If there was ever a time to haul out the Christmas lights, this is the year.
Tuesday evening after supper I went to the space over The Dispatch we call “the studio” to change out the blown bulbs on the strings of lights that bedeck the place and put them on timers.
Once lit, I sat in a chair and basked in the red glow.
I wasn’t prepared for the waves of nostalgia and memory that washed over me.
I thought about long-departed friends, the Cantrells, Homer and Lewis. Their riotous Christmas light display enshrouding their mobile-home enclave on Caledonia’s McCullough Road was a holiday destination for many and topped my list of the Wonders of Lowndes County.
The other Wonders, you ask?
There are the obvious choices: Friendship Cemetery and Tales from the Crypt, the Riverwalk and the restored Tombigbee Bridge, the Buttahatchee River, MUW campus, the Columbus downtown and Catfish Alley, Mother Goose, Rufus Ward.
You may have other ideas about this, dear Reader, and if so, please email them in.
One of the literary wonders of the English-speaking world — this is not hyperbole — who, through accident of birth, spent his first years in Columbus, had an anniversary of sorts this past week.
As noted in Thursday’s Writer’s Almanac, which I’ve drawn from extensively for the remainder of this column, 73 years ago, on Dec. 3, 1947, “A Streetcar Named Desire” opened on Broadway.
Three years earlier “The Glass Menagerie” made the 34-year-old Tennessee Williams famous, and he had taken refuge in Mexico from the resulting social demands.
Williams tried a variety of titles on his new play including “The Moth,” “Blanche’s Chair in the Moon” and “The Poker Night” before deciding on “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Elia Kazan, who would direct the play, didn’t like it initially, but his wife, Molly, loved it and convinced her husband to take it on. Kazan negotiated for himself star billing and 20 percent of the profits.
Williams’ agent Audrey Wood wrote that during tryouts in Boston, Kazan turned to Williams and said, “This smells like a hit.”
“That would prove to be “the understatement of the decade,” Wood wrote.
For the role of Stanley Kowalski, Williams and Kazan wanted rugged leading man, John Garfield, but found his demands unacceptable.
Kazan remembered a young actor, who had played a supporting role in a failure of a play he directed, “Truckline Cafe.”
It took Kazan a while to track down the 21-year-old Marlon Brando, who had no address and slept somewhere different every night.
Finally Kazan found Brando and sent him $20 bus fare to Williams’ home in Provincetown.
Rather than take the bus, Brando hitchhiked and used the $20 for food.
Before giving his reading, Brando did some repair jobs on the plumbing and the electricity in Williams’ house.
Williams was dumbstruck by Brando’s reading.
Kazan said, “I received an ecstatic call from our author, in a voice near hysteria. Brando had overwhelmed him.”
They cast Brando as Stanley.
On opening night, Williams sent Brando a telegram: “Ride out boy and send it solid. From the greasy Polack you will someday arrive at the gloomy Dane for you have something that makes the theater a world of great possibilities.”
(Brando turned down the opportunity to play the “gloomy Dane” in a stage production of “Hamlet.”)
When the curtain went down, the audience applauded for 30 minutes.
Streetcar producer Irene Selznick said: “In those days, people stood only for the national anthem. That night was the first time I ever saw an audience get to its feet … round after round, curtain after curtain, until Tennessee took a bow on the stage to bravos.”
“A Streetcar Named Desire” ran for more than 850 performances on Broadway. It is among the most critically acclaimed plays of the 20th century and has been performed countless times. The play earned Williams a Pulitzer Prize, and the 1951 film adaptation won four academy awards.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.