Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a play by Tennessee Williams. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955.
It is the story of a Southern family in crisis, focusing on the turbulent relationship of a wife and husband, Maggie "The Cat" and Brick Pollitt, and their interaction with Brick's family over the course of one evening gathering at the family estate in Mississippi, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of patriarch and tycoon "Big Daddy" Pollitt. Maggie, through wit and beauty, has escaped a childhood of desperate poverty to marry into the wealthy Pollitt family, but finds herself suffering in an unfulfilling marriage. Brick, an aging football hero, has neglected his wife and further infuriates her by ignoring his brother's attempts to gain control of the family fortune. Brick's indifference, and his nearly continuous drinking, date back to the recent suicide of his friend Skipper. Although Big Daddy has cancer and will not celebrate another birthday, his doctors and his family have conspired to keep this information from him and his wife. His relatives are in attendance and attempt to present themselves in the best possible light, hoping to receive the definitive share of Big Daddy's enormous wealth.
The central theme of the play is mendacity, a word Brick uses to describe his disgust with the world. Moreover it revolves around the lies in the aging and decaying Southern society. With one exception, the entire family lies to Big Daddy and Big Mama, as do the doctors. Big Daddy lies to his wife. Will Maggie be willing to lie to her father-in-law in order to gain his favor? Brick will not lie to his father, but is he lying about the nature of his relationship with or his feelings for his deceased friend?
The play alludes to the presence of homosexuality in Southern society and examines the complicated rules of social conduct in this culture. The Hays Code required that the film could not be clear that Brick had sexual desire for his buddy, and thus toned down the original play's critique of homophobia and sexism.
Tennessee Williams himself was unclear about the nature of Brick's feelings for his friend Skipper while developing different versions of the play.
There are two versions of the play, one of which was influenced by director Elia Kazan, who directed the play on Broadway, and another which was performed for the first time in London, England.
The original Broadway production, which opened in 1955, starred Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie; Ben Gazzara as Brick; Burl Ives as Big Daddy; Mildred Dunnock as Big Mama; Pat Hingle as Gooper; and Madeleine Sherwood as Mae. Bel Geddes was the only cast member to get nominated for a Tony Award, and Elia Kazan was nominated for Best Director of a Play. Both Ives and Sherwood would reprise their roles in the 1958 film version.
A 1974 revival featured Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea, Fred Gwynne and Kate Reid. Ashley was nominated for a Tony Award.
A 1990 revival featured Kathleen Turner in her Broadway debut. Charles Durning, as Big Daddy, received a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. Daniel Hugh Kelly was Brick, and Polly Holliday was Big Mama. Both Turner and Holliday were also nominated for Tonys.
A 2003 revival received lukewarm reviews despite the presence of film stars Ashley Judd and Jason Patric. Only Ned Beatty, as Big Daddy, and Margo Martindale, as Big Mama, were singled out for impressive performances. Martindale received a Tony nomination.
Film and television adaptations
The big-screen version of the play was made in 1958 by MGM, and starred Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Burl Ives, who reprised his stage role as Big Daddy, Judith Anderson, Jack Carson and Madeleine Sherwood. Although it was very discreet in referring to the supposed homosexual themes, and although it had a somewhat revised "third act", it was highly acclaimed and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman both received Oscar nominations for their performances, and most critics agreed that the the film provided both them and Burl Ives with their finest screen roles up to that time. Curiously, Burl Ives was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year, and won, but not for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He won it for his role in the epic Western The Big Country, featuring an all-star cast. MGM executives had mistakenly put Ives' name in the wrong category during the Academy Award nominations process. It is possible that Cat may have been too controversial for the Academy voters - the film won no Oscars, and the Best Picture award went to Gigi that year.
In 1976, a television version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was produced, starring the then husband-and-wife team of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, and featuring Laurence Olivier as Big Daddy and Maureen Stapleton as Big Mama. It was largely panned by the critics.
Another television version was produced in 1985, starring Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones, Rip Torn, Kim Stanley and Penny Fuller. This version brought back all the sexual innuendoes that the 1958 film had muted. Both Stanley and Fuller were nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special, and Stanley went on to win.