Stanley and Sisters
Stanley & Sisters was a sitcom produced by Paramount Studios in 1968, a spin-off of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, featuring its main characters. Production was cancelled halfway through the first series, and the show never aired.
Tennessee Williams’ play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ centered around a character named Stanley Kowalski. He was most famously played on the original Broadway run and subsequent silver screen adaptation by Marlon Brando, and apparently once by Alec Baldwin. Stanley is working-class man who delights in his marriage to the socially superior Stella. In the play, Stella’s sister, Blanche, a relic of the Old Southern belle lifestyle, comes to live in the Kowalski household in New Orleans. She serves as a painful reminder to Stanley of his wife’s higher status in society. The clash of Stanley and Blanche becomes the focus of the play, the matter ending in Stanley’s rape of Blanche, and his exclusion from Stella’s life.
In 1962 the rights to Stanley, Stella and Blanche were leased to Paramount Studios by Tennessee Williams, after he had to finance the Broadway run of his experimental piece ‘David and his Filthy Hos’. The characters were left dormant until 1967, when the potential for a sitcom was realized by Dan Fanny, then head gardener at Paramount.
|I saw the contract hanging out of a garbage bag. I found the characters intriguing when I first saw the film, and thought it was a travesty they were left to rot.
I thought, ‘what if Stanley went back, cap in hand, and was taken back into the house, as Williams intended… that’d bring up some difficult situations.
Using his initiative (and blackmail), Fanny secured the funding from the Head of the Studio for a pilot.
The Writing Process
In late 1967, Dan, began writing the project with his room-mate, Neil Cauldron, former NFL Baseball player and heroin addict. “It took almost three days to write the pilot … we started early every day, and bounced ideas back and forth. In those three days we had written the pilot, and planned seasons one through seven. We were reasonably confident we could carry on that far. Neil’s dealer really helped, we were so much more productive.”
Many people were approached with regards to the role of Stanley, including the role’s original casting, Marlon Brando. Brando was conscious that critics would jibe that he was only returning to the role in order to burgeon his rapidly failing career. He was also concerned that the working schedule of a sitcom would be too frantic. Regardless, he agreed to participate for a fee of $14 million. Paramount refused to pay this amount, despite the insistence (and further blackmail) of Fanny. “I guess, I just wasn’t Francis Ford Coppola.” Frantic searches were undertaken to find a young exuberant actor to take the part. Auditions were very scarcely attended, as many didn’t wish to fill Brando’s sizable moccasins. “Then along came David Proval. He blew us away. He might have been the only actor there, but I am sure, he would have beaten anybody else had they shown up.” Yvette Mimieux was cast as alcoholic, nymphomaniac Blanche, and the future Cagney and Lacey star Tyne Lacy as Stella. Blanche’s main love interest (and Stanley’s best friend) Mitch also returned in the show, played by the future Nightmare on Elm Street actor Marshall Bell.
The pilot show was broadcast in filmed and shown to studio executives in early 1968. The show started with Stanley arriving home, to find Stella leaving the house. He convinces her he is changed man, who sees the error of his ways. Stella runs to his arms, and agrees to stay, provided he and Blanche patch up their differences, and she can return from the asylum permanently. They agree. As Stella takes her bags up stairs, Stanley and Blanche agree to sit and talk. They then get into a humorous argument about Stanley cutting his toenails in the living room.
Many of the studio executives at Paramount were not aware of the ending of the original play, and as the script never made mention of the rape at the end. Davy Pratt, talent executive at Paramount:
|We thought that the toenail bit was hilarious. We saw huge comic potential with the snobbish sister in law and the lazy, working-class husband. He was the everyman, someone everyone could identify with, and she was like the classic mother-in-law character, but with style and poise. We thought that Stanley telling Blanche "I’ll get you again while you sleep" could have really taken off… like a catchphrase kind of thing. That was actually one of the reasons we green-lighted it. We even had some T-shirts printed up. We thought we had the next Beverly Hillbillies.|
The further episodes featured Blanche as a foil to Stanley’s efforts, namely by getting a part-time job at his bowling alley, becoming a regular at his favourite bar, and by bringing her ‘gentleman friends’ back to the house, whilst Stanley is relaxing. These spats were often mediated by Stella, confined to the role of a straight man. The shows were punctuated by Cauldron’s punchy, drug-addled dialogue. Some of the show's plots included: Stanley nearly bowling a perfect game, which Blanche ruins in the last frame by distracting him; Blanche bringing a beau back to the house whilst Stanley is listening to the game. Stanley counteracts this by encouraging him to ignore Blanche’s advances, and joining him in listening to the radio. These early shows got good ratings from test audiences, with many men identifying with social pressures Stanley was put under.
The Fifth Show
“I never intended the show to betray the characters of the play. Neil and I were always adamant about that. Stanley was always going to be an animal, a monster, but would have a comic side. So would Blanche, but she would still be a man-eating drunk … I don’t understand why the execs flipped … kids' shows cover these kind of issues now.”
The fifth show was fully recorded on a closed set. This was to protect the storyline from burgeoning press interest. The show was aired to test audiences in late 1968, to very public hostility. The infamous show began with Stanley planning a fishing trip with Mitch. As they were ready to leave, Blanche invited lovable loser Mitch to dinner, with a view to rekindle their affection. Mitch agreed and left Stanley in the lurch. Stanley was left to drink all night at his favourite bar. As he stumbles through the door, he finds Mitch and Blanche holding hands on the couch. He beats Mitch to a bloody pulp with a tyre iron. He then punches the screaming Blanche in the face, and begins to advance on her menacingly.
Unfortunately, we did not know what happened next, as the projector at the showing was immediately switched off. Creator Fanny is also notoriously tight-lipped about the rest of the episode, believing that the his vision could not be adequately described as it was on film. “We always knew that’s who Stanley was… it’s a shame that it was never shown, just closed down by the petty minds of inaccessible studio bosses.”
The show caused the first LA Riot. In the ensuing catastrophe, the shows co-writer, Neil Cauldron, was lynched two days after the showing by Feminist Liberators Against Neverending Girly Entertainment (F.L.A.N.G.E.).
Fanny was forced to live underground, where he contracted various fungal illnesses. He resurfaced in the later years of Hollywood, using injury compensation money to finance further projects.
As the show never made it to air, the actors were not tarred with Fanny's brush (although there were rumours about David Proval). They all went on to have moderately successful careers in the industry, regardless of how badly they may have aged.