Everything you ever wanted to know about a masterpiece.



Opinionated, revealing, constantly entertaining account of the birth and growth of Tennessee Williams’s most famous play.

In the form we now know it, A Streetcar Named Desire, suggests Staggs (Close Up on Sunset Boulevard, 2002), blends Katherine Anne Porteresque Southern gothic, Samuel Beckettian nihilism and Cole Porterish camp. In a feverish moment, he deems it “a root canal on the soul,” but elsewhere lauds its sexual-comedic moments. Staggs neatly deconstructs the evolution of the genre-hopping play, observing its manic center’s transformation from Blanche Shannon of Chicago to Blanche DuBois of New Orleans, and charting the many changes Williams made to the script over a decade as a result not only of second and third thoughts but also, later, of audience reactions, director Elia Kazan’s suggestions and the meddling of censors and studio executives. The play came to life when, in 1947, a scarcely known actor named Marlon Brando was signed for the part of Stanley Kowalski (who, in earlier drafts of the play, had been first Irish, then Italian). Brando’s performances gave birth to method acting, whose theory, Staggs writes, had been well established but whose practice seems mostly to have consisted of other actors’ imitating Brando’s halting, hulking presentation. Staggs is less enthusiastic about the Blanche of the two-year New York theatrical run, Jessica Tandy, second-guessing Kazan six decades after the fact. (Williams, he writes, wanted Greta Garbo for the role.) Staggs then follows the twists and turns the play took to get to the screen, now with the appropriately disturbed Vivien Leigh as Blanche; it’s an unhappy story, even though the film made Academy Award history: “It was . . . the first time that three actors from the same film won Oscars.” Adds Staggs, after reconstructing a dozen scenes that the censors slashed, that story is also made a little happier by the fact that a director’s cut is now available, giving audiences a chance to get a better sense of Williams’s and Kazan’s intentions—to say nothing of the young Brando’s power.

Everything you ever wanted to know about a masterpiece.

Pub Date: June 14, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-32164-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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