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"Maggie the Cat is Alive!"

Tennessee Williams Centennial Week Wraps

Maggie the Cat, the sex-starved slip-covered wife at the heart of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (discussed earlier this week) is not just alive, she keeps coming back to life. True to her feline symbolism she's had several of them, eight bigs ones actually. Who will risk playing Maggie the Cat's ninth major life and how soon will that be?

Here is a history of the key Maggies for those who love the play... or just if you like to see major actresses in their lingerie. Have you ever seen a production of this play anywhere or just the 1958 film? Do tell in the comments. Would love to hear Tin Roof stories.

1955 ~ Original Maggie

Barbara Bel Geddes, originated the role on Broadway in the 1956 and won a Tony nomination. (She lost to Julie Harris in "The Lark"). Other Key Roles: I Remember Mama (1947, Oscar nomination. Lost to Claire Trevor in Key Largo), "Midge" in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), "Mary, Mary" on Broadway (1961, Tony nomination), and "Miss Ellie Ewing" on Dallas (1978-1990, 3 nominations/1 win at the Emmys)

1958 ~ Legendary Maggie


Elizabeth Taylor slinked, steamed, pawed and nagged her way to consecutive Oscar nomination #2 in the 1958 film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Suddenly Last Summer was Oscar nom #3 in 1959. Then a win for her fourth consecutive nomination for BUtterfield 8 (1960). Many more Liz photos in the gallery section of the site. If you've been away, catch up on the Liz commemorative posts.

Elizabeth is not the only two time Oscar winner who played Maggie. Lots of stars have slinked around in that white slip: Jessica Rabbit, a Dreamgirl, and even one of Elizabeth's few rivals in 60s Movie Superstardom. 

1974 ~Cognoscenti's Maggie

Elizabeth Ashley's early 60s film breakout gave way to a highly acclaimed theatrical career with lots of guest starring TV roles on the side. She won raves and a Tony nomination for the sexually charged 70s revival of Broadway. People Magazine featured her in their Stage section at the time.

'I was one of those people who became a 'star' very young, and I turned into a monstrous human beging - Bessie von Bitch, they called me. I was in analysis forever.'

She now sees herself as made for the stage - 'a leading woman who can handle anything they've got, but God knows I'm not a movie star.'

Other Key Roles: The original Corie from Broadway's Barefoot in the Park (Jane Fonda got the movie role); "Mollie" in Take Her She's Mine" (1962 Tony Award); Monica in The Carpetbaggers (1964, Golden Globe nomination); Jenny in the Best Picture nominee Ship of Fools (1965); Recently played Mattie Fae in August: Osage County (replacement).

Jessica Rabbit, a Dreamgirl and some crazy oroborus-style Jessica Lange trivia after the jump.


1976 ~ Shrinking Maggie

Natalie Wood unfortunately peaked early, the bulk of her iconic roles (Rebel Without a Cause, West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass etc...) coming during her childhood to early 20s. In the 70s, her movie career dwindling, she tried stage roles and television, strangely opting for remakes of classic films; that's not the safest way to get great reviews, hon. She took on memories of Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity and then risked Maggie in the significant shadow of one of her major peers in 60s superstardom. You know who.

1984 ~ Especially Catty Maggie

Jessica Lange made a surprise small screen detour during the peak years of her movie stardom to do Maggie for PBS. I remember watching this on TV very late at night. My only memory of Lange's performance is that she was literalizing some of the cattiness with pawing / clawing gestures? But I could be making this up. Half asleep while watching and too young to get Cat's sexuality, was I.

TRIVIA-SPLOSION: Tommy Lee Jones played Brick in that special and unlike today's TV world, which grants automatic Emmy nods to big screen stars when they lead TV films, neither of them were nominated, though a couple of supporting players were. Here's the crazier part: Jones and Lange would reunite for Blue Sky (1994). Lange's character actually quotes Blanche Dubois in that movie. Lange won her second Oscar for that role in March of 1995 and then by October of that same year she was on television in the role her Blue Sky character liked to quote! Her turn in TV's A Streetcar Named Desire (1995) fared better than her Cat... as she was Emmy nominated (She lost to Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect).

