The Little Foxes

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For the article about the 1941 film adaptation, see The Little Foxes (film).
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 of 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 a 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 play's focus is Southerner Regina Hubbard Giddens, who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society where fathers considered only sons as legal heirs. As a result of this practice, 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 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 need an additional $75,000 and approach their sister, asking her 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. Horace refuses when Regina asks him outright for the money, so Leo, a bank teller, is pressured into stealing 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.[5]

Revivals[edit]

Mike Nichols directed a production that opened 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.[6] In reviewing the production, 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." [7]

Austin Pendleton directed a production at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale for three weeks that transferred to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. for six weeks before opening on Broadway. The production played eight previews, opening May 7, 1981, at the Martin Beck Theatre 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. Florence Klotz was costume designer.[8] In a Time article prior to the Broadway opening, Gerald Clarke reported nearly $1 million worth of ticket sales during the week after advertisements announcing Taylor's appearance appeared in The New York Times.[9] Taylor received nominations 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.[10]

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.[11]

Another revival was produced by Cleveland Play House in the 75th anniversary year of the original Broadway production, September 12 - October 5, 2014 in the Allen Theatre (Playhouse Square) in Cleveland, Ohio. The production was directed by Artistic Director Laura Kepley.[12]

Adaptations[edit]

Lillian Hellman wrote the screenplay for a 1941 film version starring Bette Davis.[13] 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. ^ "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  6. ^ "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  7. ^ "Review". Time. 10 November 1967. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  8. ^ "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  9. ^ Clarke, Gerald (30 March 1981). "Show Business: The Long Way to Broadway". Time. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  10. ^ "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  11. ^ "The Little Foxes". Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Retrieved 2014-04-22. 
  12. ^ "The Little Foxes". Cleveland Play House. Retrieved 2014-08-27. 
  13. ^ "The Little Foxes (1941)". IMDb. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 

External links[edit]