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Golden Boy


Swithin
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It was perfect timing for me to watch Golden Boy on TCM this morning. Last night I saw Lincoln Center Theater's 75th anniversary production of the play. I think they both have their positive and negative features. The play was well performed, and a great production. The film, directed by one of the greats -- Mamoulian -- was pretty badly acted. William Holden was miscast, though he looked good in the ring. In the midst of all the NYC accents, his Wisconsin accent was way out of place. I guess the film cried out for John Garfield, who created the role on Broadway. There is more violin playing in the film -- it's easier to fake on screen. (In the play, there's only one offstage bit.) Also more fighting on screen, which looked good, though the gym scenes on stage were brilliant, all of the fights are offstage. We talked in the Gypsy thread about how Merman, said to be so good onstage, was never a great screen actress. Similarly with Lee J. Cobb -- you have to tone it down for the screen, which he didn't really do. (Tony Shalhoub plays the role brilliantly onstage). I don't think Stanwyck was very good. Most of the acting on screen seemed unnatural. But the print looked great, and Mamoulian did a great job in all respects, apart from with the actors. On the whole, though, the movie script, written by four screenwriters, was not very elegant, and of course way inferior to Odets play.

 

Of course the plot changes for a screen adaptation. The movie is much more sentimental. But the Hollywood ending may actually be an improvement. In Odets play, Joe and Lorna drive to their deaths at the end -- presumed suicide, which is telegraphed earlier. In the film, the scene with the killed fighter's family and the speech from the father convinces Joe to carry on; that's followed by Stanwyck's speech, which leads to the scene with Joe's father at the end -- hugs, kisses, tears -- a real Hollywood ending. But it may be better than the suicides at the end of the play. Suicide as a script device is a copout.

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Actually, originally Garfield had the Sam Levene part on stage. Luther Adler was the one who created the role of Joe Bonaparte. MissLori can probably expand on this, but someone in the production pulled a switcheroo, Garfield did expect to play the part and the demotion helped to steer him to Hollywood and abandon the Group Theater.

 

Garfield got the role in a revival in 1952.

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Glad to read that about Tony Shaloub in the revival that you saw. One of several reasons that I can't stand the film is that it has Lee J. Cobb playing the father as if he watched too many Chico Marx routines.

 

Edited by: clore on Dec 6, 2012 2:26 PM

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Geez, I never knew that (the suicide ending). What a downer.

 

I agree Lee J Cobb overplays the father, but I think Stanwyck is good. And Holden's "greenness" I think helps him in the part (as a movie for its time. maybe not the most realistic portrayal, but neither is the film...)

 

Edited by: Hibi on Dec 6, 2012 1:53 PM

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I spoke with a friend today who also saw the current production. She feels that it was probably a car accident that killed them both at the end, not necessarily suicide. There's room for interpretation. But the play make Joe and Lorna both so much more angry, almost unhinged, and, at the end, they say something like, "there's nothing we can do but go for a very fast ride in the car at night..." So I think it's pretty obvious. Either way, I think that's a cheap way to end, and that the Hollywood ending is actually superior.

 

Btw, the details of Lorna's relationship with Tom (the Menjou character in the film) are much more complex in the play, as are the references to her past as "a tramp from Newark."

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Hello. Just to set the record straight regarding "Golden Boy"

 

From my reading and research on John Garfield and communicating a little with his daughter here is how everything seemed to have happen.

 

Garfield and Odets were both members of the Group theater and close friends. Odets started writing "Golden Boy" and told Garfield "I am writing this play, with the lead part for you." Odets presented the play to the "Group" and Harold Clurman decided with (Strasberg and Crawford) that the role of "Joe" should go to Luther Adler who had more "seniority" in the Group than Garfield. Garfield was very upset because he felt Odets had promised him the role, but he did take the part of Siggy.

 

Hollywood in the form of Warners came around and offered Garfield a screen test with two picture deal and we know what happened. Harry Cohen got the rights to the play asked Jack Warner to loan out Garfield for the film, and Warner refused. Garfield was heartbroken and confessed losing the film role was one of his biggest disappointments in his career. Many members of the Group were very upset with Garfield going to Hollywood and they called him a taitor and sell-out.

 

On March 12, 1952 Garfield did finally get to play the part of Joe, in Golden Boy on Broadway with Odets directing and Cobb playing his father. Garfield performances got great reviews, the play was a success, but ran for only 90 performances. Garfield had to leave the play due to his bad heart (physically his body couldn't handle the role) and he was still dealing with the stress of HUAC, and being followed by the FBI. On May 21, 1952 John Garfield died at the age of 39.

 

I really like William Holden and think he was a wonderful actor, but he was not ready to play that part in Golden Boy.