1990 ~ End of an Era Maggie

Painting by Dave DeCaro

 Kathleen Turner ended her spectacularly sexy Decade of Superstardom not with a final movie role but on Broadway as sex-starved Maggie. She was Tony nominated. [Editors Note: I couldn't find a suitable big photo, so I've used this painting from Dave DeCaro. You can see more of his artwork here.] From Body Heat (1981) to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1990), Kathleen was it. To readers who were alive during the 1980s, can I get an "amen"? Almost immediately afterwards her huge career took a downturn, the tailspin beginning with VI Warshawski, 1991. She's thankfully found second-act career life on the stage so perhaps Maggie pointed the way. We're very pleased about this as she's simply a great actor. She's back on Broadway now for "High". Will she win another Tony nomination?

2003 ~ Controversial Maggie

Ashley Judd played Maggie for the third Broadway revival. The production was not terribly enthused about and the media was far more interested in the backstage drama. It was well known during the run that Judd & Jason Patric (as Brick) were not getting along in the least. Eight years later he's still tell you so. He recently told Entertainment Weekly that she was "lazy, selfish and arrogant." You don't often hear actors dissing other actors that publicly. Which makes you wonder about what it was like for the other actors 8 shows a week for 5 months. [Updated for correction] Ned Beatty and Margo Martindale as Big Daddy and Big Mamma won fine reviews but only Martindale was Tony nominated. Beatty had to settle for the Drama Desk win.

2008 ~ Dreamgirl Maggie 

Anika Noni Rose led the recent Broadway effort which reimagined Cat with an all black cast. Frequent Oscar choreographer Debbie Allen directed the limited engagement to poor reviews but sold out houses. No Tony nominations, though.

Other Key Roles: Emmie in "Caroline or Change" (Marvelous show. She won the "Featured" aka "Supporting" Tony Award), Lorrell in Dreamgirls (2006, SAG ensemble nomination), and "Tiana" in The Princess and the Frog (2009).


Thus concludes Tennessee Williams Week.
We revisited Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, The Fugitive Kind, The Rose Tattoo, and had a big web party for A Streetcar Named Desire. Hope you enjoyed!

Brick: What is the victory of a cat on a hot tin roof?
Maggie: Just stayin' on it, I guess.

None of us touched on The Glass Menagerie which is probably the big miss this week. I also really meant to get to the Geraldine Page double feature of Summer & Smoke and Sweet Bird of Youth as I do have something to say about those. Maybe a Geraldine Page triple-feature next month? We never talk about her and we should. We've never even talked about A Trip To Bountiful. Gah, never enough time, is there?

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Reader Comments (19)

i think elizabeth taylor gave THE BEST portrayal of maggie. if the academy would've awarded her for this sensational performance, i don't think she would've won for butterfield 8 (not that she isn't great in it)

what a great year 1958 was for actresses? i still think elizabeth taylor was the best of that year considering there was kim novak, susan hayward, rosalind russell, etc.

i think a geraldine page quadruple feature would be fantastic. summer and smoke, sweet birth of youth, interiors, and the trip to bountiful would be some lineup of hers. she seems underrated today even with an oscar and 7 other noms.

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkent

I watched a production of Streetcar tonight in order to honor Williams.
Ugh... Blanche is just too hard a role. It didn't work. I'm still angry!

March 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

This is a movie that is worthy remaking. I mean, now, without any sexual restraints. What about Van Sant & DLB & Franco reteaming, with maybe Anne Hathaway as Maggie? Or a version set in Spain, directed by Almodovar, with Bardem & Cruz? Or maybe Polanski could direct Winslet again in a stage to screen production, with Leonardo diCaprio as Brick? Or Patrick Wilson & Winslet and Todd Field directing?

The 50's version is far from definitive.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

The 50's version is pretty great in spite of all the references to homosexuality being written out (though I do think Newman tries to make as many queer suggestions as he possibly can within the limits of the script, and many of these work well, but are still subtle). Taylor was quite the Maggie, and she hits every mark perfectly. For me, this is her real birth on screen/breakout role in a way that even 'A Place in the Sun' and "Giant" weren't for her.

