Toward the end of A Streetcar Named Desire, a mirror breaks during a struggle between Stanley and Blanche. It’s a symbol of Stanley’s assault on his sister-in-law and foreshadows the cracking of Blanche’s tenuous grasp on reality.
However, Vivien Leigh, who played Blanche, flatly refused to do it. “She was superstitious. No actor would risk seven years of bad luck,” Sam Staggs, author of When Blanche Met Brando: The Scandalous Story of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” exclusively explains to Closer Weekly. To complete the scene, director Elia Kazan had a prop man do the deed. “He had to smash 11 mirrors [to get the scene right], or as Kazan liked to joke, 77 years of bad luck!” says Staggs.
The film version of Tennessee Williams’ play, starring Vivien, Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter, didn’t seem to suffer from any curse. The 1951 release, which turns 70 this year, was a hit. It earned Oscars for Vivien, Karl and Kim. But Marlon, who received a nomination, had the bad luck to be up against Humphrey Bogart, who won for The African Queen. Still, the movie made Marlon a bona fide star.
In bringing Streetcar to movie theaters, the play’s Broadway cast, Marlon, Karl and Kim, were asked to re-create their roles. Only Jessica Tandy, as Blanche, was passed over for the movie. “Jessica didn’t have the sexy, vulnerable, doomed quality that Vivien had on the screen,” explains Staggs, who notes that Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Jennifer Jones, Mary Martin and Tallulah Bankhead were also considered.
KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
If the other actors felt upset about the casting, they hid it well. “They liked Vivien very much. She was married to Laurence Olivier. They were the power couple of the time, like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but actually better actors,” says Staggs, who notes that Vivien, who would suffer from mental illness later in life, was at the peak of her skills when Streetcar was filmed. “Everyone was touched and moved by her will to be good,” said director Elia.
Streetcar’s last surviving cast member, Mickey Kuhn, who played a sailor, was also delighted to work with Vivien again. Eleven years earlier, he’d appeared in Gone With the Wind as Beau Wilkes. Vivien generously gave her time to the 18-year-old actor. “She asked her assistant if the two of us could be alone so we could chat about old times,” recalls Mickey, 88, exclusively to Closer. “We sat for about a half hour, and I was as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof! But I’m proud that I’m the only actor who worked with her in both her Academy Award-winning performances.”
Everyone in the cast would always remember the film as a career high point. “I had read A Streetcar Named Desire before I read for the part of Stella,” said Kim. “I knew it was a good play, but I don’t think I knew how special it was, [and] what a milestone it would be.”
–Reporting by Katie Bruno