1949-54 period – The Country Girl (1950), which was subsequently turned into a highly successful film in 1954, starring Bing Crosby, William Holden, and Grace Kelly in an Academy Award winning performance for Best Actress. Kazan’s naming names complements the whole history of the group collectively known as ‘The Hollywood Ten’. The destruction of the careers and lives of these and other significant artists exemplifies the truly disgraceful betrayal of trust, friendship and loyalty that is also characterisitic of this period – You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught.
It is difficult for me to be sympathetic, or even empathetic to such actions – even though these people may have thought they had reasons considering the horrors of the Gulags that Stalin was inflicting on his people and so-called Russian comrades at the same time. You are all probably too young to remember that when Kazan was honoured with a special Academy Award towards the end of his life, he was brought on stage, flanked deliberately with Martin Scorsese on one side and Robert De Niro on the other. To say that the reception from the Hollywood elite was anything but an unanimous standing ovation would be a fair description. Half rose and cheered and roared, whilst the other half sat ridged, not applauding but frowning and glowering at Kazan – no, for a large section of Hollywood, genius and important artist he may be, but he was not forgiven for what he had done to past friends and colleagues. It was a lesson – and a scary one.
Anyway – sorry about that – a bit of a digression. Nonetheless, the testing of loyalties and friendships is but one of the main features of American drama in this period often set against a world that is obsessed with with something secret, with something that is seen as a perverse and corrupting threat and lies hidden within a domestic setting. What is also very common is the amount of court-room drama. The voyeurism, or spying, associated with this type of drama is exemplified by Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). There are, however, other examples that are perhaps not as famous as Hitchcock’s masterpiece, but deserve to be reexamined for their dramatic strength and purposefulness. I will come back to this issue in regard to voyeurism and/or spying and The Pajama Game. However, first I want to give a quick overview of American drama from 1949-1954, primarily for the numerous excellent works to speak for themselves in regard to how truly extraordinary is this remarkable period.
Let’s begin with the American Musical Theatre.
One of the all-time great American musicals is Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, which opened on April 7 1949. Whilst Some Enchanted Evening may be the most popular song from South Pacific, and certainly deserves its place in ‘The Great American Songbook’, another song from this magical score, You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught is perhaps more prophetic and apt for the years that were to follow 1949. This highly provocative and controversial song, one of the most (if not the most provocative and controversial songs that Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote, is a direct attack on the brain-washing culture of hate, bigotry and racism, so prevalent in the USA at this time, and perhaps remains so. It is a bitter, bitter song, full of anger, passion and disgust for the conventional norm; it is brilliant – and for the time extremely brave. Yes – Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Going to Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, Bali Hai, There is Nothing Like a Dame, Younger Than Springtime and much more are sheer delights, but for me and for this lecture that involves WHAT LIES UNDERNEATH, You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught is actually what South Pacific is all about; Rodgers and Hammerstein thought so too. If you are seeking a real acting challenge in regard to the performance of a song – have a go at this one. The sense of rage, suspicion and betrayal that lies in the belly of this song, is reflective of a general trend in American politics and social history and that understandably and brilliantly are mirrored in American drama of this period.
1949-54 is full of terrific works of the American Musical Theatre, some of which have subsequently become ‘classics’. Rodgers and Hammerstein followed South Pacific with The King and I (1951). There was also Kurt Weil’s and Maxwell Anderson’s Lost in the Stars (1949), Jule Styne, Leo Robin, Joseph Fields and Anita Loos‘ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949), Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam (1950), Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan (1950) Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling’s Guys and Dolls (1950), Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe’s Paint Your Wagon(1952), Harold Rome’s Wish You Were Here (1952) and Fanny (1954), Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s Wonderful Town (1953), Borodin and Forest’s (et al) Kismet (1953), Jerome Moross and John Treville LaTouche’s The Golden Apple (1954), Truman Capote and Harold Arlen’s House of Flowers (1954) Sandy Wilson’s The Boyfriend (1954), Cole Porter’s Can-Can (1954), and Jerry Ross, Richard Adler, George Abbott and Richard Bissell’s The Pajama Game (1954).
In regard to American plays it was also the time that saw the premieres of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), Sidney Kingley’s Detective Story (1949), William Inge’s Come Back Little Sheba (1950) and Picnic (1953), Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (1950), Clifford Odets’ The Country Girl (1950), Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo (1951) and Camino Royale (1953), John Van Druten’s Bell, Book and Candle (1950) and I Am a Camera (1951), Joseph Kramm’s The Shrike (1952), George Axelrod’s The Seven Year Itch (1952), Arthur Laurent’s The Time of the Cuckoo (1952), Frederick Knott’s Dial M for Murder (1953), Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful (1953), Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953), John Patrick’s Teahouse of the August Moon (1953), Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy (1953), Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1953), Agatha Christie’ Witness for the Prosecution (1954), Samuel N. Richard Nash’s The Rainmaker (1954), and Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (1954), Maxwell Anderson’s The Bad Seed (1954), Joseph Hayes’ The Desperate Hours (1954).
In addition what are arguably the two greatest American plays of twentieth-century, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, as the above abbreviated list illuminates this was a very exciting time for plays as well as musicals. What is also very apparent, complementing the respective anti-Communist investigations and trials across the country, is the amount of Courtroom Drama, which also includes The Crucible, as well as The Shrike, The Caine-Mutiny Court-Martial, Witness for the Prosecution and Twelve Angry Men – all terrific plays. This stands in marked contrast to today where Courtroom Drama is not a mainstay of contemporary drama. The courtroom dramas of the early 1950s also complement the major theme of secrets that characterises American drama of this period with the narrative being the revelation of that secret and the exposure of something corrupt and inherently evil hidden and undermining a democratic society. They are essentially morality plays, with good generally triumphing over evil, the major exceptions being The Crucible, which is tragedy on an epic scale, and the curious and rather unsettling The Shrike. A great many of these plays and musicals also complement another very common characteristic in American drama and literature, which is the central hero and/or heroine is a type of ‘underdog’ who contends against authourity, sometimes successfully, as in The Pajama Game, and sometimes not, as in The Crucible.
Why was Court-Room Drama so popular at this time? Considering the very public and highly controversial nature of the real-life anti-Communist trials that were going on you would think that the American public would have had a gut-fill of it all – but they didn’t. Moreover, Court-Room Drama was popular throughout the world, as exemplified by the international success of the film versions of The Caine-Mutiny Court-Martial, retitled The Caine Mutiny (1954) with Humphrey Bogart giving one of his best acting performances, Twelve Angry Men (1957) directed by Sidney Lumet with Henry Fonda, and Witness for the Prosecution (1957) with Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, and brilliant performance by Charles Laughton, accompanied by his real-life wife Elsa Lancaster. To these can be added Akira Kurosowa’s extraordinary and influential Rashomon (1950), as well as Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion (1959). Court Room drama can be sensationally dramatic, and is important in regards to the psychological development of character with the gradual revealing of inner emotional depths.
Thinking of character, however, leads to the even greater illumination of the extraordinary range and diversity of male and females roles in American drama of this period. This also complements to a certain degree the high standard and quality of post-war American actors, many of whom by now had been trained by some of the early American interpreters of Constantine Stanislavsky’s acting techniques, including Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, Uta Chekhov, as well as Michael Chekhov (originally from Stanislavsky’s Moscow Arts Theatre), and those who had been members of the influential The Group Theatre under Harold Clurman, and Orson’s Welles’ Mercury Theatre with John Houseman. Metamorphic transformations by actors playing characters with considerable psychological depth and also undergoing a demanding and dramatic journey of great challenges and change becomes the common element.
To further illustrate my point, however, let me draw your attention to some of the female characters from this time. The range, complexity and depth is wonderful, and to be blunt a blessed break from the incessant passive-aggressive victims that tend to dominate modern drama (also another essay re the modern female heroine). In the drama from the early 1950s we run the gamut, not as Dorothy Parker once wrote of Katherine Hepburn from A to B, but a whole spectrum of great female roles. This includes loyal wives, spinsters and old maids, innocent virgins and sex sirens, generally experiencing some form of sexual awakening, and a few witches, good and bad, as well. For example, John van Druten’s plays are not often performed anymore, which is a shame as they are truly delightful and have their own unique delicate charm. They include, I Remember Mama, (1944), which was Marlon Brando’s first Broadway show, Bell, Book and Candle (1950), which is a romantic comedy involving good witches, and I Am A Camera (1951).
I Am A Camera is important for a number of reasons, not least being Van Druten’s last major work, but also being based on Christopher Isherwood’s ‘Berlin Stories’ it is the first successful dramatic appearance of Sally Bowles. This delightful, enigmatic, vital character, was originally played by Julie Harris, one of the truly great American actresses of the mid-late-twentieth century. Audiences are perhaps more familiar with the musical theatre and film adaptations, based on Isherwood’s original stories as well as Van Druten’s play – Cabaret (1966/1972).