 

There is a 9 minute Youtube video of John Garfield and Kim Stanley doing a scene from Golden Boy in 1950 on the Dupont TV show. Even in that short scene one can see the power, honesty and passion Garfield would bring to that role. IMHO.

 

Thanks

Lori

 

Edited by: Lori3 on Dec 6, 2012 6:29 PM

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Thanks for that clip, Lori! Wonderful to see it. Garfield would have been perfect for the film. I don't think it was so much a case of Holden not being ready, I just don't think he was right for the role, apart from the fight scenes. He didn't have that NYC grit that Odets's characters require. Garfield of course did play Ralph Berger, another major Odets role, in the original production of Awake and Sing.

 

I worked on a few projects with Phoebe Brand, who was with the Group Theater and was the original Anna in Golden Boy. She was 95 when I met her, I assume she'd been amply debriefed, by Foster Hirsch, among others. She was married to Morris Carnovsky.

 

The guy who plays Joe Bonaparte in the current production (which opens tonight) is Seth Numrich. He's very good. The play is on at the Belasco Theater, which is where the original production played 75 years ago, and where many Odets plays got their start!

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Thanks too Swithin. I have been reading about the revival Golden Boy and it sound like it will be a hit. If it is still playing next September when I am in New York I would love to see it. Very cool that this revival is at the same theater the play opened back in 1937.

 

Phoebe Brand was in the documentary that TCM did on John Garfield in 2003 with his daughter narrating it.

 

Is Phoebe Brand still alive?

 

During Garfield's HUAC testimony he got questioned hard about the "left leanings" of the Group theater and it's possible Communist ties.

 

Julie Garfield notified her father's "fans" when about a year ago the New York Times did a write up about the plan of this current revival of Golden Boy and the neglected to mention her father. She was quite upset and wrote a letter to the paper.

 

Thanks

Lori

 

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The bit where old man Bonaparte tells his son-in-law not to hit his wife (the old man's daughter) in public, that he should do it at home is infuriating enough.

 

But to have her jump in and say "He can hit me anytime he wants" is just ludicrous.

 

I understand that there are plans to revive THE BIG KNIFE on Broadway with Bobby Cannavale.

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Since I don't mind asking stupid questions, here's one:

 

If Golden Boy, or any boxing movie, has a long run on the stage, how do they handle the cumulatilve effects of trying to balance realism with scenes where two fighters are pummeling each other non-stop, night after night? Obviously there are heavily padded gloves, but still, it would seem to me that it'd be pretty hard to go out there every night, slug away, and not begin to feel the effects after a while. Especially if you're not a professionally trained fighter.

 

The alternative is pulled punches and shadow boxing, but how can you possibly convey the inherent brutality of the ring when you use those techniques? Do the sort of sound effects used in film productions really work on a stage? I can't even imagine that it wouldn't sound hopelessly contrived and cartoonish. Or is this something that audiences just accept as part of the deal, the way they accept the absurdity of a klutzy Gary Cooper in the role of Lou Gehrig, or Tom Cruise jabbing a pool cue in the general direction of a cue ball?

 

As I said, this is probably as dumb a question as ever has been asked here, but IMO it's better to be dumb and then informed than to remain ignorant forever.

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There's no actual boxing in the play. There are gym scenes and warm-ups, but no actual bouts. They all take place off stage. The emotional interactions between the characters is much more powerful in the play. The play uses the themes of boxing and music to show how the character is torn and how he is being pulled from all sides by those around him, but it's not really a play about boxing.

 

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There's no actual boxing in the play. There are gym scenes and warm-ups, but no actual bouts. They all take place off stage. The emotional interactions between the characters is much more powerful in the play. The play uses the themes of boxing and music to show how the character is torn and how he is being pulled from all sides by those around him, but it's not really a play about boxing.

 

Thanks for the explanation, and that makes sense for Golden Boy, which as you say isn't really a boxing movie / play. Although I'd imagine that a Broadway production of The Set-Up or Cinderella Man (among others) might be a bit harder to pull off, since the ring action in those two movies (among others) is a lot more integral to the plot.

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The female lead -- Lorna (played by Frances Farmer in the original B'way production) -- is much more fully drawn in the play. She's got alot of baggage, which is a big part of the plot as well. They're both kind of hopeless, which seems to make their deaths more logical at the end, I guess.

 

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After learning that John Garfield was originally considered for the lead in this play/movie by Odets, I was dissapointed he DIDN'T get to do the movie. Would have been a MUCH better fit than Holden.

 

 

I've brought this up before. Holden didn't have the chops as of yet to play the part effectively. He looked like he was doing a high school play while the rest of the cast was doing a fine, professional job. Five years down his career, Holden had developed into the actor that would have done Joe much better. If you know what I mean.

 

 

And, as you all know by now, I'd much rather see Lee J. Cobb overact in ANYTHING than see Adolphe Menjou just stand there!

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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