In his "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth states:
I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility: the emotion is contemplated till by a species of reaction the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.
This sums up Wordsworth's function of poetry and echoes the sentiments in the statement from his "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." Nothing can bring back past experiences. Rather than grieve, the poetic goal is to dwell on what is left behind: "soothing thoughts," reflections, and recollections that will fill the "philosophic mind."
This is a common synthesis in Wordsworth's themes and method of poetic creation: experience, reflection = poetic production in thought and words. This synthesis is a kind of "aufheben" to borrow a word from Hegel wherein the reflection takes over for (and thus abolishes) the experience, thus standing in for it. The same occurs with poetic production; the creation (imagination) takes over for the reflection. This synthetic process involves a "holding up" of the experience (a remembering and therefore not a complete abolishing) but also transcending of the experience into reflection and production. The experience becomes reflection; the reflection becomes "soothing thoughts" and/or poetry.
Here are some examples of this (past) outer experience, followed by present (and hopefully future) inner reflection. In "I wandered lonely as a cloud," the last stanza encapsulates this idea:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
The outer experience becomes a reflection (mental) - a "flash upon that inward eye."
In the epigraph of "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," Wordsworth writes:
The Child is Father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
This is taken from his poem "My heart leaps up." We are children before men. Therefore I, as a child, exist before I exist as a man. The child, linearly, exists before the man. Wordsworth wants his days as a Man bound to his days as a child: his present to his past. Poetic reflection is to be bound to past experience: a synthesis (binding) of the two. Likewise, this implies a bond between past and present (and/or future).
We should also look at The Prelude, often described as Wordsworth's greatest achievement, as it is a justification of/about poetry (and autobiographical in scope). In creating poetry, Wordsworth reflects/recollects. There is a real sense of "going back" in order to "go forward" and create. At the beginning of The Prelude, the speaker goes back to his childhood. The Prelude goes through Wordsworth's ("the speaker's/poet's) life, from dealing with uncertainty about being a poet, his mother's death, to college, to support and then disillusionment with the French Revolution.
In Book 12, Wordsworth again "goes back" to youthful experiences. The Prelude, Book 1, begins with "O there is blessing in this gentle breeze," and line 10 of Book 12, "ye breezes and soft airs" returns to a connection with nature and the past. The breeze of the past is similar to the breeze of the present and at the end of Book 12, he shows this connection:
In a strong wind, some working of the spirit,
Some inward agitations, thence are brought,
Some outer experience (the breeze, wind) stirs an inward (mental) thought. And this mental thought ("what remains behind") provides the "strength" to get through human suffering; this strength (from the inward thought or the "strong wind" itself) also fuels the imagination of poetic creation.
Recollection and reflection allow the poet to "go back" in order to "go forward" with the strength to deal with things and/or the strength to create. When the recollection is not enough, something as simple yet as powerful as a breeze or another gaze at a flower helps to bond the connections: outer experience/inner reflection and past/present.
In a small town Kansas in the late 1920s, Bud (Warren Beatty) and Deanie (Natalie Wood) are two high school students who are head over heels in love with each other. Although they are driven by natural desires, Bud and Deanie fight their sexual urges at the behest of their well-meaning but oppressive parents whose advice leaves them perpetually confused and frustrated. Bud wants to marry Deanie and become a farmer, but finds himself constantly at odds with his wealthy domineering father Ace (Pat Hingle) who wants Bud to forget about Deanie, attend Yale and work in the family oil business. Deanie's mother (Audrey Christie), meanwhile, would love nothing more than to see her marry into a rich family. Nice girls, she warns Deanie, don't give in to their desires. But Deanie suffers a devastating mental breakdown, it threatens to tear the star-crossed lovers apart forever.