Subsequently, Sally Bowles has been played by a number of wonderful actresses, including Jill Hayworth, Judi Dench, Natasha Richardson, and, of course, Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse’s film version. This is also a wonderful group of works to examine, which I encourage you to do so – the journey from novels (actually short stories), to the play, to the original musical, to the film, and then to the successful reworking of the musical by Sam Mendes, which is now the accepted and standardized version of the musical.
Sally Bowles has become one of the great iconic dramatic characters of the late-twentieth century. She is representative on a number of things, including at the time Van Druten wrote his play a new expression of feminine sexual desire and behaviour that complement certain revelations in The Kinsey Reports (1948/1953), the first fully detailed and comprehensive survey and analysis of the sexual behaviour of American men and women. Sally Bowles is a free-spirit, a female Dionysius, and part her appeal also resides in a ‘classic’ theatrical legacy and heritage. She falls into a specific character archetype, ‘the good-natured whore’, which has a history, heritage and legacy charting back to the classical Greek and Roman theatre, as exemplified by Thais is the Roman comedy The Mother-in-Law by Terence, to Shakespeare’s Doll Tearsheet and Mistress Quickly in Henry IV Pt 2 (c. 1596), as well as Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan (c. 1604), to Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind (1936), beautifully played by Ona Munson in the 1939 film, to La Mome in Can-Can (1954), Irma in Irma La Douce (1956), and Charity in Sweet Charity (1966). I would add Thelma and Roxie from Chicago (1975), but they are not really ‘good-natured’, more femme fatales.
The femme fatales and other female villains – I have to be very careful here as I do not wish to cause any offence. Nonetheless, American theatre in this brief period 1949-154 produced three of the most chilling femme fatales in dramatic literature – Ann Downs in Joseph Kramm’s The Shrike (1952), Abigail Williams in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953), and Rhoda Penmark in Maxwell Anderson’s The Bad Seed (1954). From the world of American cinema it is also possible to add Eve Harrington in All About Eve (1950), and possibly Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard (1950), respectively brilliantly played by Anne Baxter and Gloria Swanson. One could also perhaps add Blanche du Bois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), if one places emphasis Blanche’s objective to undermine and remove Stanley. The demonisation of women is literature and drama is as old as as The Bible and other ancient myths. Just as virtually every culture in the world has its Cinderella ‘rags-to-riches’ story, so does every culture have its equivalent of Eve, Lilith, Jezebel, Delilah, Helen of Troy, Medea and Clytemnestra. In American drama in the 1950s the femme fatales ruthless ambition, power and domination have disturbing sociopathic and psychopathic aspects. These complement the general characteristic of something dangerous to life lying hidden under a veneer of social respectability,albeit in this case that threat is also generally directed at a world dominated by men. It’s not only men – there is a few ‘women beware women’ narratives as well, as exemplified by All About Eve but also one of the most unique ‘Westerns’ film ever made, Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), with Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge locking horns (on film and off) in this extraordinary work that in many ways defies description; its uniqueness further enhanced not only by Harry Strading Snr’s cinematography but also a music score by Vincent Young and Peggy Lee. The witch-hunting parallels with McCarthyims and the HUAC investigations are relatively blatant, as are the lesbian connotations even though never discussed. This too is another element relative to The Pajama Game – of things alluded too, but never actually stated. Witches, sex sirens, and femme fatales occupy quite a significant place in American drama of this 1949-54, and their appearance can be accounted for by this fear verging on hysteria In of being tainted or destroyed by Communism as envisaged by the US government of the time. This stands in marked contrast with today where a femme fatale figure is now realized as a victim, her evil crimes against others justified and given entitlement due to past slight or injury – ‘Let it Go’? – No, I don’t think so. For example, Walt Disney’s film version of The Sleeping Beauty (1959), which in many ways is unlike any other Disney film cartoon due to the style of the animation, the evil fairy is called Maleficent. It is a brilliant and highly memorable characterization, voiced by Eleanor Audley with art direction by Marc Davis – and Maleficent is pure unadulterated evil. In 2014 Walt Disney released Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolle. Whilst not wishing to take anything away from Angelina Jolle’s committed and impressive performance, I couldn’t help wondering as I watched this film in which the character of Maleficent is presented in a relatively romantic and sympathetic light as the ‘wronged woman’, that here yet again is another example of a sentimentalising and romanticising of characters that were once upon a time representative of pure evil. When I was growing up a vampire was a vampire, blood-sucking, animalistic, and scary; now the vampire is a hot young guy who is far from scary as he is so understanding, charming and sexy. Same with Maleficent – gorgeous (as played by Angelina Jolle), and another victim with a sense of entitlement – for justifiable revenge. I cant’ help wondering if this is something that should not be encouraged; instead of adding a new perspective that is progressive in a way, aren’t we also reducing something that should remain fearful? Is the logical outcome of all this that no one is evil? Sorry – I don’t buy this. Evil people do exist. Tennessee Williams’ Blanche du Bois says in A Streetcar Named Desire – ‘Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable’, which was and is rather apt for it’s time considering what was being done by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and his cronies, which included Richard Nixon, as well as Roy Cohn who was primarily responsible for the execution of the Rosenberg’s. I like Brecht’s reflective prophecy in regard to Adolf Hitler, and believe it to be true in the light of so much subsequent violence, and the monsters who have instigated it – ‘Don’t yet rejoice, o world, at his departing / The bitch that bore him is on heat again’.
Whilst Miller’s The Crucible continues to be performed, it is quite possible that considering modern tastes and sensibilities that The Shrike and The Bad Seed are simply not-playable, or not ‘box-office’ material. They are both excellent plays, but the femme fatale and villainess characters are so evil in biblical sense that performing today could bring down the wrath of the feminist Gods upon one. For example, in complete contrast to today’s sentimental nurturing con-noodles in regard to children, and that they are now bred with a massive sense of entitlement – a digression – only today was I told a story by a young teacher how she had to deal with a 10 year old who refused to play ‘Stuck-in-the-Mud’, accusing her that it was a waste of time, it wasn’t ‘fun’, and not the worth the money being paid for the class – now that is scary. (the difference between a lesson being ‘fun’ or ‘pleasurable’ is the subject for another essay). This attitude could ultimately be problematic. All the actresses I have known who have played Abigail in The Crucible have commented on the same thing; a certain moment in the trial scene in Act 3 when you stand there and can feel the audiences hatred like a enormous wave aimed right at you. In this particular moment when the audience is well aware that Abigail is lying, hating the character is quite understandable and in fact desired.This can be extremely disturbing, particularly as most actors really wish to be loved. This particular moment could never be described as ‘fun’. Would a modern young actress feeling vastly superior to Arthur Miller and this old play from 1953 have such a sense of entitlement that she would ask for the scene to be changed or cut? I fear it could happen. It does take a particular type of actress to pull of this wonderfully diabolic character. If you ever have the luck to play Abigail, and are challenged by this moment, just remember that if you do experience a wave of hatred coming at from the audience then take as an affirmation that you are doing a good job.
Back to The Bad Seed – this creepy thriller is about a mother who begins to realize that her beautiful daughter is actually a psychopathic killer. Reading this play, and/or watching the film version, I can never be sure if this is meant to be some type of black comedy, nonetheless, Patty MacCormack’s performance of Rhoda, which she originally created on Broadway, is in my mind up there with Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho (xxxx), Dame Judith Anderson’s Mrs Danvers in Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), and Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched in Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest (1975), as the most disturbing and yet brilliant performances of psychopaths and madness; I should also add Heather Ledger’s The Joker The Dark Knight (2008), so unnerving that I either have to look away or leave the room. Watch The Bad Seed – along with Patty MacCormack other members of the original Broadway cast include Nancy Kelly as Rhoda’s mother, and Elieen Heckart as the mother of the child that little Rhoda has brutally murdered – all three give wonderful performances. Furthermore, The Bad Seed completely complements and exemplifies the dominate theme of American drama of this period, that of something secret, corrupt, and perverse undermining the very fabric of American life. That The Bad Seed may now also be seen as a type of black-comedy only adds to its attraction, in that it is possible to see it as almost satiric in its reflection on life in American suffering from the anti-Communist witch-hunts of Senator Joseph MacCarthy and HUAC. Read it, see it – make up your own minds.
