The Little Foxes

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Program for the original Broadway production, starring Tallulah Bankhead as Regina Hubbard Giddens

The Little Foxes is a 1939 play by Lillian Hellman. Its title comes from Chapter 2, Verse 15 in the Song of Solomon in the King James version of the Bible, which reads, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." Set in a small town in Alabama in 1900, it focuses on the struggle for control of the family business.[1]

The fictional Hubbards in the play are reputedly drawn from Lillian Hellman's Marx relatives. Hellman's mother was Julia Newhouse of Demopolis, Alabama. Julia Newhouse's parents were Leonard Newhouse, a Demopolis wholesale liquor dealer, and Sophie Marx, of a successful Demopolis banking family. According to Hellman, Sophie Marx Newhouse never missed an opportunity to belittle and mock her father for his poor business sense in front of her and her mother. The discord between the Marx and Hellman families was to later serve as the inspiration for the play.[2][3][4]

Plot[edit]

The focus is on Southerner Regina Hubbard Giddens, who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society where a father considered only sons as legal heirs. As a result, her avaricious brothers Benjamin and Oscar are independently wealthy, while she must rely upon her sickly, wheelchair-using husband Horace for financial support.

Regina's brother Oscar has married Birdie, his much-maligned, alcoholic wife, solely to acquire her family's plantation and its cotton fields. Oscar now wants to join forces with his brother, Benjamin, to construct a cotton mill. They approach their sister with their need for an additional $75,000 to invest in the project. Oscar initially proposes marriage between his son Leo and Regina's daughter Alexandra – first cousins – as a means of getting Horace's money, but Horace and Alexandra are repulsed by the suggestion. When Regina asks Horace outright for the money, he refuses, so Leo, a bank teller, is pressured into stealing his uncle Horace's railroad bonds from the bank's safety deposit box.

Horace, after discovering this, tells Regina he is going to change his will in favor of their daughter, and also will claim he gave Leo the bonds as a loan, thereby cutting Regina out of the deal completely. When he suffers a heart attack during this chat, she makes no effort to help him. He dies within hours, without anyone knowing his plan and before changing his will. This leaves Regina free to blackmail her brothers by threatening to report Leo's theft unless they give her 75% ownership in the cotton mill (it is, in Regina's mind, a fair exchange for the stolen bonds). The price Regina ultimately pays for her evil deeds is the loss of her daughter Alexandra's love and respect. Regina's actions cause Alexandra to finally understand the importance of not idly watching people do evil. She tells Regina she will not watch her be "one who eats the earth," and abandons her. Having let her husband die, alienated her brothers, and driven away her only child, Regina is left wealthy but completely alone.

Original Broadway production[edit]

Tallulah Bankhead starred as Regina Giddens, when the play premiered on February 15, 1939 at the National Theatre. It ran for 410 performances, before its extensive tour of the United States. The opening night cast also included Carl Benton Reid as Oscar, Charles Dingle as Benjamin, Frank Conroy as Horace, Patricia Collinge as Birdie, Dan Duryea as Leo, and Florence Williams as Alexandra. The production was produced and directed by Herman Shumlin. Eugenia Rawls replaced Williams later in the run.

Revivals[edit]

Mike Nichols directed a production that opened on October 26, 1967 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, then transferred to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It ran a total of 100 performances. The cast included Anne Bancroft as Regina, Richard A. Dysart as Horace. Margaret Leighton as Birdie, E.G. Marshall as Oscar, George C. Scott as Benjamin, and Austin Pendleton as Leo. Costume design was by Patricia Zipprodt. Time said, "An admirable revival of Lillian Hellman's 1939 play in Lincoln Center demonstrates how securely bricks of character can be sealed together with the mortar of plot. Anne Bancroft, George C. Scott, Richard Dysart and Margaret Leighton are expertly guided by Director Mike Nichols through gilt-edged performances." [5]

Austin Pendleton directed a production that ran at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale for three weeks and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. for six weeks before opening on Broadway, after eight previews, on May 7, 1981 at the Martin Beck Theatre. It ran for 123 performances. The cast included Elizabeth Taylor as Regina, Tom Aldredge as Horace, Dennis Christopher as Leo, Maureen Stapleton as Birdie, and Anthony Zerbe as Benjamin. Costume design was by Florence Klotz. In a pre-Broadway opening article in Time, Gerald Clarke reported nearly $1 million worth of tickets had been sold during the week following the first New York Times ad announcing Taylor's appearance.[6] She was nominated for both the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. Tony nominations also went to Pendleton for Best Direction of a Play, Aldredge for Best Featured Actor in a Play, Stapleton for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and the play itself for Best Reproduction.

A 1997 revival, again at the Vivian Beaumont, ran for 27 previews and 57 performances between April 3 and June 15. Directed by Jack O'Brien, the cast included Stockard Channing as Regina, Kenneth Welsh as Horace, Brian Kerwin as Oscar, Brian Murray as Benjamin, and Frances Conroy as Birdie. Murray was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, and John Lee Beatty was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design.

The production was revived at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, June 3—28, 2009, with Venida Evans, Ron Brice, Deanne Lorette, Brian Dykstra, Fisher Neal, Kathryn Meisle, Einar Gunn, Philip Goodwin, Lindsey Wochley, Bradford Cover, and directed by Matthew Arbour.

Adaptations[edit]

Lillian Hellman wrote the screenplay for a 1941 film version starring Bette Davis. In 1949, the play was adapted for an opera entitled Regina by Marc Blitzstein.

In 1946, Hellman wrote Another Part of the Forest, a prequel chronicling the roots of the Hubbard family.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Little Foxes". Theater Scene. September 27, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Demopolis Stories of Hellman and Wyler". The Hellman Wyler Festival. 2009. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  3. ^ "Demopolis: Lillian Hellman". Southern Literary Trail. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ Jason Cannon (March 23, 2011). "Local women’s history celebrated". The Demopolis Times. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  5. ^ 1967 Time review
  6. ^ 1981 Time article

External links[edit]