Director: Elia Kazan
Producer: Elia Kazan
Associate Producer: William Inge
Associate Producer: Charles H. Maguire
Screenplay: William Inge
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Art Direction: Richard Sylbert
Editing: Gene Milford
Music: David Amram
Costume Designer: Anna Hill Johnstone
Cast: Natalie Wood (Wilma Dean "Deanie" Loomis), Warren Beatty (Bud Stamper), Pat Hingle (Ace Stamper), Audrey Christie (Mrs. Loomis), Barbara Loden (Ginny Stamper), Zohra Lampert (Angelina), Fred Stewart (Del Loomis), Joanna Roos (Mrs. Stamper), Jan Norris (Juanita Howard), Gary Lockwood (Toots), Kay (Sandy Dennis), Crystal Field (Hazel), Marla Adams (June), Lynn Loring (Carolyn), John McGovern (Doc Smiley), Martine Bartlett (Miss Metcalf), Sean Garrison (Glenn), Charles Robinson (Johnny Masterson), Phyllis Diller (Texas Guinan), William Inge (Reverend Whitman), Phoebe Mackay (Stamper Maid).
Why SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS is Essential
Splendor in the Grass was the first work ever written directly for the screen by famed playwright William Inge, whose plays include Bus Stop, Come Back, Little Sheba and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic.
The film marked the feature film debut of future megastar Warren Beatty. Beatty's success in Splendor helped catapult him to instant stardom as he embarked on a long career as an actor, producer and Oscar®-winning director.
Splendor in the Grass was an important film for Natalie Wood. When it came along, Wood's career was at a standstill. Having come up through the Hollywood ranks as a child star, Wood was having difficulty transitioning into adult roles. Her success and subsequent Oscar® nomination for Splendor completely reignited her career as an adult actress.
Splendor in the Grass is a beautiful and tragic love story that has genuine resonance with its themes of passion, love, heartbreak, hypocrisy and madness. Director Elia Kazan called the last reel of Splendor his personal favorite last reel of all of his films.
by Andrea Passafiume
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
By the time Splendor in the Grass was released in theaters, Natalie Wood had split from husband Robert Wagner, and Warren Beatty and Joan Collins had called off their engagement. Wood and Beatty started seeing each other and suddenly became one of the hottest Hollywood couples of the moment, though they would ultimately split a short time later. Elia Kazan also went on to eventually divorce his wife and marry actress Barbara Loden in 1967. The two remained married until Loden's death in 1980.
Splendor in the Grass was remade as a television movie in 1981 starring Melissa Gilbert as Deanie and Cyril O'Reilly as Bud. Ned Beatty played Bud's father Ace, Eva Marie Saint played Deanie's mother and a then-unknown Michelle Pfeiffer played Bud's troubled sister Ginny.
by Andrea Passafiume
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Splendor in the Grass was a hit when it was released in the fall of 1961. Reviews were somewhat mixed, but almost all singled out the remarkable performances of Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty for praise. Just as Wood had hoped, the film's success gave her career a huge boost. She was now at the top of her game again and could pick and choose from the choice leading roles--adult leading roles--that she had always wanted. For Warren Beatty, the film catapulted him to instant stardom, just as he had also hoped, and the skills he learned from his first outing with Elia Kazan helped him not only as an actor, but also as a future Oscar-winning director and producer.
When Inge won the Academy Award for his Splendor screenplay, director Elia Kazan made no secret that he felt he deserved at least some of the credit. "He produced a novelette and I made it into the screenplay for which he was to win an Academy Award," said Kazan. "He'd done some fussing with the scenes, and some of the dialogue he added was good and some not necessary; photographed action would tell most of it. His story had the one essential, an excellent flow of incident to a true conclusion. Bill was an accomplished storyteller; it's a special talent. But I also knew how much I'd contributed..."
Still, Kazan knew that Splendor was something special that grew out of it being a collaboration. "The film was a typical Bill Inge work," he said, "a soap opera until suddenly it appears there is a little more depth and humanity there, as well as a balanced view of life. That 'little more' was what gave our film its distinction."