Time and space compels me to leap forwards to The Pajama Game. However, I just quickly wish to touch on a couple of other things in this overview of dramatic works from this period. I deliberately have not concentrated on the wonderful plays of William Inge and Tennessee Williams, even though these works heighten and illuminate a new and bold expression of sexual behaviour. These playwrights and their respective plays have received a great amount of literary, academic and dramatic criticism and analysis, and are often and deservedly subject to revivals in the professional and amateur theatre. I am more interested in drawing your attention to the lesser known work of this period, such as The Bad Seed, and Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy (1953).
Tea and Sympathy was one of the most controversial plays performed in this period. Why? Because it was one of the first plays performed on the Broadway main-stage that dealt with the subject of homosexuality. Initially produced by The Playwright’s Company and directed by Elia Kazan, one reason for its success was due to the clever casting of Deborah Kerr, who after the film of The King and I was at the height of her popularity and ‘star power’, as Laura Reynolds, the wife of a high school teacher who assists a young man, Tom Lee, accused of homosexuality. Other notable actresses who also played this character include Joan Fontaine and Ingrid Bergman. The final line of the play, spoken by Laura to Tom, was (and still is) regarded as one of the most poignant final lines written for the theatre – ‘Years from now, when you speak of this, and you will, be kind’.
Whilst Deborah Kerr and other members of the original Broadway cast appear in the 1956 film version, directed by Vincente Minnellii, the film exposes the weakness and sentimentality of the play. There is, however, a wonderful scene between Tom and his jock best friend who is trying to educate Tom how to behave like a man. Originally, this scene has a serious dramatic urgency to it (at least as it appears in the film), now, however, the scene is hilariously funny, rivalling a similar scene performed by Kevin Kline in the film In and Out (1997), or in the play, film and musical versions of La Cage aux Folles (1973/1978/1983/1996). Nonetheless, Tea and Sympathy and the people who first produced it should be honoured for their bravery and risk-taking in presenting this ground-breaking play. Furthermore, it complements what was of the most controversial matters exposed in The Kinsey Reports, notably the revelation that 10% of the male population were or had had a homosexual experience.
There are two interesting sidelines to all this that does relate to The Pajama Game. The first is that in 1954 Doris Day, who was to later star in the film version had one of her greatest hits with the song Secret Love, which has become a bit of an anthem in regard to homosexuality. Another is how the film version of Tea and Sympathy was advertised. It actually doesn’t really reflect the actual play at all. As will later be revealed this is also an aspect of the original advertising for The Pajama Game.
In 1954, the same year that saw the premiere of The Pajama Game and The Bad Seed, there was also the first performance of Joseph Hayes The Desperate Hours (1954). Based on a real incident in Pennsylvania in 1952, it is another example of a thriller in which something evil is hidden within a conventional American domestic setting. In this case it is a home invasion by a three escaped prisoners. As with Tea and Sympathy, the film version of The Desperate Hours does not really do the play full justice. This is due a serious error in regard to casting.
The original stage production featured Karl Malden as the father who needs to outwit the escaped convicts, particularly their psychotic leader, originally played by a young Paul Newman. The film version, however, has the much older Humphrey Bogart as the leader of escaped prisoners playing opposite his contemporary Frederic March. The dynamic contest between a young and older man, as well as the binary complexity of the villain being also charismatically handsome, is lost in the film version of The Desperate Hours. The decision not to cast Paul Newman in the film version was apparently due to Humphrey Bogart being considered the bigger ‘star’, and subsequently had greater box-office appeal. However, don’t be too distressed as Paul Newman was about to have two of his finest successes in the film version of Tennessee Williams’ 1955 play Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, followed by Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth (both originally directed by Elia Kazan), in which Newman appeared with Geraldine Page and Shirley Knight as well as in the subsequent 1962 film version.
Although I have endeavoured to steer clear of Tennessee William’s – I simply cant. He is one of my very favourite American playwrights, a true poet of the theatre. The 1950s saw the premieres of some some of William’s best work. As well as the work cited above there was also The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Orpheus Descending and Suddenly Last Summer. It is perhaps romantic of me but it is difficult to think of another American playwright from this period who still enjoys such a celebrated status with works still being continually produced. One reason for this is the powerful female characters that he wrote, and in the time they were written performed by some of the greatest actresses of the time, not least being Elizabeth Taylor.
To balance my section of the great female villains of this time let me quickly glance at three film actress – Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe. In many ways these three film icons, in the range of characters they portrayed in the 1950s, which is quite considerable, are representative of the new American woman as figured in the Kinsey Reports. They a representative of a new type of female heroine, one projected a conscience awareness and confidence in their sexuality, appeal and womanhood.
Diana Vreeland, legendary fashion columnist for Harper’s Bazaar (1936-62) and editor-in-chief of Vogue (1963-71) is credited with saying that Elizabeth Taylor is one of the greatest actresses of the twentieth century. Why? Because no other ‘Hollywood’ actress has challenged herself as much as Elizabeth Taylor in the range of roles she has done. Although not always successful, nonetheless, when one looks at Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s body of work it definitely supports Diana Vreeland’s belief; from child actress in Lassie Come Home (1943) and National Velvet (1944), to dutiful and beautiful young woman in Little Women (1949), Father of the Bride (1950) and A Place in the Sun (1953), devoted wife in Giant (1956), to sex goddess in Raintree County (1957), Cat of a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Butterfield 8 (1960) and Cleopatra (1963), to drunken harridan is Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), and a truly wonderful Kate in Franco Zefferelli’s film version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (1967). From Lassie to A Place in the Sun to Cleopatra to Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Yep – I agree with Diana Vreeland – the range is extraordinary.
Whilst there are many highlights, I would like to point out one film from this 1949-54 period that is relevant to this essay about American drama in the age of McCarthyism, HUAC and The Kinsey Report – and that is George Steven’s A Place in the Sun, loosely based on the novel An American Tragedy (1925) by Theodore Dreiser. Elizabeth Taylor was still in her teens when she made this film and it was her first major success as an adult actress. In this film she appeared opposite Montgomery Cliff, the first of three major films she would do with him – the others being Raintree County and Suddenly Last Summer. Space does not permit me to dwell too much on Montgomery Cliff, except to acknowledge him has one of the best actors of his generation. In this film he plays a young man lured by the wealth and beauty and status offered by the Elizabeth Taylor character, enough to him to murder his pregnant former girlfriend, played by Shelley Winters. The acting in this film is superb (yes – it’s in Black and White), and the sheer on-screen physical beauty and grace of Taylor and Cliff is ravishing to behold. However, as with other dramas of this period there is something rotten and corrupt in the midst of this world, and that is the character played by Montgomery Cliff. His physical beauty and charismatic appeal is like Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey, but it is merely a shell. What lies underneath is a ruthless ambition to achieve the idealized high status of an ‘American dream’ for which he will commit murder in or to achieve it. As Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman explored in their brilliant Assassins (1990), this is the perverse side to that sacred doctrine written by Thomas Jefferson that lies in the opening section of the Declaration of Independence (1776) – ‘the pursuit of happiness’. What makes this a conundrum is that ‘happiness’ is a very difficult to define as it is so personal. If it is my constitutional right to be happy, then does this justify the killing of another in order to achieve ‘happiness’. Highly debatable, controversial and challenging, yet nonetheless, this inherent right to ‘the pursuit of happiness’ lies at the very heart of virtually all American drama.
Grace Kelly – ice maiden. I don’t mean that in a nasty way as I have far too much respect for Grace Kelly’s acting and charismatic appeal. Grace Kelly was in her early twenties in 1952 when her film career took off with High Noon (1952), arguably one of the best ‘Westerns’ ever made (yes – another film in Black and White). This was quickly followed by an incredible string of successes – John Ford’s Mogambo (1953), George Seaton’s The Country Girl (1954), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress, then Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955), and finally Cole Porter’s High Society (1956), with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Celeste Holm. Later that year, at the age of 26, she married Prince Rainer III of Monaco and never acted again.
The characters that Grace Kelly played in the 1950s, whilst never completely cold, nonetheless, they were quite self-righteous and moralistic; even if this code of ethics was quite different and unique to her character. If not ‘cold’ then let say she was the epitome of 1950s feminine ‘cool’, and like Elizabeth Taylor, full of ‘grace’. I will elaborate on this issue of ‘grace’ a bit further later on, but I do not think it difficult to grasp. Suffice to say that I mean it in a classical Renaissance way, which is more associated with a sense of effortless and ease – ‘sprezaturra’ as set forth in Baldassarre Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier (1528). Cary Grant, when asked who was his favourite leading lady nominated Grace Kelly, due to her ‘serenity’. It tantamount to the same thing as ‘sprezaturra’ – a sense of ‘grace’.
