Cast & Crew
An adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play about restless young warehouse worker and would-be poet, Tom Wingfield, his fragile, reclusive sister, Laura, and his colorful but overbearing mother, Amanda, all living together in a shabby apartment in St. Louis during the Depression and struggling to dilute the grim realities of daily living by way of memories, fantasies, and grandiose dreams about the future.
The Glass Menagerie -
Williams considered The Glass Menagerie to be his best play (though he said Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was his personal favorite). It's been transferred to the screen four times -- twice as a feature and twice as a television movie. A 1950 Warner Brothers production (which Williams did not care for) was directed by Irving Rapper and starred Kirk Douglas. A 1987 feature was directed by Paul Newman and starred Joanne Woodward.
On the small screen, the best-known version aired on ABC in 1973. Directed by Anthony Harvey and starring Katharine Hepburn, it won four Emmys and was a major television event. Seven years earlier, however, CBS aired its own adaptation of The Glass Menagerie (1966), with a script by Tennessee Williams himself. (To fit the time slot, he had to trim six minutes from his play.) The cast, approved by the playwright, consisted of Shirley Booth as Amanda, Hal Holbrook as Tom, Barbara Loden as Laura, and Pat Hingle as the "Gentleman Caller," Jim.
This version, which has rarely been screened or made available in the decades since, aired on Dec. 8, 1966, drawing stellar reviews. It was filmed in England and produced by Jacqueline Babbin and David Susskind, the latter a veteran talk show host and longtime television and movie producer. Over his career, Susskind garnered ten Emmy nominations and won four times. Two of his nominations, in fact, came during the same season as The Glass Menagerie -- for Death of a Salesman (1966), starring Lee J. Cobb, and Mark Twain Tonight! (1966), starring Hal Holbrook, and based on the hit, one-man Broadway show that had just secured Holbrook's reputation.
Pat Hingle, meanwhile, had been enjoying a stage and screen career since the early 1950s. He was well known and liked by Williams for having played a role in the original Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and for playing the Gentleman Caller in the 1965 stage revival of The Glass Menagerie, just a year before this TV production. Barbara Loden had had a more sporadic acting career on stage and screen. She would soon become a director, achieving some fame for Wanda (1970), and would marry Elia Kazan, for whom she also worked as an actress.
Shirley Booth had done a major sitcom, Hazel, in the early 1960s, and had won an Oscar for Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), but she was much more famous as a Broadway actress, with a stage career stretching back to 1925. (With Come Back, Little Sheba, in fact, she became the first actress to win an Oscar and a Tony for the same role.)
Booth was somewhat frustrated with this mounting of The Glass Menagerie. She had creative disputes with the director, Michael Elliott, about the way Amanda Wingfield should be interpreted, and in the end she felt that Elliott edited the show in a manner that stressed the character of Laura over Amanda, to the production's overall detriment. Interestingly, The New York Times review mentioned this precise aspect of the show: "It would have been preferable if the emphasis on Amanda Wingfield...had been pointed up a little more," it said.
Nonetheless, Booth received an Emmy nomination for her performance, with The Washington Post gushing that she was "tough and pitiful, brave and silly, strong and defeated repeatedly by life and times." In a 1966 interview with TV Guide, Booth said, "I never give a complete characterization. I try to leave a little for the yeast of the audience's imagination and interest to work. I was never pretty, you know. I always had to catch an audience other ways. When they aren't interested in your beauty, you've got a better opportunity to make them interested in the person you are supposed to be."
The rest of the cast was very strongly praised, with The New York Times deeming Holbrook "exceptionally fine," and saying of Loden: "The vision of [her] glowing face after her lips had been touched by the caller will stand as a close-up of almost unbearable loveliness. In Miss Loden's touching tenderness of expression there was embodied all the agony of human yearning for another and all the ecstacy of being wanted.... Pat Hingle...matched Miss Loden's magnificence in his uncanny effectiveness in [playing] the caller as a sensitive extrovert."
Of the production overall, the Times called it "a theatrical treat... An evening of substantial theater such as all too seldom reaches television."
Val Adams, "Miss Booth Cast in Williams Play," The New York Times, 7/11/66
Jack Gould, "TV: 'Glass Menagerie' With Taste and Perception," The New York Times, 12/9/66
Jack Gould, "Suddenly, a Pleasant Surprise," The New York Times, 12/18/66
David C. Tucker, Shirley Booth
By Jeremy Arnold
The Glass Menagerie -
Aired in United States December 8, 1966