‘Brick, Blanche, Baby Doll’ become Theatrical Icons

Press Release from the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival, 9/3/13, Panny Mayfield, director; For more information call 662-624-5648 or email: pannywriter@yahoo.com

America’s great playwright Tennessee Williams transforms local residents into stage legends

CLARKSDALE – Thanks to America’s great playwright, Tennessee Williams, the names of Clarksdale residents - Brick, Blanche, and Baby Doll are theatrical legends around the planet.

Although their real lives may have differed from the personalities portrayed on stage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author knew all three personally during his impressionable childhood in the Mississippi Delta.

He later borrowed their names for award-winning dramas that became classic Hollywood movies: “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Baby Doll,” a screenplay adapted from his one-act play: “Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton.”

On Oct. 4-5 the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival in its 21st year, is taking a critical look at the screenplay directed by Elia Kazan and filmed in Benoit with Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach, and Karl Malden in starring roles.

Released in 1956 and banned by the Legion of Decency, the movie became an instant box office sensation and success.

Opening Friday morning, Oct. 4, in the posh Cutrer Mansion, home of Blanche Clark Curter, the festival kicks off with filmmaker Karen Kohihaas screening her interviews with family members of Clarksdale’s real-life Baby Doll and updating her documentary project on Tennessee Williams.

At 1:30 p. m. a lively literary conference about Baby Doll peppered with brisk audience interaction opens at Coahoma Community College with a keynote address by noted Williams scholar Kenneth Holditch, readings from the drama by Broadway actor/playwright Jeremy Lawrence, and commentary by a distinguished scholar panel.

Panelists include Colby Kullman of Ole Miss; Ralph Voss from the University of Alabama; Dorothy Shawhan of Delta State University; and veteran movie reviewer and columnist Coop Cooper.

Visitors anticipating lavish Southern hospitality will not be disappointed at Friday evening’s Meet and Greet Celebrity Reception in the historic Clark House.

Beneath 18-foot ceilings, the grand foyer hosts musical entertainment ranging from Delta blues guitar solos to dowop, gospel, and signature pop favorites by Clarksdale native Sam Cooke performed by Coahoma’s award-winning choir ensembles.

Expect impromptu portrayals of Maggie the Cat, Stanley Kowalski, or Big Daddy Pollitt by fledgling student actors on the eve of their drama competition and feast on the gourmet cuisine prepared by the Dutch Oven chefs.

It’s an elegant, fun party with Tennessee Williams “style and grace” and no strangers.

Waiting in the wings Saturday are the elite student drama competition and acting workshop at CCC, a celebration luncheon, tours of St. George’s Episcopal Church and former rectory, and the fabulous porch plays and conversations with actors performing in the Williams neighborhood.

Actors range from New York, Memphis, Theatre Oxford, and Clarksdale.

The festival has been recorded and praised in documentaries through the years by the BBC and Public Television in Austria and Switzerland; it was selected to host the unveiling of the Tennessee Williams postage stamp, and the MHC honored the festival with its prestigious Partner Award for excellence and community collaborations.

It’s free thanks to Coahoma Community College and grants from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, and local supporters. Reservations are needed for the Friday night reception and Saturday luncheon. Telephone 662-645-5648.

Photo of theatre professionals Karen Kohihaas and Jeremy Lawrence at acting workshop for students sponsored by Coahoma Community College.

Porch play photo features Oxford actors Alice Walker and Jared Davis performing a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire on the front porch of the former Mississippi Gov. Earl Brewer Mansion in Clarksdale’s historic district.