Whilst the three films that Grace Kelly made with Alfred Hitchcock are probably the ones that are her most watched, and I can’t help thinking that Raymond Burr’s murderer in Rear Window bares a striking resemblance to a bespectacled Joseph McCarthy, nonetheless, I wish to highlight the first film that drew her public attention – Fred Zimmerman’s High Noon (1952). This popular and critically acclaimed film has been called one of the greatest ‘Westerns’ ever made – and I agree. When I have attempted to excite and enthuse a younger audience to this simply wonderful film, however, I have failed. Invariably the cry is ‘It’s too long’, ‘There’s too much talking’ etc (oh, and yes – ‘Not another Black and White film?!’ – what is this eversion of ‘Black and White’ films?). High Noon is a taunt psychological ‘western’, as oppose to a ‘shoot ’em up’ action-packed film that is more modern fare. The tension steadily rises from the beginning, following a classical tragedy device of the entire action occurring in one day and beginning with celebratory event, in this case Gary Cooper’s marriage to Grace Kelly, to a thrilling show-down with a tragic ending. The characters that Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly play don’t die, although they come close, but the true tragedy is the exposure of the moral and ethical worthlessness of a community that had effectively abandoned their previous protector (Gary Cooper) leaving him to face his fate alone. This is registered in the final moments of the film when Gary Cooper tosses his sheriff’s badge to lie in the dirt at their feet. It is not difficult to see that underneath this lies a contemporary critique of the abandonment of morals, ethics, loyalty and friendship due to fear and intimidation.
What makes this film important in regard to Grace Kelly is that it sets up her film persona of the loyal wife and companion, a characteristic that is relative in all her subsequent films. This loyalty is dramatically challenged but survives – ‘serenity’. A romantic ideal, perhaps -but nonetheless her characters individual strength through love, intelligence, bravery and rock-steady perseverance stands in contrast as a figure of hope in this period when such things were being domestically and international under intensive fire. She is also stunningly beautiful, and immaculately dressed. I use ‘beautiful’ here as a descriptor not in a superfical way but how Michael Chekhov uses it to define one of the essential elements of all great art, and that is that there is a sense of grace and ‘serenity’ and strength.
Whilst Grace Kelly may be considered as a’Blonde-Venus’, nonetheless, the true ‘Blonde-Venus’ of the period is Marilyn Monroe. I am a huge fan and admirer of Marilyn Monroe, not only as an iconic movie star but also as an incredibly talented actress. She also possesses something that only a very few actors are blessed with – something that Stanislavsky acknowledged (and lacking in him) as ‘Stage-Charm’. This is a particular type of gift and one that doesn’t necessarily have talent, yet nonetheless, has a powerful magnetic appeal. For example, one of the great ‘beauties’ of the late-nineteenth century was Lily Langtry who was not celebrated for her acting talents, which was from all accounts not that great. Lily Langtry, however, was one of the most popular actresses of the time, primarily due to her beauty and charm. With Marilyn Monroe not only is their great beauty and a radiating charm, there is also considerable talent.
The 1950s is Marilyn’s decade; the body of work is wonderful – virtually ever single film is terrific to watch, and even if it may now seem very old fashioned and ‘stagey’, nonethelesss, whenever Marilyn appears the film rises in quality and movie magic. For example, The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) based on the 1953 play The Sleeping Prince by British playwright Terence Rattigan. The brainchild of Laurence Olivier the film featured some of Britain’s finest actors including Dame Sybil Thorndike for whom George Bernard Shaw wrote his Saint Joan (1924). As with other films there were problems with Marilyn’s professional consistency, which infuriated Olivier and others associated with the production. However, Dame Sybil saw something else, apparently stating ‘Just watch – that young girl will act us all off the screen’ – and she was right. Despite the high calibre of British actors, who at times are rather self-consciously stagey, especially Olivier, this is Marilyn’s film. The recent film My Week with Marilyn (2011) is a bio-pic that involves the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl with a terrific performance by Michelle Williams as Marilyn, however, if you wish to have what is perhaps an even more accurate impression of the real Marilyn Monroe then read Truman Capote’s ‘A Beautiful Child’, which is an account of a day he spent with Marilyn in New York and was published in his Music for Chameleons (1980).
There are so many Marilyn Monroe films of the 1950s that I could rave on about, not least being The Asphalt Jungle (1950), All About Eve (1950), Monkey Business (1952), Don’t Bother to Knock (1953), Niagara (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953), River of No Return (1954), There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), The Seven Year Itch (1955), Bus Stop (1956), and Some Like it Hot (1959). I particularly admire her for her decision in 1955 to leave Hollywood, and in an attempt to re-invent herself enrolled in Lee Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio. To re-invent oneself is one of the greatest challenges any artist must face. It is a frightening but necessary leap into the dark, one that is essential if you are to grow and develop as an artist and one I hope I have the courage, strength and perseverance to do as I enter this new chapter of my life. Marilyn Monroe successfully achieved this, as evident in her beautiful performance in Bus Stop (1956), as did another from an earlier period, the Australian actress Nellie Stewart who when her singing career suddenly ended went on to become a dramatic actress. The artists who successfully go through this metaphoric change are sources of inspiration to me. One scene in Bus Stop that is particularly interesting is when Marilyn performs the song ‘Black Magic’ – badly. As her musical films testify Marilyn was a good singer, albeit in her own unique way. What is challenging for any singer is can they deliberately sing badly. Well, of course, they can – but would they? In Bus Stop Marilyn blasts apart her singing reputation that is both funny and painfully embarrassing. It is also incredible brave. This leads to another matter in regard to Marilyn Monroe, which is that it takes an intelligent actress to successfully pull off the ‘dumb blonde’ persona.
Whilst there have been numerous others both before and after, Marilyn stands as the quintessential ‘dumb blonde’. Her comic timing is excellent, as exemplified in Bus Stop, The Seven Year Itch, as well as How to Marry a Millionaire and Some Like it Hot. I’m not going to talk about Some Like It Hot, although arguable it is one of the best film comedies ever made, as well as certainly falling into the subject matter of this essay of an exploration of secrets and what lies beneath a surface truth – and then some. In How to Marry a Millionaire there are a couple of terrific moments that also exemplify Marilyn’s comic ability and timing; such as when she takes off her glasses and being basically blind without them bumps into walls. Having the talent and ability to perform comedy should never be under-estimated as it is actually quite difficult. The great English actor, David Garrick (1717-79), believed that whilst most are capable of performing drama but the measure of a ‘real actor’ was their ability to play comedy, and subsequently be successful in both forms – it still is in my mind.
In her life-time Marilyn Monroe’s film persona was often considered ‘vulgar’. This is primarily due to her overt sexuality and sensuality – which she was – with abundance. That she could send up her own beauty in such films like Bus Stop and How to Marry a Millionaire, as well as The Prince and the Showgirl is for me further evidence of her greatness as an actress. She is an icon – not only as a ‘Hollywood ‘star’, but she is also representative of new version of ‘the good natured whore’ archetype dramatic character. Furthermore, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly (amongst others, including Lauren Bacall and Doris Day) she is also representative of a new confidence in American woman, touched on in Kinsey’s Sexual Behaviour of the Human Female (1953). Marilyn Monroe, however, or rather her erotic screen persona, can be and was also regarded as a threat to the conventual 1950s marriage-bed, as according to Kinsey approximately 50% of married men had at one time or another experienced extra-marital sex. That she was in some way subversive of the ideal American 1950s marriage can also be seen in another essential characteristic of Marilyn Monroe – her sense of humour, complementing George Orwell’s notion that laughter is like a ‘little revolution’. If there was one film that encapsulates these two elements I would choose Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which incidentally also falls somewhat into a ‘Court Room Drama’. The brazen and radiant sexuality, as well as mischievous humour of Marilyn’s Loreli Lee, as well as Jane Russell’s Dorothy Shaw, is both delightfully shocking and audaciously subversive. This is encapsulated in Marilyn Monroe’s version of the song ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’, which has become representative of Marilyn Monroe.
Loreli Lee can also be seen as prefiguring other similar characters, such as Truman Capote’s Honey Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958), which was also made into an iconic film in 1961 starring Audrey Hepburn, albeit in a much watered down version of Capote’s original novella. However – back to Marilyn. Most actors are not remembered beyond their own life-time – it would seem, however, that Marilyn is still of significant importance and relevance to the modern imagination and sensibilities.Her iconic status not only as a ‘movie star’, but also the ‘Blonde Venus’ of the 1950s (if not the 20th Century) is exemplified by the numerous images of her that have appeared after her death in 1962, something that is shared by very few others, and continues to this day. For example, the portraits by Andy Warhol, one of which I have placed at the beginning of this section on Marilyn. There is also the often repeated image from The Seven Year Itch of Marilyn standing over a subway air vent, which Ken Russell referenced in a quasi-religious manner in his film Tommy (1975).
