As we noted yesterday playwright and novelist William Inge also wrote screenplays. It was natural that Hollywood would woo such a successful writer to the big screen. His most famous original screenplay, for which he won the Oscar, was Splendor in the Grass.
Like all of Inge’s work it is set in the Midwest (Kansas) and is based on people he knew.When he was working with director Elia Kazan on Broadway doing Dark at the Top of the Stairs in 1957 he related the tale of sexually repressed youngsters in the 1920s to the director.
He had already written a teleplay titled Glory in the Flower, about two middle-aged former lovers who meet again briefly at a diner after a long estrangement. But Kazan suggested the story should be about the lovers, Bus and Jackie, when they were young and in the throes of the sexual repression which ruins their lives. The director and writer decided to work on it together. First Inge wrote it as a novel, then as a screenplay. Splendor in the Grass was reborn.
Just like Glory from the Flower, the film’s title is taken from a line from a poem by William Wordsworth.
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
A few years before Inge had encountered Warren Beatty when he starred on Broadway in Inge’s one flop play, A Loss of Roses. Beatty was perfect for the sexy young boy, now renamed Bud, and Kazan cast Natalie Wood as the sexually repressed girl, now named Deanie. Their chemistry was explosive and the film sizzled. They also sizzled off-screen.
It was Beatty’s screen debut and he became an overnight star. Wood was nominated for an Oscar (she lost to Sophia Loren in Two Women). Sandy Dennis made her film debut as well and so did Phyllis Diller, who played Texas Guinan.
It is a classic and not to be missed.
The other notable screenplay by Inge is All Fall Down, adapted from a novel by James Leo Herilhy. Again it stars Beatty, this time opposite Eva Marie Saint and supported by Angela Lansbury and Brandon deWilde. Another classic film. Great script, fine performances.
Inge’s last screen effort, Bus Riley’s Back in Town, was not a hit. Apparently there were so many changes to his script to highlight the character played by Ann-Margaret, that Inge had his name removed from the credits.
Inge turned to writing novels. Always a tortured soul. He had been in AA for years and was dealing with not accepting his homosexuality. He committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning at age 60 in 1973. But his body of work remains and makes him one of the most influential playwrights of the second half of the 20th Century.