Friday, May 3, 2024

Favorite Pic of the Day for May 4th

William Holden and Kim Novak in Picnic
-See More Below-

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Picnic by William Inge

'Picnic is a memory of women, all sorts of women – beautiful, bitter, harsh, loving, young old, frustrated, happy – sitting on a front porch on a summer evening.'
William Inge

Drama Group

Picnic was indeed a play about women, but critics disagree as to what writer William Inge was actually tying to say about them.  Inge said he based the play on the women he'd known growing up.  His mother owned a boarding house in Kansas, and Inge's house was often filled with single women, many living in the house were teachers and Ingle remembers how nice they were to him.

Marshall College

'I liked them. I saw their attempts, and, even as a child, I sensed every woman’s failure. I began to sense the sorrow and the emptiness in their lives, and it touched me '

Putnam County Playhouse

Other critics, especially those looking back on the play, saw women being portrayed as useless, unless of course they were young, pretty and not too smart.  Roger Ebert, in a review in 1996 after the film was restored, says that in the time and place of Picnic, Inge's was actually commenting on the utter irrelevance of woman.

It was reported that Inge didn't handle critical feedback of his work well, interesting as he began his own career as a drama critic at the St. Louis Star-Times in 1943. It was with the encouragement of Tennessee Williams that Inge wrote his first play, Farther Off from Heaven in 1947. 

Of course as many unique female characters occupy the neighborhood in Picnic, it's the men that stand out.  Issues of sexual desire and Hal Carter's raw sexuality are also a main theme, and homoerotic themes are also explored with the relationship between Hal and Alan in many later productions. 

'Hal Carter and Alan Seymour: Dueling images of burgeoning male sexuality. "Hal, I think, is what you hope for, and Alan is often what you wind up with. Hal is the dream fuck, the man who can take care of the car and the house and the lubricious needs of the lady of the house. However, the bills will never be paid on time and his eye will forever wander. Still, there are women always willing to enter this contract. 

Alan is the man the mother wants you to marry: He comes from good people; the homes and the cars are impeccable and get attention; the children and the future will glisten. But, but...there is no sparkle, no click, no passion. Daughters will always go where their hearts--or some other organ--take them. Poems and lives are not crafted from common sense, in love or anything else.'
Elia Kazan

American Airlines Theatre

'Inge devotes the first act of Picnic to laying out his theme that raw male sexuality is not only taboo, but dangerous. The first scene appearance of the shirtless Hal injects that sexuality into the women's world, and by the end of the play it has ruined their lives. Inge shows that while the handsome, sexual male can be idolized for his physical prowess, he can never be fully accepted into society.'
Robert Woods 

Writers Theatre

These issues are often attributed to Inge's own homosexuality, and years of struggling and remaining in the closet.  Inge was often seen publicly with women, and seemed like when others thought the relationship was romantic.  This was especially true with his longtime friend, actress Barbara Baxley.

Dallas Theatre

'Bill wanted love from a man but it had to be a gentleman. He wanted love from me but it had to be sweet affection not physical love. The times we tried physical love failed, so we were very happy with loving regard for one another. He used to sit… and hold me like a child. '
Barbara Baxley,

Haulston Mann

Privately, it was reported that Inge was miserable.  His shame over his sexuality led to another long struggle with alcoholism.  Even after decades of success, including acclaim for his writing, Ingle never seemed truly happy.  In addition to Picnic, Ingle is know for writing Come Back Little Sheba, Bus Stop, Splendor in the Grass and Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff. (which I featured HERE:) \Sadly, Inge died of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning on June 10, 1973, at the Hollywood home he shared with his sister, Helene.  I hope at some point in his 60 spins around the sun, he had the opportunity to have physically had a Hal, even if just for awhile. 

Picnic: The Shirtless Show

'My shirts awful dirty, ma'am....'
Hal Carter

 I know there's more to William Inge's Picnic than just the shirtless Hal Cooper, but the role, and the torso, tends to get the most attention.  That's why the cat of the Antaeus Theatre Company's production, used it front and center in the promotion of their staging of the play.  The video does a great job of showing off the abs and attributes of the actors in the play, but is also really well done, and really funny.

'Poetic realism, wry humor and a surging erotic charge… intelligently gripping
David Nichols, LA Times

Picnic: Ralph Meeker, The Original

Original Broadway Production
Music Box Theatre
February 19th, 1953-April 10th, 1954

 A small town in Kansas in the backyard shared by Flo Owens and Helen Potts.

The original production of William Inge's Picnic debuted on Broadway in February of 1953.  The original Hal was played by actor Ralph Meeker who was joined by Eileen Heckart, Janice Rule, Peggy Conklin, and Paul Newman as Alan in his Broadway debut.  Newman originally campaigned heavily for the role of Hal, but director Joshua Logan didn't think he had the 'physical attributes' required to play the lead. 

Newman, an unknown at the time, need not have worried, as we all know, his physical attributes were greatly appreciated soon after by millions of movie fans.  Newman did understudy the role of Hal, and eventually took over the role at the end of the show's run. 

Meeker and Janice Rule

Meeker's film career had just gotten off the ground, and although not a household name, already had a handful of film and television appearances under his belt, before landing the role of Hal.   Meeker also had previously appeared on Broadway, including being the understudy for Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.  The original New York Times review, (below) seems to back up director Logan's choice of Meeker for the role. 

Meeker and Kim Stanley
The acting

'The acting is superb.  As the cheap braggart, Ralph Meeker acts from the inside out, never forgetting that, the character has a validity of it's own.'


Original Cast:

No, the last two shots of Meeker are not from Picnic, but given he's just wearing a swimsuit, I had to add them. The shot below is from 1952's Shadow in the Sky co-starring Nancy Regan. 

Picnic: William Holden, The Movie

'I don't know if its such a good idea of me goin' on this Picnic.'
Hal Carter

The Film: 1955
Directed by Joshua Logan
Hal Carter played by William Holden

Emotions are ignited among the complacent townsfolk when a handsome drifter arrives in a small Kansas community on the morning of the Labor Day picnic.

With the success of the Broadway show, Picnic was quickly optioned and became a Technicolor romantic comedy-drama film filmed in CinemaScope in 1955, about a year after the play closed in New York.  Joshua Logan, who also directed the Broadway play, was brought on board, but ultimately, wasn't able to bring any of the stars of the stage version.  

Only a few smaller characters were played by their Broadway counterparts, but the main roles were all played by new actors.  William Holden was already cast by Columbia, finishing off his contract with the studio. Logan was responsible however, for choosing actress Kim Novak for the role of Madge Owens.

Although everyone wanted Paul Newman to take on his role of Alan, Newman's movie career was taking off, and could not take the part due to being under contract with Warner Brothers. Logan then cast actor Cliff Robertson.  Robertson had been working on stage, and on television for over a decade, but was still relatively unknown at the time. Picnic was his feature film debut. 

As you can see, Logan's film version utilized Holden's smoldering good looks, and well built physique.  Holden's chest and torso were spotlighted in the film, on the poster, and in many of promotional images. There were so many images of Kim Novak with a shirtless Holden, I couldn't have fit them all in if I tried.

Picnic was a huge success and Holden and the cast even appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in February of 1956.   The film got generally good reviews, including from the NYTimes and Chicago Review, (below)  many pointed out the actor's performances, and the majestic beauty and cinematography.

'It is a taut two hours of masterful movie making ... The story presents a cross-section of many lives, but the telling is never hurried, the detail is impressive, and the performances are some of the finest of the year. ... The film tells a moving and human tale, and does it in superb fashion. It is one of the finest examples of superior motion picture production.'

Holden & Cliff Robertson