"It's not my favorite of my films," said Kazan, "but the last reel is my favorite last reel, at once the saddest and the happiest...What I like about this ending is its bittersweet ambivalence, full of what Bill had learned from his own life; that you have to accept limited happiness, because all happiness is limited, and that to expect perfection is the most neurotic thing of all; you must live with the sadness as well as with the joy."
Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood named their boat the Splendour in honor of the film after they were married for the second time in 1972. According to Wagner's 2008 autobiography Pieces of My Heart, they used the English spelling of "Splendor" for the boat as a symbolic gesture "to differentiate between then and now." The Splendour was also the boat the couple was on when Wood fell into the water and drowned off the coast of Catalina in 1981.
Screenwriter William Inge has a small role in Splendor in the Grass as Reverend Whitman.
Comedienne Phyllis Diller appears in the film as a nightclub entertainer named Texas Guinan.
Actress and future Oscar® winner Sandy Dennis (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ) has a small role in the film as Kay, one of Bud and Deanie's classmates.
Splendor in the Grass marked the film debut of Warren Beatty.
The title Splendor in the Grass is a line taken from poet William Wordsworth's Ode on Intimations of Immortality.
Following the Splendor in the Grass shoot, stars Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty became one of Hollywood's hottest real-life couples.
When Natalie Wood received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for Splendor, her estranged husband Robert Wagner sent her a note that said, "I hope with all my heart that when they open the envelope, it's you."
Screenwriter William Inge was born and raised in small town Kansas, and drew his inspiration for the story and characters in Splendor in the Grass from his experiences growing up there.
Future playwright Mart Crowley (The Boys in the Band) was working as an assistant to director Elia Kazan during the making of Splendor in the Grass. It was on this shoot that he met Natalie Wood, who became a close friend.
Warren Beatty got engaged to his girlfriend, actress Joan Collins, during the filming of Splendor in the Grass, although the engagement was later broken.
Natalie Wood initially didn't like working with Warren Beatty because she didn't think he bathed enough.
Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood attended the Academy Awards together in 1962 when Splendor in the Grass was up for its three Oscars, including Wood for Best Actress.
When Natalie Wood lost the Best Actress Academy Award to Sophia Loren in Two Women, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper said, "Natalie Wood was robbed! But at least she got the nicest consolation prize--Warren Beatty."
Memorable Quotes from SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS
"Mom, is it so terrible to have those feelings about a boy?"
"No nice girl does."
"No, no nice girl."
"But, Mom, didn't you ever...didn't you ever feel that way about Dad?"
"Your father never laid a hand on me until we were married. And then I just gave in because a wife has to. A woman doesn't enjoy those things the way a man does. She just lets her husband come near her in order to have children."
--Deanie (Natalie Wood) and her mother, Mrs. Loomis (Audrey Christie) discussing Deanie's relationship with Bud
"Bud, I got all my hopes pinned on you now."
- Ace Stamper (Pat Hingle) to his son, Bud (Warren Beatty)
"If you think I'm going to stay here in this God forsaken town and have people laugh at me and gossip about me, you've got another thing coming. 'Cause I'll really give them something to gossip about."
- Ginny Stamper (Barbara Loden) to her father, Ace
"I'm going to California and live with Aunt Blossom and study art."
- Ginny / Ace
"This is the ugliest place in the whole world. Everywhere you look there's an oil well, even on the front lawn. I'll bet you'd drill for a well right here in the dining room."
"You're damn right I would, if I thought there was any oil in there!"
- Ginny / Ace
"Did he spoil you?"
"Spoil?! Did he spoil me?! No! No, Mom! I'm not spoiled! I'm not spoiled, Mom! I'm just as fresh and virginal like the day I was born, Mom!"
- Mrs. Loomis and Deanie, discussing Deanie's relationship with Bud
"Deanie, where's your pride?"
"My pride?! My pride?! I haven't any pride!"
