A Streetcar Named Desire, as it was first performed with the original cast; Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden and Marlon Brando. A run which began in 1947 and in 1948 was awarded the Drama Critics Award as best new play.
One of the most interesting parts of history, certainly from a Popular Culture standpoint, is how society changes and how those changes are reflected in our cultural history. In 1948, Tennessee Williams was one of the most cutting-edge Playwrights of the 20th century – A Streetcar Named Desire was, not only groundbreaking, it signaled a new era in Theatre. There were earlier attempts and earlier successes – plays from other countries or plays that dealt in terms of Political struggles. But Streetcar was something different – and it would be hard to convey exactly what was so different about it in 2018 without being around in 1948 and privy to the nuances and social issues at the time. In 1948, Streetcar pushed envelopes – even at the beginning of this broadcast, where scenes from the play are performed, the announcer cautions listeners as to the “provocative nature” of the material. Little would anyone know at the time, but a decade later it would become so commonplace that many a High School staged their own productions of it. And in comparison to cutting-edge theatre of today (wherever that may be), Streetcar is practically quaint by comparison.
We’ve come a long way – but the measure of the piece is in the words and their interpretation. In the later filmed version, Jessica Tandy would be replaced by Vivian Leigh. And director Elia Kazan would score numerous triumphs with other groundbreaking films like On The Waterfront – Marlon Brando goes without saying. He transformed Streetcar and Streetcar in turn transformed his career.
But those are all events which took place after A Streetcar Named Desire graced the Broadway stage. I’m not sure how familiar many are with this 1948 Drama Critics broadcast from Mutual’s Special Events Department which was aired live on April 4, 1948, but to realize this took place 70 years ago tells you how far we’ve come or how far we’ve slipped in the interim.
It’s a historic document and not a comment on our current state of affairs culturally.
Sometimes, history can be enlightening as well as a reminder.