Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
First I will get the obligatory name dropping out of the way, okay? I mean, what’s the point of meeting famous people if you can’t brag about it? In this case it involves a stage production in Toronto while we were filming Millennium. Joanne Woodward was playing Maggie the Cat, and Charles Durning was Big Daddy. The cool thing was that I saw it as a member of Paul Newman’s party of about eight people. It was a big success. (Woodward was perhaps a bit too old for Maggie, but it didn’t show. Durning was fabulous in a part he was born to play.)
Afterward we all repaired to the Four Seasons where a part of the lobby had been roped off from the hoi-polloi, because that has to be done whenever Newman appeared in public, otherwise he would be mobbed. Kris Kristofferson was there, and Cheryl Ladd. John Foreman, who used to be in partnership with Newman, ordered four or five bottles of wine that Dennis Lasker, his assistant, later told me came at $500 a pop. I’m sad to say I could not have told it from a box of Gallo.
I was too shy to speak up most of the time, but I did mention that I had seen Newman and Woodward in an off-Broadway play in 1964, called Baby Want a Kiss. I was seventeen, and had driven in a 1953 Hudson Wasp from Texas, with a friend, to see the World’s Fair and as much of New York as I could. We couldn’t afford the big shows, so we got tickets to the last row balcony of the cheapest show we could find. (We loved it.) They were surprised and amused, and Newman said I was one of the few who saw it. No kidding. The balcony had been almost empty.
And that’s my Cat on a Hot Tin Roof story.
So what about the film? I have to say I’m not a big fan of Tennessee Williams. I don’t hate him or even dislike him, but his style of Southern decadence and family dysfunction is not really to my taste. I’m more of a Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller kind of guy. But the man wrote parts that actors could just devour, didn’t he? I mean the sheer torture of Brick, the arrogance of Big Daddy, the cringe-worthy toadying of poor Gooper and horrible Mae “Sister Woman” … well, it doesn’t get more achingly Southern than that. All the actors are up to the challenge, and Burl Ives in particular was outstanding. (He did not get nominated for an Oscar, as Paul Newman did, but ironically was beaten … by himself, in The Big Country!)
Gotta say something about the horrible nicknames in some of these plays. I know they exist—my best friend in high school was called Junior by his family, and hated it. In Death of a Salesman the sons were Biff and Happy, really stupid names. But Brick? Gooper? Gooper? Anyone who would submit to being called Gooper obviously has no spine at all. I guess that was the point, but I winced every time I heard it. Why didn’t he insist on something more dignified, like Goober, or Gomer?