- Bud and Deanie, after Bud rejects her advances
"I like metal work, though. You can get rid of a lot of hostilities this way. Watch. Every time I pound, I tell myself it's my old man."
- Johnny (Charles Robinson), to Deanie
"There's nothing the matter with you. You just remember that. You are perfectly alright." -
Mrs. Loomis, to Deanie
"Mom kept calling me her baby, and Dad kept calling me his little girl. Dr. Judd, don't they realize I'm me?"
- Deanie to her psychiatrist, Dr. Judd (Ivor Francis), following a visit from her parents
"You know, it would be nice if children could be born into this world with an absolute guarantee they'd have just the right kind of bringing up and all lead happy normal lives, but, well, I guess when we get born we just all have to take our chances."
- Mrs. Loomis
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
The genesis of Splendor in the Grass goes all the way back to the hit 1957 play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs written by William Inge and directed on Broadway by Elia Kazan. The play was the first collaboration between Kazan and Inge, which generated a lasting friendship between the two. During the production of The Dark at the Top of the Stairs the idea for Splendor was generated when Kazan dropped a casual remark to Inge. Kazan said that the two should make a film together in the future and asked Inge if he had any good ideas for a screenplay. Inge, whose credits include Bus Stop, Come Back, Little Sheba and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic, had never written a screenplay before, but he was intrigued by the idea. "[Inge] told me a story of a couple of high school kids in Independence, Kansas, where he'd lived, and I said let's do it," recalled Kazan in his 1988 autobiography A Life.
In the spring of 1958 William Inge handed in his first draft of Splendor in the Grass to Kazan, and the two began putting the film project together through Warner Bros. Kazan enjoyed collaborating with Inge and found that they were very productive together. "Professionally he was perfect," said Kazan of Inge. "He listened to suggestions openly, decided always from the core of his own intentions what he would do and what he would not do. When he didn't agree, he had good reasons. When he did agree he would always give you back a little more than you expected. I loved working with him; I esteemed him always."
For research, Inge took Kazan on a trip to his hometown of Independence, Kansas in 1958 so that Kazan could get a firsthand feel for the characters and locations of Splendor. "I did a lot of research on the picture," said Kazan in a 1971 interview. "I went out to Kansas and hung around high schools to watch the kids' behavior. I went to the Menniger Clinic for awhile and saw how it worked. It was very interesting to me that the first mental institution of its kind was located in mid-America -- almost an acknowledgement that mid-America was cracking up, that its values were not working."
When the time came for casting Splendor in the Grass, it was William Inge who suggested Natalie Wood for the role of Deanie. Kazan, however, was considering other young actresses for the part including Diane Varsi (Peyton Place ), Lee Remick and Jane Fonda. Natalie Wood was an established star at the time who had been appearing in films since she was a child. However, Wood was under suspension to Warner Bros. studios and having trouble moving into adult roles. "When Natalie was first suggested to me," said Kazan, "I backed off. I didn't want a 'washed-up child star.' But when I saw her, I detected behind the well-mannered 'young wife' front a desperate twinkle in her eyes. I knew there was an unsatisfied hunger there. I became interested - professionally."
Landing the role of Deanie would mean everything to Natalie Wood. If Splendor in the Grass succeeded, her career would get a much-needed boost and she could transition into the more adult roles that she had been craving. Warner Bros., Wood's home studio, was eager to turn the star into a renewed asset rather than a liability and pressured Kazan to use her. When Jack Warner offered Wood at a discount price, Kazan agreed to meet with her. "I wanted to find out what human material was there, what her inner life was," said Kazan. "I saw that she was a restless 'chick' who reminded me of the 'bad' girls in high school who looked like 'good' girls. I remembered that kind and how they'd have nothing to do with me, only with the big 'letter men,' like Warren Beatty. My memory assured me she was perfect for the part."
