Tea and Sympathy opens
In 1956, Vincente Minelli’s film adaptation of Tea and Sympathy had its New York City premiere. More than three years earlier, the Robert Anderson’s play opened on Broadway to rave reviews and popular acclaim. The drama’s poignant portrayal of a teenage boy––who may (or may not) be gay––being tortured by his peers, despised by his teachers, and finally saved by the school master’s wife was heralded by Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times as something that “restores our theater to an art again.” Of course, Hollywood was interested, but as every studio knew, what passed as a social issue on stage (adultery, homosexuality) could prove a nightmare when it came to the Production Code Administration. PCA bosses Joseph I. Breen and Geoffrey Shurlock were approached repeatedly by nearly every studio (MGM, Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox) about how to adapt this touchy material to film. Initially it was not the faint odor of homosexuality that worried Hollywood Production Code officials, but the suggested adultery (in that the wife gives herself to the young boy with the famous lines, “Years from now, when you talk about this––and you will––be kind."). Prolonged negotiations between the studios, the play’s writer Robert Anderson and PCA officials went on for months. By July 1954, MGM decided to buy the rights to the play for $100,000 with another $300,000 to follow if Anderson could rewrite his script so that the PCA approved it. And rather than rethink the production, they contracted directly with the Broadway cast––John Kerr as the young student, Deborah Kerr as the wife, and Leif Erickson as the husband––to reprise their roles on film. Only director Elia Kazan would be replaced, by Vincente Minelli. After MGM finally hammered out an agreement with the PCA, and the production was to move forward, the National Catholic Legion of Decency got a hold of the script and condemned the movie outright. In the end, after the film got made and the dust cleared, everyone wondered what was the big deal. “In retrospect, it wasn't a very shocking picture,” noted director Minnelli.