A series of letters between Elia Kazan and William Tennessee – Jason Li 10L

Elia Kazan
New York
October 19, 1950

William Tennessee
235 E. 56th Street
New York, NY

Dear William Tennessee,

I just wanted to thank you for granting me permission to adapt your masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire into film. I have decided to cast the original cast of the play for my film except I will replace Jessica Tandy with Vivien Leigh for Blanche Dubois. I think she will be more suited for the role owing to her acting experience.

I am writing to inform you on the changes to the original script I am forced to make. As you may know the Hays Code confines what I am allowed to show on film so several changes will have to be made. The most obvious changes that will have to be made are Allan’s mental state, the ending and the rape of Blanche.

My film will have Stella leave Stanley and never return as punishment for Stanley’s actions which should be accepted by the Christian community. Allan will no longer be what he is in your play but Vivien will say that she found him disgusting because he wrote poems and causing his suicide. Blanche will also never be raped by Stanley but he will still have her sent to a mental institution.

I regret having to make these changes to the script but they are necessary. Without them the movie will never be approved and the Catholic Legion of Decency would definitely condemn the film and I may lose money.

Yours Sincerely,
Elia Kazan

Tennessee Williams
235 E. 56th Street
New York, NY
October 26, 1950

Elia Kazan
New York

Dear Elia Kazan,

Thank you for informing me about the changes you intend to make to my original play. The changes you propose are
absurd. None of your changes can make it into your film. I wrote this play to raise questions about society and should have a large impact. It can’t be reduced to a soap opera.

Stella returning to Stanley even after he rapes and has Blanche sent to a mental institution is meant to highlight her dependence on him. This is intended to ask the audience if women in our society really depend on the men and also raise awareness to unpunished crime. Your proposal to make Stella leave Stanley forever in the film is out of the question. An ending like that would render the story meaningless. I am also aware that Allan may not be accepted by the public because of his desires but to have him suicide for writing poems is nonsense. What could Blanche find disgusting about poetry? If anything she would be impressed.

A Streetcar Named Desire cannot have a different storyline and Blanche being raped is especially important. It is one of the events in the play that absolutely has to happen for the story to make any sense. I wanted to reveal that the forces behind our society are complicated and it is frightening how much the women seem to depend on the men. It seems as if what motivates our society is money or sexual satisfaction when it should be compassion or something less selfish. I spent countless hours writing a play with deep concepts and you want to reduce it to a something without any meaning?

Mr. Kazan my play cannot possibly have a different narrative. I implore you, create a film based on my original play and give audiences a strong message. Don’t reduce my play to just another movie held back by production codes and the audiences.

Yours Sincerely,
William Tennessee

Elia Kazan
New York
February 12, 1951

William Tennessee
235 E. 56th Street
New York, NY

Dear William Tennessee,

Thank you for your previous letter. I read it before filming the movie and I am sorry but I could not film the original script. Your suggestion that I do not change anything would have caused me to lose my career and likely be in debt for the rest of my life.

The film is now in the editing process and I have gone ahead with Stella leaving her husband forever and not mentioning Allan true nature but rather have Blanche find him disgusting for writing poems. You may be glad to hear that I have not removed the rape of Blanche but it will be suggested with Stanley carrying her off into another room.

I hope that you understand that I had no choice other than to go ahead with the changes. If I had filmed your original play the Legion of Decency would definitely give it a ‘C’ rating so no Christian will ever watch the film. Then how would I have fed my children let alone continue making films if I go bankrupt.

Yours Sincerely,
Elia Kazan

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