There is not the time and space for a similar consideration of new idealised and romanticised sexuality of the American male in the 1950s. Nonetheless, let me at least reference Montgomery Cliff, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, James Dean and Elvis Presley – that should be enough. When discussing acting in the twentieth century, how it has changed, evolved and developed, I often refer to the 1950s as marking a turning point. If Laurence Olivier is held as representative of the popular and sexually idealised male actor for the first half of the twentieth century, then Marlon Brando can be seen as representing the second half. Brando’s electrifying performance in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Names Desire, which he first performed on the Broadway stage in 1947 when he was 23 years old, and then the film version in 1951, marks a considerable shift in regard to a subsequently popular and accepted idealised male sexual persona, as well as a change in acting methodology and approach. In regard to the question ‘What Lies Beneath?’, in the case of Brando and Streetcar there is a rapacious, dominantt sexual animal that was perhaps matched only by Clark Gable in the previous decades. Complementing Kinsey’s Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948), particularly in regard to revelations of homosexual appeal, desires and activities, it is somewhat significant that Brando, as well as James Dean and Elvis Presley, continue to appear in modern popular homosexual as well as heterosexual iconography.
I must move on to the final Part of this rather extended essay. However, there are still a number of things I wish to mention in regard to this lengthy overview. This period, 1949-1954, saw a number of highly successful film musicals, many of them being version of successful Broadway musicals, such as Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat (1951), Lerner and Lowe’s Brigadoon (1954). Original work, written specifically for film, include An American in Paris (1951) , Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Bandwagon (1953), Calamity Jane (1953) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). Significantly, and complementing the issue of secrets that lie beneath a surface, Singin’ in the Rain complements the dominant theme of this period, of secrets hidden under a surface veneer, with the Debbie Reynolds’ character, Kathy Selden, being the hidden voice for Jean Hagan’s silent movie star vixen with a rotten voice, Lina Lamont.
In regard to American film there is also Robert Rosen’s Academy Award winning Best Film All The King’s Men (1949), Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole (1951), Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession (1954), John Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wagon Master (1950), Rio Grande (1950), The Quiet Man (1952), What Price Glory? (1952), John Houston’s The African Queen (1951), William A, Wellman’s The High and the Mighty (1954), as well as Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) that are also concerned with something lying underneath a surface, literally as well as figuratively and symbolically. Somewhat a bit of a tangent, but it is to me curious that in this modern era of remakes that of all the old horror films there has not (as yet?) been a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, one of the most popular films of this period.
Meanwhile, internationally there is from the U.K. there is Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1950), as well as four great Ealing Studio comedies featuring Sir Alec Guinness – Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Man in the White Suit (1951), and The Ladykillers (1955); from Italy there is Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli (1950), Frederico Fellini’s La Strada (1954); from France there is Jean Renoir’s Le Fleuve (The River) (1951) and Le Crosse D’Or (The Golden Coach) (1953), and from Japan there is Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal (1950), Rashomon (1950), and The Idiot (1951), and also (complementing The Creature from the Black Lagoon), there is Godzilla (1954), created by Tomoyuki Tanka, Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tusbarya. All magnificent films in their own individual and unique way.
.Whilst I think that all are essential viewing, there are five American films and one Japanese film that are personal favourites and complement and exemplify this essay’s topic of secrets and what lies beneath – Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), Fred Zinnerman’s From Here to Eternity (1953), Akiro Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954), and (sneaking this one in) John Ford’s The Searchers (1956).
But wait – there’s more…..(pant, pant)….
The 1949-54 period is also extraordinary in regard to literature, exemplified by the following pieces of fiction. For just the years 1953-54 American novels included – Richard Bissell’s Seven and Half Cents (1953), which is adapted to become The Pajama Game in 1954, Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 (1953), William S. Burroughs’ Junky (1953), Saul Bellows’ The Adventures of Augie March (1953), James A. Michener’s The Bridges at Toko-ri (1953), Ernest K. Gann’s The High and the Mighty (1953), Ira Levins’ A Kiss Before Dying (1953), Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1953), Davis Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter (1953), Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (1954), Gore Vidal’s Messiah (1954), Mac Hymans’ No Time for Sergeants (1954), and James A. Michener’s Sayonara (1954). Meanwhile from Britain there is Ian Fleming’s first and second James Bond novels Casino Royale (1953) and Live and Let Die (1954), L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953), John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes (1953), C. S. Lewis’ fourth and fifth novels of the Narnia chronicles The Silver Chair (1953), which is my personal favourite, and The Horse and His Boy (1954), Agatha Christie’s A Pocketful of Rye (1953), J. R. Tolkein’s The Fellowship of the Ring (1953) and The Two Towers (1954), William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954), Iris Murdoch‘s first novel Under the Net (1954), and Enid Blyton’s Five Go To Mystery Moor (1954). Also, from France there was Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Trieste (1954).
All the above mentioned novels were international best-sellers and award winners. Many were turned into successful movies, including Francois Truffaunt’s 1966 film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, Charles Laughton‘s extraordinary interpretation of The Night of the Hunter (1955), and Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between (1971) with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. What is also perhaps significant in regard to modern film sensibilities and tastes is that whilst the James Bond film syndication continues as strong as ever, and C. S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles and Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings have also successfully made the leap into the twenty-first century, partly due to film adaptations, as has William Goldings’ The Lord of the Flies, which is still a common novel to be found on secondary schools curriculum, the surprising modern connection may be for some Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, However, Richard Matheson’s powerful 1954 science-fiction novel has been adapted three times for film – The Last Man on Earth (1964) with Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. You should try and find out more about Richard Matheson as he was a modern-day pioneer in many ways, not least because of his collaboration with Rod Sterling, writing numerous episodes to The Twilight Zone, which to my mind still remains as one of the most unique series ever written for television. Furthermore, his 1971 short story ‘Duel’ was adapted by Richard Matheson for television and was Stephen Speilberg’s first film.
This entire overview is merely the tip of the iceberg. It is enough, probably more than enough, to strengthen my argument that this period of 1949-1954 is truly remarkable in regard to American drama. Hopefully, you will not feel overwhelmed, but intrigued and encouraged to seek out, read and/or watch some of the work that I have cited. Just start anywhere – and if you are not enjoying it then move on to something else. The point is to just start – I don’t think will be disappointed.
I have only one more work to mention in regard to this period 1949-54. Whilst American drama was dealing with its own sense of fear, paranoia and guilt, supported and complemented by a growing affluent society and burgeoning new understanding and expression of sexual behaviour, meanwhile across the Atlantic, in Paris, there was the premiere of a new play whose influence would challenge and change all previous notions of contemporary theatre – Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot between 1947-49 when he was in his early 40s, but it was not produced until 1953. Its subsequent impact and influence on the international theatre scene, as well as literature, was incredible and vast, and is something we are still trying to comprehend and understand. That play was Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Eventually, it became to be regarded as one of the quintessential plays that exemplified the new ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. Waiting for Godot may prefigure ‘the theatre of despair’, which Noel Coward labelled John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), but I don’t find it absurd – baffling, theatrical, incomprehensible at times – but not absurd. On the contrary, I find it all to wonderfully real and human. If it is to be considered as absurd, then it is just as absurd as musical theatre, which has people suddenly sing about their feelings. That is even sometimes even more absurd if it is not justified by the actors. Whatever you think and/or feel about Waiting for Godot it impact world-wide has been considerable to the extent that in the ever evolving state of the theatre and dramatic literature, nothing would ever be the same after Godot – and it wasn’t. It is in many ways a complete subversion of conventional theatre. Subsequently, it is very much a product of its time. It is to this issue of subversion, particularly in regard to The Pajama Game that I will address in the third and final part of this essay.
Part 3: The Pajama Game
The Pajama Game opened at the St James Theatre in New York on May 13, 1954. Based on Richard Bissell’s 1953 novel Seven and a Half Cents the musical was created and produced by what is now considered Broadway royalty – Jerry Ross and Richard Adler (Music and Lyrics), George Abbott and Richard Bissell (Book). George Abbott was also the director, with Jerome Robbins, whilst the choreographer was Bob Fosse. It subsequently won the Tony Award for Best Musical for 1954, as well as Tony Awards for Carol Haney (the original Gladys) for Best Supporting Actress, and Bob Fosse for Best Choreography. It has been revived numerous times, the most recent being in 2006 with Harry Connick Jnr playing Sid, and is considered a ‘classic’ of the American musical theatre.