In his 2008 memoir Pieces of My Heart Natalie Wood's husband at the time, actor Robert Wagner, remembered Wood's state of mind at the time. "Natalie was so hungry for the part that she even agreed to test for it," said Wagner. "She told Kazan that she wanted a new career, and Gadge [Kazan's nickname] recognized her power as an actress and her willpower as a person; she got the part. What was unsaid but clearly indicated by the fact of that screen test was that she was willing to put herself completely in his hands - one of those things that every director wants to hear."
It was a critical time in Wood's life not only professionally, but also personally, when the opportunity to do Splendor came along. Wood's marriage to Robert Wagner was showing signs of strain under career pressures and ambition. "Natalie's success or failure as an actress was more important to her than anything else," said Wagner. "Including me."
For the role of Bud, several names were tossed around in consideration including Jody McCrea (son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee) and new Warner Bros. heartthrob Troy Donahue. It was William Inge who first thought of using newcomer Warren Beatty. Beatty was just getting started in the business, appearing mostly in small television parts. When Inge had the opportunity to catch one of Beatty's performances on an NBC serial drama, he was intrigued and ended up casting him in his 1959 Broadway play A Loss of Roses. While the play was a rare flop for Inge, he was impressed with the young Beatty and was convinced he would be perfect to play Bud.
Landing Splendor in the Grass would create a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Warren Beatty. It would be his chance to make his feature film debut working with both one of the industry's greatest directors and one of the world's most beautiful stars in a terrific story written by one of the world's most esteemed playwrights. His performance could make or break his career as a movie star, and he was determined to succeed.
When he finally got the news from Kazan that he had landed the role, according to Peter Biskind's 2010 book Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, Beatty said some years later, "I felt a chill start at my heel that went up my back to the top of my head, because I thought, unless I'm stupid, I'm not going to be poor. I have a shot. And I can do something with it."
For the key parental characters in Splendor in the Grass, Kazan hired veteran stage actors Audrey Christie as Deanie's Mother Mrs. Loomis and Pat Hingle as Bud's father, Ace Stamper. Hingle and Kazan had worked together several times before on stage, and Hingle had provided narration for Kazan's 1960 film Wild River.
The future Mrs. Elia Kazan, Barbara Loden, soon came on board to play Bud's wild sister Ginny. Kazan, who was married to someone else at the time, had begun an affair with Loden in the late 1950s and made the aspiring actress one of his protgs by casting her as Montgomery Clift's secretary in Wild River. Splendor in the Grass would mark the second big screen role for the talented actress whom Kazan described in his autobiography as "a little bitchy and occasionally a pain in the ass -as well as a pleasure."
by Andrea Passafiume
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
Right before shooting was set to begin on Splendor in the Grass actor Pat Hingle, who was to play the role of Bud's father Ace Stamper, suffered devastating injuries when he accidentally fell 54 feet down an elevator shaft in his apartment building. It would take Hingle over a year to fully recover from the accident. In the meantime, however, he decided to go ahead and do the film -- he would simply incorporate his limp into the character. "I broke everything," Hingle said later. "I landed upright, so I broke hips and knees and ankles and ribs, and that sort of thing. That lurching walk that Ace Stamper has -- that was as good as I could walk."
The cameras began rolling on Splendor in the Spring of 1960. Shot entirely in New York, exteriors were filmed in Staten Island and upstate New York, which doubled as Kansas in the 1920s. Interiors were filmed at Filmways Studios in East Harlem.
Elia Kazan found directing Splendor to be an easy and pleasant experience. He had the benefit of William Inge's strong screenplay and was surrounded by first-rate talent. Film neophyte Warren Beatty looked at Kazan as a teacher and sought to learn as much as possible from him. Kazan taught him how to think about acting, where to put the camera, how to break down a script -- all valuable lessons for Beatty, who later went on to direct and produce himself.
