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Vivien Leigh takes a mad turn in "A Streetcar Named Desire"

By Alicia Dietrich

Film still of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'
Film still of Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire.'

The Harry Ransom Center kicks off the Tennessee Williams Film Series tonight with Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. The series runs on some Thursdays through July 21 and features films highlighted in the current exhibition, Becoming Tennessee Williams, which runs through July 31.

Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1951 film adaptation of Williams’s 1947 play, which received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1948. No other play of Williams’s rivaled A Streetcar Named Desire for its intensity, insight, or impact, and it was Williams’s favorite because it embodied “everything I had to say.”

In the story, Blanche DuBois (Leigh) moves in with her sister in New Orleans and is tormented by her brutish brother-in-law (Brando) while her reality crumbles around her.

British actress Vivien Leigh was the only leading member of the screen cast not originally in the 1947 Broadway production of the play. Leigh was given the movie role because the film’s producers felt Leigh had more box office appeal than Jessica Tandy, largely for her Oscar-winning performance as Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s Gone With the Wind.

Leigh’s performance earned positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it “haunting,” adding that “Miss Leigh accomplishes more than a worthy repeat of the performance which Jessica Tandy gave on the stage…Blessed with a beautifully molded and fluently expressive face, a pair of eyes that can flood with emotion, and a body that moves with spirit and style, Miss Leigh has, indeed, created a new Blanche Du Bois on the screen—a woman of even greater fullness, torment, and tragedy.”

Later, Leigh, who suffered from bipolar disorder for much of her life, would claim that the part was responsible for her illness following the film’s production. She was hospitalized multiple times and treated with electroshock therapy.

Visit the galleries, open until 7 p.m. on Thursdays, before attending the screenings. Please be aware that the Ransom Center’s Charles Nelson Prothro Theater has limited seating. Line forms upon arrival of the first person, and doors open 30 minutes in advance.

This post was written by Ransom Center volunteer Emily Butts.

In the galleries: David Mamet's "Homicide" outline

By Alicia Dietrich

David Mamet's outline for 'Homicide." Click on image to view full-size version.
David Mamet's outline for 'Homicide." Click on image to view full-size version.

David Mamet is one of America’s best-known and most celebrated playwrights and filmmakers. He has received numerous awards and honors for such plays as American Buffalo (1975), Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), Speed-the-Plow (1988), and Oleanna (1991), and films including The Verdict (1982), Homicide (1991), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), Wag the Dog (1997), and State and Main (2000). The Ransom Center acquired Mamet’s archive in 2007. Since then, Mamet has visited the Ransom Center several times to speak at public events, university classes, and student reading groups, and to lead a screenwriting workshop for students.

Materials such as Mamet’s typescripts and journals, as well as materials related to his 1991 film, Homicide, can be found in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Culture Unbound: Collecting in the Twenty-First Century.

Mamet wrote and directed Homicide, which follows homicide detective Bobby Gold, who—while trying to solve a murder—discovers a secret Zionist organization operating in the city. A series of circumstances awaken in Gold a deeper connection with his Jewish upbringing and test his loyalty to the badge. The film stars Joe Mantegna and William H. Macy, actors who frequently collaborate with Mamet.

In this outline for Homicide, Mamet structures the plot of the film following the classic sequence of action that mythologist Joseph Campbell identified in his theory of the “hero’s journey” or “monomyth.” In his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell theorized that a fundamental structure could be found in ancient myths from around the world. He identified a number of “steps” or actions that were common to many ancient myths, from the “call to adventure” to the “freedom to live.” Mamet lists these steps in the middle column at the top of the page and correlates them with the film’s action in the middle row of this chart.

This post was written by Ransom Center volunteer Emily Butts.

Alaskan explorer "Yukon" Yates publishes book about life’s adventures

By Alicia Dietrich

Walter “Yukon” Yates, 86, recently published the autobiography Breakaway, which documents his life as an Alaskan explorer, bush pilot, gold miner, airplane and airport builder, helicopter crash survivor, World War II veteran, documentary filmmaker, grizzly bear hostage, and all-around adventurer.

Yates’s story was detailed by filmmaker Warren Skaaren (1946–1990) in the documentary of the same name. Breakaway (1978) was the first film that Skaaren wrote and directed, and materials related to the film can be found in the Skaaren archive at the Ransom Center. Skaaren later worked on scripts for such films as Top Gun (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Beetlejuice (1988), Days of Thunder (1990), and Batman (1989).

The archive includes correspondence between Yates and Skaaren as they scripted and planned the documentary and negotiated business terms, Skaaren’s notes on the film, promotional materials, photos, and fan letters.

Born in 1924, Walter Yates spent his early years on Burny Mountain (now called Yates Mountain) in Arkansas, living in a log house built by his father. At age 10 his family moved off the mountain and later moved to Texas. Yates loved to read adventure stories and dreamed of the day he would live some of his own. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17, one week before Pearl Harbor thrust the U.S. into World War II. He served in the South Pacific and was wounded on the island of Guadalcanal.

After Yates learned to fly, his adventures led him all over the world. His love of the wilderness drew him to the North Country where he built a log cabin 100 miles from the nearest neighbor and lived off the land for an entire year in isolation while filming the documentary Breakaway.

Tragedy nearly ended his adventurous life when his helicopter crashed and burned in British Columbia in 1978. Badly injured, he lay there for 14 days before being rescued by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The story made international news.

After his recovery, Yates spent several years gold mining in the Yukon Territory.

Yates has built several boats, two helicopters, and an airplane. As a real estate developer, he established many residential neighborhoods, including the fly-in subdivision called Breakaway Park in Cedar Park, Texas, where residents keep their planes in their backyards. He lives there today with his wife, Tracy.

 

Please click thumbnails below for larger images.

Book giveaway on April 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Central Market

By Alicia Dietrich

Cover of 'Consider the Lobster' by David Foster Wallace
Cover of 'Consider the Lobster' by David Foster Wallace

Starting at 6:30 p.m. on April 14, the Ransom Center is distributing free copies of David Foster Wallace’s book Consider the Lobster and other titles by Culture Unbound exhibition authors. Check in with us upstairs at Central Market (40th and Lamar) to receive your book and a food sample from the Cooking School chefs.