Part of its appeal is the brilliant score by Jerry Ross and Richard Adler, which includes “Hey There’, Steam Heat’, and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. The high calibre of the score, and these three songs in particular, was immediately recognised by contemporary recording artists such as Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray, Archie Bleyer and Sammy Davis Jnr. Rosemary Clooney’s version of ‘Hey There’ was a #1 hit and Archie Bleyer’s version of ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ a #2 hit on the 1954 Billboard pop charts. My personal favourite is Johnnie Ray’s version of ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. The success of these respective versions aided in their ascendency to be included in the canon of ‘The Great American Songbook’. The 1957 film version of The Pajama Game staring Doris Day and most of the original cast, including John Raitt and Carol Haney, as well as the old vaudeville star Eddie Foy Jnr for whom the role of Hines was specifically crafted, cemented the popularity of the show.
On one level The Pajama Game is a delightful, fun and lively piece of entertainment. However, look a little closer, scratch a little deeper and one finds what lies beneath its entertaining surface is something rather satiric, subversive, and very sexy. Although it draws on a number of influential musical resources, such as a psychologically based soliloquy song (‘Hey There’), which had been developed particularly by Rodgers and Hammerstein (e.g.. the King’s ‘Soliloquy’ in The King and I and Billy Bigelow’s ‘Soliloquy’ in Carousel), nothing really quite like The Pajama Game existed prior, with the possibly exception of the musicals of Cole Porter, particularly in regard to the expression of sexual desire and play, as well as a highly successful comic expression of aggressive and dangerously obsessive jealousy. The overt expression of sex and sexual desire is extraordinary for its time, and yet simply marvellous as there is nothing smutty or vulgar, everything is shot through with a dazzling wit and charm. Subsequently, it demands a delicate balance in performing. Play just the surface, and despite the fast-paced farcical energy it will seem superficial, meaningless and just plain silly. Play it with too much psychological realism and it will become heavy and dull. Too much either will make the characters unsympathetic, dull and boring. From a modern perspective none of the characters are particularly likeable. Casting is all important. Babe and Sid, for example, do not have a lot to really deal with in establishing their relationship. Both characters begin with a fierce denial of love, yet within a couple of scenes are already well and truly involved. Furthermore, Sid can all too easily come across as a sullen boorish bully, whilst Babe in Act One is an industrial terrorist. These roles, the central ‘lovers’ in this strange romantic comedy, demand the charisma of a Doris Day and jock-masculinity of a John Raitt.
With The Pajama Game nothing is quite what it seems – beginning with the poster. The original poster for The Pajama Game was highly successful, attracting attention, and was re-produced numerous times, as evident in the album cover for Johnnie Ray. However, as with the poster for the film of Tea and Sympathy the original poster for The Pajama Game is actually deceptive and a bit misleading. It shows a group of men ogling an attractive demure young woman in state of semi-undress, wearing only the top half of a pair of pajamas, her shoulders and top of her breasts exposed. However, nothing like this actually exists in the show. Furthermore, even though this may be fanciful, I can’t help thinking of a young Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe) when I look at this cartoon young woman. Also, with the strong red back-ground and the particular shaping of the cartoon figures and the title is suggestive of an inverted version of the national flag for the Soviet Union. Maybe the Soviet flag was a source of inspiration? After all, central to the plot of The Pajama Game is a threatened strike by the workers at the local pajama factory. Who knows? Nonetheless, what this should alert one to is that nothing is what it may seem to be and that underneath the surface, in this case a type of vulgar sexual ogling and voyeurism, something else is operating.
This issue is also curiously present in the journey of the title page of the original Richard Bissell novel.
The first version with the original title has a small semi-undressed female cartoon figure, but it is the yellow tape-measure that dominates the graphic picture, This is a working tool placing the industrial strike being of primary significance.
The second version is after The Pajama Game had opened, the title to Richard Bissell’s novel now being reduced to one sensational word – ‘PAJAMA’!!!. In this case it is the issue of sexual desire and behaviour that is primary. It is not certain as to who the female figure may be – it could be either Babe or Gladys. Due to the suggestion of denim overalls that she seems to have partly removed I’m betting that this is meant to be Babe, and indeed in the original novel Babe is far more aggressive and overt than in the musical. The red, as a symbol for passion, is used deliberately, particularly the provocative use of red lipstick and an open mouth. The female figure, however, seems completely indifferent, and rather self-obsessed. She could be using her compact mirror to see how the male figure is reacting, but by its angle and her gaze she seems to be examining her lips and lipstick. The male figure, probably Sid, but it could be Hines, is also curiously posed. Rather than ogling at this voluptuous beautiful babe, he has his eyes closed. He is holding in his left hand a set of keys and could be looking at them, which suggests he is Sid. There is a sexuality in the graphic, but it is not directed at another person. Neither figure seems particularly interested in the other, which is not the reality of The Pajama Game. As for the title, ‘PAJAMA’, it is difficult to see how this is reflected in the graphic design. A more appropriate title (with a nod to Stendhal’s The Scarlet and The Black) would be ‘THE LIPS AND THE KEYS’.
The third version is also post-musical, adopting the original cartoon graphic but minus the distinguishing red background. As previously mentioned, this impression is misleading as this type of voyeurism is absent from The Pajama Game, and is actually more appropriate to Promises, Promises and How To Succeed In Business, Without Really Trying. Furthermore, in a somewhat self-deprecating manner the blurb on the title page, ‘The original book of the famous musical hit’, effecting placing the original novel in a lower status to the musical. Curious.
Let’s now focus on some of the songs.
First, Babe’s ‘I’m Not at All in Love’ and Sid’s ‘Hey There’. What is remarkably different from other contemporary musicals is that here we have two characters who are in denial, their respective first major songs are about not wanting to fall in love. Babe’s ‘Im Not at All in Love’ is a bright buoyant jocular number between her and her female colleagues, very much in the Rodgers and Hammerstein vein like ‘Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair’ from South Pacific. Sid’s ‘Hey There’, however, is something a bit different.
There is precursor to this song, Sid’s very first song ‘A New Town is a Blue Town’ that feels a little like Sky Masterson’s ‘My Time of Day’ from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls (1950). This is not surprising considering that ‘A New Town is a Blue Town’ was actually written by the uncredited Frank Loesser. It prefigures ‘Hey There’ in that it reveals a psychological depth, a disturbance in his inner life, that is unusual from conventional musical theatre prior to The Pajama Game, which is further developed in ‘Hey There’.
‘Hey There’ is haunting and beguiling so it’s little wonder that this became one of the stand-out songs from the show. Despite the lilting charm it is not a pretty song. In its dramatic context this song has a psychological depth that is self-deprecating to the point of self-loathing as Sid castigates himself for being attracted to Babe. For most of the song ‘Hey There’ follows the musical theatre convention of a soliloquy, very much like those found in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I and Carousel, but then something magical happens. The dictaphone he has been using responds to him. It is no longer a solo but a duet, a dramatic debate between two voices, two Sid’s, with the second voice dominating the final moments of the song. This is unique. Furthermore, this is the type of song, especially at the top of show, that is generally given to the female protagonist. Very rarely is the male lead given such an emotionally psychological song that exposes such intense vulnerability.
Having rehearsed, directed and produced The Pajama Game a few times, as well as worked on scenes and songs in Masterclasses, including ‘Hey There’, it always works best (at least in rehearsal) when the two Sid’s actually confront each other physically and emotionally on-stage. Such a process is extremely useful for the actor playing Sid, as the dramatic dynamic is much greater playing off another actors rather than a dictaphone.
Although, as Shakespeare states, ‘comparisons are odious’, nonetheless, for me ‘Hey There’ is like Rodgers and Hammerstein meets Rodgers and Hart. Whilst the dramatic device of a soliloquy for the male protagonist is something, as previously stated, that Rodgers and Hammerstein developed to new heights, the wistful, reflective melancholy of ‘Hey There’ is something that resonates with such Rodgers and Hart songs such as ‘Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered’ from Pal Joey (1940) , ‘‘Falling in Love With Love is Falling for Make Believe’ from The Boys from Syracuse (1938). These songs, however, are for the mature female character in their respective musicals. Perhaps a closer comparison, and possible influence, would be Cole Porter’s ‘So in Love’ from Kiss Me, Kate (1948), which is sung first by Lily and then reprised by Fred, similar but reversed re gender with ‘Hey There’, which is first sung by Sid and reprised by Babe. Also, like ‘Hey There’, ‘So in Love’ is a song that in its dramatic context is full of self-loathing. Further comparisons are Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ from A Little Night Music (1973), which like ‘Hey There’ has been recorded by numerous singing artists, and is also in its dramatic context not a pretty song but one that is full of lacerating self-loathing. Another more modern equivalent is ‘People Like Us’ from Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party (2000). ‘Hey There’, however, is very much a Richard Adler and Jerry Ross song. Furthermore, for the most part the above referenced songs essentially belong to the respective female protagonists, and despite Rosemary Clooney, as well as Doris Day, making it a hit, in it’s dramatic context ‘Hey There’ is Sid’s song. What is more, as previously stated, it is for two sides of a masculine id that are in conflict with one another due to sexual and emotional desire – very Dr Kinsey.
