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Regina Weinreich

Regina Weinreich

Posted: December 21, 2009 07:55 AM

Eli Wallach: A Good Seducer

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At 94, the irrepressible Eli Wallach tells a good story. Of the film clips shown in the "Tennessee Williams on Screen and Stage" evening at the Times Center, part of the Museum of the Moving Image Series, the one of Baby Doll was the most provocative. A young sly Eli Wallach seduces a naive Carroll Baker. As Eli tells it, the Catholic Church banned the film saying anyone who sees it may be excommunicated, and it was sold out for the first 3 weeks. Just before, his wife Ann Jackson, sounding a bit like a Tennessee heroine, had taken the podium to tell her story of first meeting Tennessee, but then forgetting: "Sorry, we are unprepared."

In fact, this special night was to honor the iconic playwright, newly inducted into the Poet's Corner and feted throughout this his centennial year. With anecdotes galore, like Eli telling The Rose Tattoo ingenue Maureen Stapleton's bon mot when she first met Tennessee: "he looked more like an Ohio," this team was more than prepared.

Clips from a new movie, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (to open on December 30, with a screenplay by Williams, who died in 1983), were on the program. This was one of several scripts, written for Elia Kazan, never produced. Starring an outstanding Bryce Dallas Howard with an excellent Ellen Burstyn, the film features characters reminiscent of the dramatist's most haunting women, Blanche Dubois of Streetcar, both Amanda and Laura from Glass Menagerie, women of extraordinary power and dreams with no access to a world in which to realize them. This fine film illustrates a larger Williams picture of the South and the decline of its pretensions and provincial world view.

Scenes from The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--as well as Marlon Brando as Stanley to Vivien Leigh's Blanche--punctuated a panel discussion moderated by Charles Isherwood that included Howard, Burstyn, director Jodie Markell, Elaine Stritch, and Wallach. Ellen Burstyn says of Elaine Stritch in hat and necktie, "She's the only actress I know who gets a laugh just sitting down." And so this delightful and poignant evening went.

The actors emphasized Williams' gift. Ellen Burstyn: "The language carries you." And Elaine Stritch: "To a fine actor, doing Tennessee Williams, you're finally home."

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