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"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" helps propel Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor to stardom

By Elana Estrin

Signet paperback edition of Tennessee Williams's play 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'
Signet paperback edition of Tennessee Williams's play 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.'

The Tennessee Williams Film Series at the Ransom Center continues tonight with Richard Brooks’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman. 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.

Despondent ex-athlete Brick Pollitt (Newman) resists the affections of his enticing wife, Maggie “the Cat” (Taylor). Tensions climax during cotton tycoon Big Daddy’s 65th birthday celebration on the Pollitt Plantation.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof helped propel Newman and Taylor to stardom. Although Taylor did not fit Williams’s own “idea of Maggie the Cat,” she was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal and was praised by Walter F. Kerr in the New York Herald Tribune for making herself “believable as a rejected wife, determined somehow to win back her cold and hostile husband.”

Williams offered his literary agent Audrey Wood a list of eight “acceptable” directors for the film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. MGM, however, preferred to work with a director they already had under contract. MGM offered George Cukor the directorial job, but Cukor turned it down when he realized that the Hollywood version of the story cut out most of the play’s implications of Brick’s homosexuality. The changes also infuriated Williams, who is said to have cautioned audiences to stay away from the 1958 film, charging that “this movie will set the industry back 50 years!” Richard Brooks, whom Wood identifies as “maybe!” qualified for the job, was eventually chosen to direct the film.

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.

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.

View photos from “Postcards From America” event

By David Coleman

On Friday, May 13, the Ransom Center helped to launch Magnum Photos’s road trip Postcards from America project.  The events began with an open bus where photography fans could meet and talk with Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand at their R.V., which the Postcards group parked right on the plaza.  (As you can see in the slideshow, getting it there was a bit dicey!)

After that was the main event: a public talk by the photographers and writer discussing the origins and plans for the project.  Although their journey had only just begun the day before in San Antonio, each photographer presented some amazing images from just one day’s work.  You can see many of these images on the Postcards From America blog.

The Ransom Center was excited to participate in this new project, an outgrowth of our parnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 press prints from Magnum Photos’s New York bureau.

I encourage you to follow the photographers on their blog and through the Blurb Mobile app.  Do it soon because they are more than halfway through their trip, which ends in Oakland with an exhibition from their journey at the Starline Social Club on May 26.

 

Please click the thumbnail to view full-size images.

 

Ransom Center helps to launch Magnum Photos's “Postcards From America” tomorrow

By David Coleman

Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.
Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.

“5 photographers, a writer, 2 weeks, a bus.” Thus begins a unique documentary project comprised of Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand, who will be traveling from San Antonio to Oakland from May 12 to May 26 on the first of a series of trips across the country.

They’ve been blogging about it since the end of March, so there’s already plenty to see and read. You can follow them on various social media sites, and you can even post your own images at the “Postcards From America” Flickr site. At the end they will be mounting a special exhibition of images from the trip at the Starline in Oakland, and they promise to include some of the follower-contributed Flickr images as well.

The idea was born at a retreat where Magnum photographers talked about, of all things, photography. It’s exactly the type of independent project that was behind Magnum’s founding by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, and George Roger in 1947. Established to preserve the copyright of their work, the Magnum cooperative agency thus secured perpetual revenue from the photographers’ imagery. This watershed moment in photojournalism thereby allowed the photographers to break free from the news cycle and pursue more in-depth and independent projects like “Postcards From America.”

The Ransom Center is excited to participate in this unique documentary event, which comes as an outgrowth of our relationship with Magnum Photos.  In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house some 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection to students, faculty, and the general public. We continue to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

The events on Friday, May 13, begin with a chance to informally meet and talk with the photographers between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. at their R.V., which will be parked on the north end of the Ransom Center plaza. This will be followed by a public discussion among the “Postcards” participants about photography and ways to picture America, held at 7 p.m. C.S.T. at Jessen Auditorium, Homer Rainey Hall, across the plaza from the Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live.

I hope you can join us.

Tonight: “Winston Churchill’s Public Library” lecture and webcast at 7 p.m. (CST)

By Jennifer Tisdale

Winston Churchill by unknown photographer. Undated. ‘New York Journal-American’ collection.
Winston Churchill by unknown photographer. Undated. ‘New York Journal-American’ collection.

Drew University historian Jonathan Rose delivers the inaugural Donald G. Davis, Jr. Lecture, “Winston Churchill’s Public Library,” tonight at 7 p.m. (CST) at the Harry Ransom Center.

View a live webcast of this event starting at approximately 7 p.m. (CST).

In his lecture, Rose explores the relationship between politicians and literature. Are politicians’ agendas molded by literature? How far are their policies and tactics shaped by poetry, prose, and drama? Rose focuses on the career of Winston Churchill by examining the books he read. George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy, and Siegfried Sassoon; The Red Badge of Courage, The Good Earth, Gone With The Wind, and 1984—these and many other books and authors exerted a powerful influence on Churchill and his brilliant career.

Rose is the William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president for the Society of the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing. His publications include A Companion to the History of the Book (with Simon Eliot), The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, and The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation.

Watch video from "Consider the Archive: An Evening of David Foster Wallace" event

By Alicia Dietrich

From left, Kurt Hildebrand, Shannon McCormick, L. B. Deyo, and Wayne Alan Brenner read an excerpt from Wallace's first novel, 'The Broom of the System.'
From left, Kurt Hildebrand, Shannon McCormick, L. B. Deyo, and Wayne Alan Brenner read an excerpt from Wallace's first novel, 'The Broom of the System.'
The Harry Ransom Center commemorated the opening of the David Foster Wallace archive with readings of Wallace’s work by writers and actors on September 14, 2010. Readers Wayne Alan Brenner, Elizabeth Crane, L. B. Deyo, Doug Dorst, Owen Egerton, Chris Gibson, Kurt Hildebrand, Shannon McCormick, and Jake Silverstein shared selections of Wallace’s fiction, essays, and correspondence. Wallace’s archive is housed at the Ransom Center. The program was co-sponsored by American Short Fiction and Salvage Vanguard Theater.

