Let's say we're community playmakers that decide to stage The Petrified Forest. How much would performing rights cost? Who would we go to? I'd be interested to know when The Petrified Forest was last done, and where. Books say it's a dated play, but I don't find the movie so, even though it's 100% grounded in depression-era themes. In fact, it's airing of these concerns that made The Petrified Forest one of the most politically charged dramas of its Broadway season. Considering what a hit this was on stage, it's not a little surprising that The Petrified Forest opened, closed, was adapted for the screen, and the movie released, all between January 1935 and late February of 1936. This was Leslie Howard's doing. He had part ownership in the property, eschewed a tour of the play despite critical and popular success, then moved quickly toward sale of Forest to
|The original Broadway cast on stage in 1935|
Howard was already a movie idol and that made reception on stage all the more fan-driven. His daughter later wrote that Howard was assailed by stage door admirers wielding scissors to cut away articles of clothing, including a go at his trouser buttons. Such gauntlets were run each night of the play's Broadway stay between January and June of 1935. Among a supporting cast, hopes could be raised, then dashed, when time came to cast The Petrified Forest for movies. Peggy Conklin had the lead woman part as Gaby Maple. She was experienced and capable, but a name largely unknown to filmgoers, thus it would be Bette Davis assuming her role when The Petrified Forest was filmed. How big a letdown was this? It would be worth knowing how Peggy Conklin bore that disappointment over years to come, which were many, as she lived to 96 and died in 2003, continuing a stage career for many of those years. It's all a question of ambition, I suppose, and how much lost parts mattered to who. One can imagine Bette Davis harboring a miss like this all her life. As for Peggy Conklin, who knows? Who ever asked her?
|Rare Photo of Peggy Conklin as Howard's Leading Lady on Broadway|
|Black Horse Vigilantes Held At Bay by Duke Mantee and Gang|
Bogart was lucky to step into a part that was so electrified to begin with. Audiences saw Mantee as a threat personal to them --- ones like him could well lay in wait on doorsteps, and that gave Bogart's character a fearful resonance it might not have had a year before, or after (Dillinger was shot down less than six months before the play opened). There comes the matter, then, of Leslie Howard's refusal to film The Petrified Forest without Humphrey Bogart repeating Duke Mantee for the screen. I'd heard the story and assumed it was true. A few historians had doubts, though, so it took a rediscovered 1935 cablegram (later sold at auction) to confirm for certain the leading man's No Bogart --- No Howard gesture, confirmation of the defining career boost this was for Bogart. The latter's gratitude was said to be continuing and lifelong. He'd name his daughter after Leslie Howard. For all I know, Bogart went over each week to wash LH's car and mow his grass ... certainly he'd not be amiss in doing so.
Bogart had already tried and failed a couple of times in Hollywood, and in Gotham as well, doing a short and feature, so there's no reason to believe he'd have eventually clicked were it not for Howard and The Petrified Forest. Warners got Bogart for $550 a week. They promised and came through with a lower berth for the train ride out (and that would have been considered a major perk, considering duration of east coast-to west travel), but Bogie had to supply his own Mantee wardrobe.
Warners tried opening up the play with brief exteriors. For an initial scene, Leslie Howard's double is seen thumbing a ride over the desert. The gas stop as primary set with immediate surroundings were sound-stage built in that pleasing way Warners had with pretend realities. They had paid $110K for rights to the play. This was serious money, so The Petrified Forest as a property had real value. Remake rights alone were an ongoing asset. In fact, Forest's concept of ordinary folk under siege by gangsters would be a WB evergreen, its echo felt years later when the company released Key Largo, with Bogart now the hostage and Edward G. Robinson for Mantee-inspired menace.
UPDATE: 1/6/14 --- 6:00 PM --- Now comes answer to query I posed re The Petrified Forest and when it was last staged. Turns out the Robert E. Sherwood play is set for live performance at