A Streetcar Named Desire
. . . introduction
A Streetcar Named Desire – the main characters
Blanche Dubois - an aging Southern belle, who is descended
from an old French aristocratic family but whose beauty and
wealth have disappeared over time
Stanley Kowalski - the husband of Blanche’s sister, Stella, who
Stella Dubois Kowalski - Blanche’s sister and Stanley’s wife.
Raised in the same aristocratic setting that Blanche grew up in,
Stella was dominated by her attention-starved sister and often
waited on her when they had both been children. She had run
away from Belle Reve, the Dubois mansion, to marry Stanley
and had settled with him in New Orleans.
Harold Mitchell (Mitch) - Blanche’s love interest and Stanley’s
the painting When the original production of A
Streetcar Named Desire was in
the midst of success, Tennessee
Williams wrote to Jessica Tandy
("Blanche"), about a photo that
was intended to be given as a
Christmas gift to the producer,
Irene Selznick. Williams was
asked to see if Jessica Tandy
(who later appeared in Driving
Miss Daisy) would pose for a
photographic replica of this
Thomas Hart Benton painting. The
painting depicts the poker scene
from A Streetcar Named Desire
with Blanche in the foreground in a
racy blue dress.
Through a series of letter
exchanges, Jessica Tandy
reminds Tennessee Williams that
his Blanche was not intended to
appear as a victim……
I have been appointed intermediator in the delicate matter of
persuading you to pose for a photographic duplication of the
Thomas Hart Benton painting which our Lady Producer is to be
surprised with at Christmas. I have seen a picture of the
painting. I t looks marvellous and of course Benton is a very
outstanding painter. I can see how Blanche’s dress, or lack of it,
might offend you, but I am assured that you will not have to be
so anatomical and I supposed the idea is an excellent piece of
promotion. Myself, I don’t see it is vulgar, but I cannot swear
that my sense of vulgarity is the most impeccable in the world.
P.S. I believe Blanche would - - after some initial protest.
You have the wrong impression of my objection to posing for a
photographic duplicate of the Benton picture.
Eight times a week, and to progressively less sensitive audiences, I
have to make clear Blanche’s intricate and complex character
…her background…her pathetic elegance…her indomitable
spirit…her innate tenderness and honesty…her untruthfulness or
manipulation of the truth…her inevitable tragedy.
My protagonist, Stanley…my executioner, as you put it, is
comparatively simple and easy for an audience to understand.
The setting is a wonder mixture of the qualities of both these
characters…decayed elegance and sheer unadulterated guts.
I share your admiration for Benton as a painter, but in the painting,
he has chosen to paint, it seems to me, the Stanley side of the
picture. Even in the set, you are more conscious of telegraph
poles than scrolled ironwork.
Tandy’s response - continued
There has always been a part of the audience who obviously expects a
sexy, salacious play. I don’t want to do anything which will lead future
audiences to think that they are going to see sex in the raw, as it
I respect Mr. Benton’s right to paint any facet of the play that he sees
and to exaggerate it in order to make clear his impressions.
Please believe me when I say that Blanche’s lack of dress has nothing at
all to do with my objection.
I suppose the idea of printing the two photographs is an excellent piece
of promotion. It is bound to bring a lot of people into the theatre, but
we have no empty seats…
Print the Benton picture…but no duplicate photograph. If Look’s interest
is really in Mr. Benton’s painting, they should be content.
There, Mr. Intermediater, is my initial protest. What do you say to that!
Many, many thanks for your letter on the Benton picture. You are
so right that it really makes me ashamed of having lent my
casual support to the idea. What you say about Blanche
suddenly recalls to me all of my original conception of the
character and what it was to me, from which you, in your
delineation, have never once drifted away…Yes, the painting is
only one side of the play, and the Stanley side of it. Perhaps
from the painter’s point of view that was inevitable. A canvas
cannot depict two worlds very easily: or the tragic division of the
human spirit: at least not a painter of Benton’s realistic type.
Well, I am still an admirer of the painting, but, believe me, still
more an admirer of yours for seeing and feeling about it more
clearly than I did at first, and I should have felt the same way.
the movie 1951
Vivien Leigh (Blanche DuBois)
Marlon Brando (Stanley Kowalski)
Kim Hunter (Stella Kowalski)
Karl Malden (Mitch)
Best Actress (Leigh)
Best Supporting Actor (Malden)
Best Supporting Actress (Hunter)
Best Art Direction/Set Decoration
Also nominated for Best Picture,
Best Director, Best Actor (Brando),
Best Screenplay, Best
Cinematography, Best Musical
Score, Best Costume Design,
Best Sound Recording and Best
The role of Stanley Kowalski was first offered to John Garfield who
turned it down because the female lead got top billing.
Vivien Leigh took the part of Blanche after it had been offered to Jessica
Tandy, who played the part in the Broadway play, and Olivia De
Leigh, who suffered from bipolar disease later in life, had difficulty
distinguishing between her real life and that of Blanche DuBois.
The character of Stanley Kowalski is not completely fictional – after
Williams dropped out of the University of Missouri, he went to work in
a shoe factory, and one of his co-workers and friends was named
The issue of mental instability was not completely unfamiliar to Williams,
either. His sister, Rose, had a history of mental problems, beginning
with a frontal lobotomy that she had undergone at the age of 16.
To complete a life that was filled with confusion, isolation, and
depression, Williams died in 1983 when he mistook the cap of a pill
bottle for a pill and ended up choking on the bottle top.
Interesting facts about the play
Tennessee Williams lived in New Orleans near the trolley line where the
two streetcars, Desire and Cemetery ran on the same track. Tennessee
says this “struck me as having some symbolic bearing of a broad nature
on life … and that’s how I got the title”. Incidentally, this streetcar line
was discontinued shortly after the play opened.
The entire first year of its run, A Streetcar Named Desire never played to
an empty seat. In fact, it was standing room only and it is the only drama
on record to ever play to absolute capacity for its entire first year.
Some critics and actors have claimed that the character of Blanche
DuBois is an actual representation of Tennessee Williams himself.
Marlon Brando became a success from his stage and film portrayal of
“A Streetcar Named Desire and its actors were so renowned that some
theatre companies wouldn’t mount it fearing unflattering comparisons.” -
Spencer Michaels, director and a T. Williams biographer
Tennessee Williams had such a strong audience following that there was
a $300,000 advance sale of tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire when it
opened in 1947. This was unprecedented for a non-musical attraction.
What aspect of the play is depicted by each of the illustrations?
What aspect of the play is depicted by each of the illustrations?