I'd love to Charlize Theron tackle Maggie the Cat. Not sure opposite who, but she has the right look and I could totally see her knocking it out of the park if she worked hard to capture the southern element of the role. I think Maggie has to be a bit overwhelmingly beautiful and a bit scheming as well to make this work, both of which Theron can pull off.

If Amy Adams really wants to win an Oscar and totally shatter her Enchanted/Doubt image she'd work hard to bury herself in this type of role. She's great w/accents and though I'd like to see her do it on stage first and then transition to screen, I think she has the work ethic to pull it off.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I recently saw the PBS production of "Cat..." & (it pained me to admitted) J.Lange was horrible in it. I blame the lack of directing. She just seem lost & scared (the actress that is, not the caracter). I think she was WONDERFUL in "Streetcar..." couple of years later & for me she is one of the ultimate "Southern Belle" (and of cause one of the greatest actress EVER)

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

Joe -- I'd love to see Charlize Theron tackle a really great role like this, too. Any great role. Her career is just too disappointing for me considering her talent and epicness of the beauty.

st.jeans --- i don't remember either of those Lange performances well but I tend to like her best in her "relaxed" mode which is not to say casual or happy but when she's playing quieter or more subdued charactres in some way (Tootsie, Crimes of the Heart, men don't leave) which is extremely odd since that's the opposite of what she's known for.

cal -- agreed. hollywood never remakes the movie versions, except for in television mode.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Amen ;)

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

THANKS. I'm glad someone was reading ;)

March 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel, I'm afraid Ned Beatty did not win in 2004. He wasn't even nominated.
Charles Durning won for the 1990 production

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy -- what? But i checked it on the internet broadway database. ahhhh... will check again.

March 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

ok argh. fixed. He won the Drama Desk Award. I misread the chart.

March 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yes I was alive in the 80's and I remember looooving Turner's talent and beauty. A couple of years ago I saw her in Marley & me (she was a dog trainer) and I just wanted to cry. What in god's name happened to her?

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

Amen, too.

The Tennessee Willams week has been great. Loved every bit of it. Tennessee Williams has been part of my life in one way or another for many years. That ended abruptly a couple of months ago. Then I wen to see a (terrible) production of a Streetcar (why do people, expert people, try it in such an unconsciously ignorant way -thinking it's easy flashy- is beyond me) and I thought that would be a sad end to get Williams out of my life. And then your Tennesee Williams week came along. It has made me happier than you might think, I really mean it.

Thank you, stranger.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Lovely piece anyway.

I recently saw it on stage in a very small theatre and it was so moving and (surprisingly) so 2011. Do we really communicate with each other? Why it is so hard for us to be true with the ones we love the most? Why do we hurt each other?

Oh, relationships are so interesting!

PS Can't wait for the Geraldine Page post.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

When I was a kid, I saw Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway with Elizabeth Ashley (I had progressive parents). To my utter delight, Fred Gwynne from The Munsters played Bid Daddy! I also remember the staging -- window frames and floor-length curtains hung from the rafters representing the exterior of their home. I couldn't figure out why the actors sometimes ran outside between the windows, supposedly through the invisible walls. I guess they got confused as to what was a wall and what was a doorway. That was my first experience seeing a Broadway play. Funny what we remember.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Nate, this Tennessee Willams week has been such a wonderful, loving tribute! I applaud your dedication and spirit to remembering and honoring Williams' complex work and all its reincarnations. Personal fave: Suddenly Last Summer.

BTW I can't wait to read some sorta Geraldine Page post. It'll give me a real excuse to search out A Trip To Bountiful and finally watch it. Although I love her work in Interiors (such an underrated gem, that one) I'll finally get to see how she stacks up and if that Oscar was indeed worthy or just a career win, even though I hear it's a bit of both.

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I'm really happy that some of you enjoyed it. I was worried it was too retro. But i am a huge Tennessee fan. True story: in High School I did my senior AP English essay on his plays. I shudder to think now how little I must have understood back then about them.

March 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Sandy Dennis played Maggie the Cat and I'm sure it was fascinating!

March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I love Amy Adams as Maggie the Cat...a great stretch for her. And I've always envsioned Charlize in a Grand Guignol horror remake of Suddenly Last Summer.

March 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSoSueMe
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