Sid and Babe’s relationship is further developed throughout Act One, primarily through song as in the respective scenes they are generally in conflict. Their first major duet, ‘Small Talk’, takes place in the evening in the living room of Babe’s home. It is a delightful, flirtatious song that is like a game, complementing the title of the show. However, what is a little disconcerting is that the so-called ‘Small Talk’ that triggers the song is the possible factory workers strike. ‘Small Talk’? Nonetheless, what it does reveal is how little jock-boy Sid regards this industrial dispute that is central to the whole show in his passionate pursuit of Babe. The song concludes with a romantic kiss – but what happens next? We return to the factory where Sid and Babe sing their second duet, ‘There Once Was A Man’.
‘There Once Was A Man’ is a mad-cap ‘country & western’ romp that, from my experience if the show, audiences simply go wild about. For years it has baffled me as to what is it about this song that causes such a heightened reaction. There Once Was A Man’ is unlike anything else in the show, which is not so surprising as, like ‘A New Town is a Blue Town’, it was written by Frank Loesser. The oddness of the song is heightened by it’s placement in the sequence of events. Coming straight after ‘Small Talk’ and the romantic kiss that concludes the previous scene, as well as being a continuation of Sid and Babe’s game-playing, it feels that it belongs more in the bedroom than at the factory. It is a sexy and sexual song – think ‘Bollywood’ – in that Sid and Babe are role-playing in this wild song, something that they logically wouldn’t necessarily do in a public place. That the film has Doris Day and John Raitt sing this song in the evening on a deserted street as Sid drops Babe off at her place is indicative that the movie makers were also not convinced that the given circumstances of the factory setting as per the original show was the right location. Despite the movie’s shift in location it still doesn’t make sense to place it in the street in the evening. It is such a noisy playful song you’d think the neighbours would complain – ‘What are you two doing?’ ‘Get a room!’. A private room, a bedroom, is the more logical place for such sexual role-playing. I said, ‘Think Bollywood’, and a mean it – as ‘There Once Was A Man’ can easily be seen as a substitute to actual sexual intercourse. Furthermore, it presents sexual role-playing/intercourse as something that is joyous and heaps of fun. Thank the Lord! What is wonderful is that there is no sense of guilt or shame about all this sexual role playing, which is something that is very much the artistic and imaginative truth of this world of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s as if the sense of guilt and shame that accompanied contemporary sexual behaviour as revealed in The Kinsey Reports has been deleted and removed and that such sexual game-playing and behaviour is rather something that is celebratory and lots of fun. This is something that is heightened in the two major ensemble numbers, ‘Once A Year Day’ and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’.
‘Once A Year Day’ is the Act One ensemble number that is part of the sequence of events associated with the annual Sleep-Tite factory picnic. It is a romp – literally and figuratively. Look very closely at the lyrics. Under the veneer of social respectability of a annual social picnic there seems to be a hell of a lot of sexual game-playing and intercourse going on, more like a frenzy Dionyistic orgy.
Babe Look at Charlie up a tree Kissing Katie’s ear Charlie’s wife is sore as hell!
Chorus Oh well, it happens once a year!
Poopsie Look at Papa Halterbush, 92 today Running off with Sadie Lee
Chorus He’s heading for that pile of hay!
What is being said and sung is by modern censorious sensibilities and conservative tastes is so ‘politically incorrect’ that it is baffling to me no one leaves the theatre in shocked disbelieve at the open and celebrated licentious behaviour of these outwardly wholesome American citizens of Cedar Rapids. Instead people laugh and giggle. Remember what Orwell said about laughter – that it was like a little revolution’? Could it be that because these respectable citizens feel no guilt or shame that either do we when we experience this joyous and celebratory number? Or do we just go ‘blank’, we hear it but we don’t react or take offence? It’s like those moments in High School productions of Sweet Charity and Chicago when there is line with definite sexual overtones, such as ‘I don’t pop my cork for every guy I meet’, and parents face go stoney for a second, and then its over with the faces now saying,’We didn’t hear that’, ‘That never happened’. Hilariouss. What ever the case – you decide – but do look closely at these lyrics. What is being said and sung is so delicioulsy titilating, and so completely subversive to contemporary as well as modern morals and ethics that any accusation that The Pajama Game is just simply and ‘old fashioned’ musical means that the person who says it hasn’t actually listened to what is being said and sung and are merely expressing a superficial opinion. Or maybe its denial? ‘Oh! Dr Kinsey!’
These same respectable citizens are also those who patronise that ‘dark secluded place / A place where no-one knows your face – “Hernando’s Hideaway” – Ole!’. This popular song is a tango, one of the sexiest dances ever invented by mankind. The tango first appeared in the nineteenth century in Buenos Ares and Montevideo in the nineteenth century, and whilst there a number of sources and influences, including drums and rituals associated with African slaves and ‘Candcombe’ music from Uruguay, Argentinian ‘candcombe’ was and is a male-dominated domain – as was the origins of the tango. It was originally a dance performed by two men. However, that is a digression. In The Pajama Game it is used to characterise ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, a local nightclub to which Gladys takes Sid, as he pursues her to gain the key to the safe at the Sleep-Tite Factory.
I know a dark, secluded place
A place where no one knows your face!
A glass of wine, a fast embrace
It’s called Hernando’s Hideaway, Ole!
All you see are silhouettes
And all you hear are castanets
And no one cares how late it gets
Not at Hernando’s hideaway, Ole!
At the Golden Finger Bowl or anyplace you go
You will meet your Uncle Max and everyone you know
But if you go to the spot that I am thinking of
You will be free to gaze at me and talk of love
Just knock three times and whisper low
That you and I were sent by Joe
Then strike and match and you will know
You’re in Hernando’s hideaway, Ole!
The association with Dionysius and Bacchanalia behaviour lies in ‘a glass of wine, a fast embrace’, Dionysius being not only the God of the ancient Greek theatre but also the God of Wine and hedonistic sexual release. Subsequently, it is a continuation of the party game-playing first fully experienced in ‘Once a Year Day’. In contrast to that Act One ensemble number, which is open and joyous, ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ is one the numerous Act Two ensemble numbers and is more associated with a secret world, a world of anonymous sexual behaviour and dalliances – by the very same people who sang ‘Once a Year Day’. Cedar Rapids has secrets.
It is such a dark place that no one can see anyone else only ‘silhouettes’. The ‘castanets and the Latino name of the club suggest an exotic eroticism. It is somewhere completely different from everyday life, a ‘Hideaway’, a secret place, a type of Latino ‘Bower of Bliss’. Furthermore, the patrons ‘don’t care how late it gets’, which Sid and the audience discover is that the majority of these late-night patrons are from the Sleep-Tite Factory. No wonder Sid thinks they are lazy and Hines is continually hassling them re time management as they have been partying all night. This, however,isn’t mentioned, so it’s not really an issue, although it is a fact.
In contrast to the sunny openness of ‘Once A Year Day’ the game in ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ is more associated with anonymous sexual behaviour and dalliances. That the flirtatious bubbly Gladys is the character who introduced this song as a way of seducing Sid to come with her adds to the sexual innuendo behind ‘But if you go to the spot that I am thinking of / You will be free to gaze at me and talk of love’. Love? It is a type of forbidden love, and more lust than love. It is, however, like virtually everything else in this show, a game, and its a game of playful seduction without and real meaning. Sid and Gladys both know this that it is merely a game. The audience knows this as Gladys is with Hines and Sid is with Babe. However, both female characters are love-goddesses in their own way. Sid follows because his objective and motivation is tied up with securing the key to the safe that Gladys has around her neck. She knows he wants it so she teases him, and that tease is ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. It is all one big game, and that game is secret and sexual. Finally, the secretive nature of this is driven home when Hernando’s is set up as a type of 1930s Prohibition speakeasy with ‘Just knock three times and whisper low / That you and I were sent by Joe’. In modern terms it is more like a back-room. Once Sid and Gladys leave the factory’s office room and the scene transforms into the actual Hernando’s Hideaway, and then the real fun begins with the full company. What is surprising about all this, however, is that this fantastic song, and one of the show’s biggest hits, is so short as essentially the company just repeats what Gladys has already sung. The only extra fun we have is the sequence in the middle in which the ensemble fumbles, fondles (?) each other on-stage. I personally love the on-going joke of the young man seeking ‘Poopsie’ only to bump into another guy, ‘Hey, buddy, this ain’t no Poopsie’. From this perspective it would seem that the inhabitants of Cedar Rapids have secret lives, and that ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’ is a place for a type of secret sexual release. This is truly extraordinary for 1954, and extremely subversive to the so-called high morals of acceptable social behaviour as preached and advocated by McCarthyism and HUAC.