The video of this event is now available online.

Tonight: "The Lives and Work of Helmut and Alison Gernsheim"

By Courtney Reed

Cover of ‘The Gernsheim Collection’
Cover of ‘The Gernsheim Collection’

Tonight, J. B. Colson, Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Fellow of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and Roy Flukinger, Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography, discuss the lives and work of Helmut and Alison Gernsheim at the Ransom Center.

This event will be webcast live and is held in conjunction with the exhibition Discovering the Language of Photography: The Gernsheim Collection, on display through January 2, and the release of the book The Gernsheim Collection. A book signing of The Gernsheim Collection follows.

In this video clip from a 1978 interview, Colson asks Helmut Gernsheim about his passion for collecting and his career as a pioneering historian of photography. Helmut and Alison Gernsheim’s efforts significantly contributed to the acceptance of photography as a fine art and as a field worthy of intellectual study. In this clip, Gernsheim discusses how and why he started collecting photography before it became an established practice.

Charles R. Larson on African literature

By Alicia Dietrich

Charles R. Larson. Photo by Roberta Rubenstein.
Charles R. Larson. Photo by Roberta Rubenstein.
Tonight, Charles R. Larson of American University speaks about his collection of African, African American, and Native American literature, acquired by the Harry Ransom Center in 2009. Bernth Lindfors, University of Texas at Austin emeritus professor of English, hosts the conversation, which will be webcast live. Here Larson shares how he became interested in African literature and began collecting.

This collection of books and manuscripts would not exist if I had not gone to Nigeria in 1962 as a Peace Corps volunteer. Prior to my departure, I had earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in American literature and written my thesis on William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy. I fully intended to return to the United States and pursue a Ph.D. in American literature. Fortunately, the summer before my departure for Nigeria, I read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard.

Nigeria totally altered my worldview, mostly by showing me the failure of my earlier education. Not only did I begin reading emerging works by African writers, but I realized that in the many American literature courses that I had taken, I had never read a work by a minority writer. I began ordering books from the United States and reading Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and other African American writers. How ironic that the man who directed my M.A. thesis and taught the American literature survey course I took never mentioned a single African American writer, yet he was an African American. After I returned to the United States, I discovered that he had one of the most extensive private collections of African American literature, but he obviously never felt comfortable enough to assign any of those writers in his own courses.

How fortunate that the school where I taught English in Eastern Nigeria was a scant few miles from Ogidi, the village where Achebe grew up and the setting of his celebrated novel. I was aware of Ogidi’s proximity to my own village and was even told that Achebe visited his family there from time to time, but I made no attempt to meet him until several years later. Equally important, however, was Onitsha, the Igbo center of business and culture, a dozen miles from where I lived. It was there that I purchased many of the original titles by the Onitsha pamphleteers and had my first true sense of what was already becoming a major school of African writing. In Onitsha at the CMS Bookstore, I also purchased Achebe’s third novel, Arrow of God, soon after it was published.

Nigeria changed my scholarly life. When I returned home I was determined to see that works by African writers were reprinted in American editions, and in the spring of the 1965 academic year, I taught my first course in African literature. The rest is history.

View slideshow of images from "Consider the Archive: An Evening of David Foster Wallace"

By Alicia Dietrich

Video of the program “Consider the Archive: An Evening of David Foster Wallace” will be posted on the Ransom Center’s website once it is transcribed and captioned to comply with ADA guidelines.

 

Please click the thumbnails to view larger images.

 

Making Movies: "Casino"

By Alicia Dietrich

Costume worn by Robert De Niro in 'Casino.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Costume worn by Robert De Niro in 'Casino.' Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
The Making Movies Film Series runs throughout the summer and features films that are highlighted in the Making Movies exhibition. Tonight, the Ransom Center will screen Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995), starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. Throughout the series, Cultural Compass will highlight an exhibition item related to each film.

A story of greed, violence, deception, money, and power, Casino is set amid the world of gangsters in 1970s Las Vegas. It is the eighth film of a remarkable series of collaborations between actor Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese.

A film based on true events, Casino stars De Niro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a character based on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a sports handicapper from Chicago who earned the attention of the mob due to his genius with numbers. His friend Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, was based on Tony Spilotro, a violent mob enforcer who protected the “skim,” or illegal casino profits. Ace’s wife, Ginger McKenna, based on Rosenthal’s real life spouse, Geri McGee, a Las Vegas call girl, is played by Sharon Stone.

The costumes worn in Casino are as flashy and gaudy as the city in which the film is set. Nearly all of the costumes in Casino were custom made and reference vintage clothing from the 1970s and 1980s to emphasize and enhance the larger-than-life characters of the film. The costumes had to be both grounded in the fashion of the time and in tune with the characters and plot turns of the film.

As Ace Rothstein, Robert De Niro wears this costume at the beginning of Casino when a bomb planted in Ace’s car explodes. Ace survives with only burns on his arm. Multiple copies of this costume were made for the necessary additional takes.

Rita Ryack and John Dunn designed the costumes in Casino. Ryack’s work can be also seen in such films as Cape Fear, Apollo 13, Wag the Dog, and Hairspray. Dunn designed costumes for Basquiat, The Notorious Betty Page, and I’m Not There, among many others.