He was one of the most successful playwrights of the 1950s and all of his hit plays were made into hit movies. William Inge won the Pulitzer Prize (for Picnic) and he later won an Oscar. TV star Kyra Sedgwick is taking one of his lesser known works to The Williamstown Theatre Festival this summer.
The William Inge Center for the Arts is based in Independence Kansas, Inge’s hometown. Those who study the works of this prolific playwright, who committed suicide in 1973, say that this play, Off the Man Road, was probably written in the early 60s. Inge was a man of many talents, a novelist and screenwriter. He’d adapted this work for a TV drama, Out on the Outskirts of Town, which aired in 1964. It starred Anne Bancroft and Jack Warden.
This new interest in Inge prompted us to review the films made from his plays. Surprisingly most are memorable and can be considered classics. There’s Come Back Little Sheba, which launched Shirley Booth‘s film career and garnered her an Oscar. Then came Picnic, Bus Stop and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. All had been hits on Broadway and all were made into artistic and commercially successful films.
Although William Holden (37 at the time) was too old for the lead in Picnic — the young hunk should be 24 or 25 — he gave a good performance and the film didn’t suffer because of his age. Kim Novak was superb as the pretty but rather dull beauty queen. (See Holden and Novak above.) And all the supporting actors are terrific.
Bus Stop gave Marilyn Monroe a chance to prove she could really act, not just coo and pucker. And if you haven’t seen Dark at the Top of the Stairs you have a treat in store. It’s the sort of drama that isn’t made anymore. It captures the spirit of the time (the 20s) and the place (the Midwest) and the emotions of the ordinary people who lived then and there.
Inge, in fact, became known as “The Playwright of the Midwest” since all of his stories were about small town life in America’s heartland.
His play A Loss of Roses was not successful. The story of an older out of work actress who falls for her best friend’s son had flopped on Broadway. 2oth Century Fox still wanted to make the film with Monroe and Pat Boone as the young boy. (Warren Beatty had played the part on stage.) Boone refused and the project languished until Joanne Woodward accepted the role. Richard Beymer was cast as the boy. Retitled The Stripper, the film bombed. But it seemed a blip in an otherwise stunning career.
But by the 1960s Inge was successfully writing screenplays.