I’m not going to dwell too long on ‘Steam Heat’, except to acknowledge that whilst it doesn’t advance the plot, nonetheless, it is a truly great musical theatre number. It was also one of Bob Fosse’s most important and influential pieces, the choreography making it one of Fosse’s ‘signature’ pieces. ‘Steam Heat’ is the opener forAct Two and is set at the factory workers union Eagle Hall. The name of the factory union’s meeting place is deliberately ironic and subversive. The eagle that springs immediately to mind is the American Bald-headed Eagle, which is a revered and iconic national symbol. What is being signalled here with Eagle Hall is that the factory workers are not just members of a belligerent union but also true American patriots. This may have been of some necessity due to the sensitive nature of unions in the US at this time. Both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations regarded unions with great suspicion and hostility to the point of violent suppression. Like the opening of the show with Hines stating that this is a show about the battle between ‘labor and capital’, ‘Steam Heat’ is a reminder that this conflict that is central to the whole show is getting more intense and, pardon the pun, heated.
In the 2007 revival the song was given to Poopsie. The argument for this change being that as Gladys is actually the factory boss’s secretary it does not make sense for her to be involved with the union. Whilst I can understand and appreciate this change, nonetheless, I don’t entirely agree with it. I can’t see why Gladys couldn’t be a member of the union. There may be a difference between ‘white collar’ and ‘blue collar’ workers’ but this imagined community of Cedar Rapids is very small and self-contained, and if everyone else has the freedom to go from the factory to Hernando’s with unquestioned ease then why should this be denied to Gladys. Furthermore, Gladys occupies the position off what is a classical archetype – she is a ‘trickster’. One of the hallmarks of ‘trickster’ characters are their mercurial nature and ability; they are able to move between different realities and worlds.
If there is a certain justification in taking the number away from Gladys, then whilst Poopsie, or Mae, are possible, but why not give it Babe. After all, at the climatic end of Act One she acts like an industrial terrorist and causes an explosion whereby the factory shuts down and she, understandably, is then fired by Sid. This in itself is rather unique in regard to musical theatre heroines. Babe’s sacking does not prevent her from further involvement as evident in her active participation in the Act Two climatic ensemble number ‘Seven and Half Cents’.
The Pajama Game has a number of climaxes in Act Two. In regard to the book there is Hines going crazy and throwing knives at Sid and Gladys. I have not really dealt with the character of Hines, and I’m not going to as this paper is already far too long. Nonetheless, he is one of the most extraordinary characters written foe the musical theatre, a brilliant comedic study in obsessive jealousy. Whilst Sid and Babe are the central ‘lovers’ in this romantic musical comedy, it is actually Hines who really dominates the entire show. This is evident from the very beginning in his quasi-prologue that opens the show. Significantly, he is the only character who directly addresses the audience.
The finale of the The Pajama Game is a fashion show with the lovers all re-united and the convention of Babe and Sid appearing in the same pair of pajamas with a love hearts print, babe wearing the top and Sid wearing the bottom. This convention can and should be challenged. Sid and Babe’s respective victories and reunion makes them super-heroes; so why not dress them up as Captain America and Wonder Woman pajamas – I would.
The real climax of the show, or rather the musical climax, is the anthem ‘Seven and Half Cents’ sung by Babe, Prez and the workers. Like most numbers in the show it is celebratory; in this case gaining the much needed increase in the workers wages. Much needed? Is it really? I can’t see that this group of factory workers are starving or destitute in any way. So what are they striking for? Look closely at the lyrics and what they are actually saying.
Prez With a pencil and a pad I figured it out!
Only five years from today!
Only five years from today!
I can see it all before me!
Only five years from today!
Five years! Let’s see..thats 260 weeks, times forty hours every week, and roughly two and a quarter hours overtime.. at time and a half for overtime! Comes to exactly.. $852.74!
That’s enough for me to get
An automatic washing machine,
A years supply of gasoline,
Carpeting for the living room,
A vacuum instead of a blasted broom,
Not to mention a forty inch television set!
Chorus So! Although!
Seven and a half cents doesn’t buy a hell of a lot,
Seven and a half cents doesn’t mean a thing!
But give it to me every hour,
Forty hours every week,
And that’s enough for me to be living like a king!
‘An automatic washing machine’? A years supply of gasoline’? ‘Carpeting for the living room? A vacuum instead of blasted broom’? ‘A forty inch television set’? These are all luxury items, consumables that whilst desirable are not really essential for living. In the second verse, that is sung by Babe, the totalised sum after ten years could bring enough to buy:
Babe A trip to France across the seas,
A motorboat and water skis,
Maybe even a foreign car,
A charge account at the corner bar,
Not to mention a scrabble board with letters made of gold!
I know I probably shouldn’t be so judgmental, but why on earth would one want ‘a scrabble board with letters made of gold’? Think of the insurance and the anxiety you’d have every time you played it.
Now – there is absolutely nothing wrong with desiring such items, although why anyone would want a scrabble board with letter made of gold beats me; think of the insurance and anxiety issue that such ownership would bring. However, in regards to workers going on strike this is unusual. Throughout the song, the Chorus supports each verse climaxing with the line ‘And that’s enough for me to be living like a king’. This is further developed in the third and final verse, shared by Prez and Babe, when after twenty years of earning an extra ‘Seven and Half Cents’ per hour:
Prez That’s enough for me to be A sultan in a taj mahal In every room a different doll!
Babe I’ll have myself a buying spree,
I’ll buy a pajama factory,
Then I could end up having old man Hasler work for me!
This true drive behind the strike is not just the personal gratification of being able to buy luxury items but also the desire for power, or rather the vision of being powerful and empowered. For Prez, true to his character, this involves sexual gratification, whilst for Babe it means revenge for being fired.
As mentioned, there is nothing essentially wrong with the desire for these pleasurable items, after all this is America, the country where the personal ‘pursuit of happiness’ is part of the written constitution and philosophical idealism and national identity. However, it is quite possible that this is actually intended to be a ironic piece of satire, particularly considering the historical context in that McCarthyism and HUAC as well as other influential government and business propaganda advocated a conservative bourgeoise American way of life that involved and promoted the acquisition of luxury items. In dealing with most American drama two things should always be remembered, ideological pillars of American society if you like – Thomas Jefferson’s eternal conundrum of ‘the pursuit of happiness’, and Calvin Coolidge’s ‘the chief business of the American people is business’, in other words making money in order to do, buy or acquire things that make one happy. Subsequently, the song ‘Seven and a Half Cents’, which is also set in Eagle Hall, points to the remarkable delicate nature of The Pajama Game – the fine line between satire and naturalistic romantic comedy. The mad-cap nature of The Pajama Game that sees these two elements circling like a whirlpool is in the final sequence of events that involve Hine’s dream and ‘The Jealousy Ballet’, ‘Seven and a Half Cents’, Hine’s mad knife-throwing scene, and the Fashion Show Finale. Brilliant. However, as previously mentioned, if you stress the romanticism and light entertainment aspect the show becomes superficial, and if you stress the satire then it could become too heavy-handed. Subsequently, what lies beneath The Pajama Game is an extraordinary complex challenge in balancing the two elements. Furthermore, what the whole of The Pajama Game rests on is the exposure by Sid of a secret that Boss Hasler has kept hidden in a ledger locked away in a safe. It is due to Sid’s actions that the workers gain their ‘Seven and a Half Cents’ and the show has a happy ending. He is, in his own way, Captain America.
The Pajama Game complements other American drama of this period in dealing with secrets that threaten a perceived and romanticised American way of life. What makes it unique, at least in regards to the evolution and development of American musical theatre is the overt sexuality, which is never vulgar but nonetheless extraordinary audacious for its time, and dealt with such wit and energy that one is completely charmed. Except for Hine’s obsessive jealousy, there is absolutely no shame or guilt associated with this sexual behaviour. Subsequently, it complements the intention, if not the contemporary actuality, of the respective Kinsey reports, Sexual Behaviour of the Human Male and Sexual Behaviour of the Human Female, in attempting to bring a new confidence and awareness of contemporary activity. As Dr Kinsey wrote, ‘The World is not to be divided into sheeps and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white’.
The same applies to The Pajama Game. Hopefully this rather lengthy paper will lead to you re-evaluating The Pajama Game, and appreciate that what lies underneath its charming surface is something more than just old-fashioned entertainment, and that considering its historical context it is very much of its time. Whilst the musical score, especially ‘Hey There’ and ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’, helps to maintain its popularity, that it is actually about ‘Secrets and Sex’, however, gives The Pajama Game universal appeal. May it continue to do so. Thank you.