Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Once upon a time Erskine Caldwell was a very popular writer, chronicling the lives of of the Southern poor in his novels and short stories.  Such books as Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre were best-sellers.  When I was young, it seemed like paperback publisher Signet Books made a cottage industry issuing reprints of Caldwell's books.  Tobacco Road was adapted as a play by Jack Kirkland in 1933, a year after the book's publication, and became one of the most successful Broadway plays on record, running for eight years.  (It is the 19th longest running play on Broadway and the 2nd longest running non-musical.)  Tobacco Road, the movie, was directed by John Ford, from a screenplay by Nunnally Johnson.  The film scrapped much of the book's realism and relied heavily on comedy.  As director Ford said, "We have no dirt in this picture.  We've eliminated the horrible details and what we've got left is a nice dramatic story.  What we're aiming at is to have the customers sympathize with our people and not feel disgusted."  (Ford's hidden reason was an effort to avoid low ticket sales in the South, where the book was in disfavor due to the nature of it's plot and characters.)  Still, there were fears of censorship of the film, leading to no publicity being given while the movie was shot.  In the end, the film was only banned in Australia and for unstated reasons.

NOT SO FUN FACT:  Caldwell, despite his life-long sympathy for the plight of the working poor -- both white and black -- in the South, could be a pure-dee bastard in his thinking, espousing both eugenics and the sterilization of Georgia's poor whites -- views he inherited from his Presbyterian minister father.

Anyway, here's the film version of a powerful novel and play.  It features Charlie Grapewine (Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz; Grandpa Joad in The Grapes of Wrath; Marjorie Rambeau (Primrose Path, Torch Song, A Man Called Peter, The View from Pompey's Head); Gene Tierney (Laura, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Leave Her To Heaven); William Tracy ( "Hotshot Charlie" in television's Terry and the Pirates and Terry himself in the serial version of Terry and the Pirates); Elizabeth Patterson (Intruder in the Dust, Matilda Trumbull for three seasons on I Love Lucy); Dana Andrews (Laura, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Best Years of Our Lives); Ward Bond (It's a Wonderful Life, The Searchers, television's Wagon Train); Slim Summerville (All Quiet on the Western Front, Captain January, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm); Grant Mitchell (Arsenic and Old Lace, The Life of Emile Zola, The Grapes of Wrath); and Zeffie Tilbury (The Grapes of Wrath, Comin' Round the Mountain, Werewolf of London.)


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