For his part, Kazan wasn't as enamored with Beatty, though he couldn't deny that he was very talented. "Warren was a little 'snotty' -- I don't know a better word for how he behaved and can't find one in my thesaurus," said Kazan in his 1988 autobiography A Life, "but he was able to grow into a formidable man."
According to one of the makeup artists on Splendor in the Grass, the crew found Beatty arrogant and didn't like him. In fact, he was given the nickname "Mental Anguish" or "M.A." for short that crew members called him behind his back.
Even co-star Natalie Wood wasn't particularly fond of Beatty at first. "...she thought he didn't bathe enough," said her then husband Robert Wagner in his 2008 autobiography Pieces of My Heart. "Scruffiness supposedly equaled authenticity, at least according to the Actors Studio." Wood shared the same thought regarding Beatty's hygiene with close friend Mart Crowley, who was working as one of Kazan's assistants at the time. According to Crowley, this "scruffiness" made her apprehensive about doing love scenes with Beatty.
Somewhere along the line, according to Kazan, something changed between Wood and Beatty. The love scenes between them became a temptation for the two, even though both were involved with other people -- Wood was married to Robert Wagner, and Beatty was engaged to English actress Joan Collins at the time. "To be in love with Warren Beatty!" wrote Kazan in his autobiography. "What girl can run that fast? And why use the word 'love?' Warren -- it was obvious the first time I saw him--wanted it all and wanted it his way...Bright as they come, intrepid, and with that thing all women secretly respect: complete confidence in his sexual powers, confidence so great that he never had to advertise himself, even by hints." Kazan claimed that Beatty and Wood fell in love while he "wasn't looking...I wasn't sorry," he said, "it helped their love scenes."
While it was true that Beatty and Wood did eventually become a couple in real life, those closest to her deny that their relationship began while making Splendor . Robert Wagner, who visited the set often, saw no evidence of an affair. "Beatty had nothing to do with our breakup, and Natalie didn't begin to see him until after our split," said Wagner. "...Now, it's within the realm of possibility that the affair began earlier, but I don't think that's what happened for one simple reason: she would have told me...Affairs were not part of our equation."
Wood's close friend at the time, Mart Crowley, agreed. "If they were kissing between the flats, I didn't know anything about it," he said according to Peter Biskind's 2010 book Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America. "It's not true that Warren broke up the marriage between Wagner and her, that they started an affair during the picture. He was still going with Joan, and Natalie was crying her eyes out in the dressing room between takes, chewing her lips, just an emotional wreck. She would go home exhausted, not fit to have an affair with anybody. And she didn't seem like any person that Warren would have gone for. Especially with Joan around. Her career was on the brink of extinction, his was just beginning, they had everything riding on this to be good, they were two very ambitious people, so they didn't have time for each other, romantically." Warren Beatty himself also later denied those allegations, describing his relationship with Natalie Wood during the filming of Splendor as "distant."
The one on-set romance that was definitely going on was that of director Elia Kazan and actress Barbara Loden, who played the wild and self-destructive Ginny Stamper. The two had begun their affair several years earlier and had to keep it under wraps since Kazan was married to someone else at the time.
Kazan did whatever what necessary in order to bring out the best possible performances by his actors -- it was one of the reasons he was known as one of the best directors in the business. From the beginning, he wanted to strip away the Hollywood glamour from Natalie Wood and get her to a more natural state for the camera, which was appropriate for the character of Deanie. It meant that Wood had to do without the sophisticated makeup and costumes she was used to, which caused her some anxiety. According her friend Mart Crowley, she was always trying to sneak on a little extra rouge or lipstick when Kazan wasn't looking.
There were two scenes in Splendor in the Grass that worried Natalie Wood due to the intensity of each: the scene where she has a confrontation with her mother while she is in the bathtub; and the scene in which she tries to drown herself in a lake after Bud rejects her sexual advances. Each time, Kazan found a way to bring out her best, even if his methods left her angry. "The bathtub scene, in which I was to be hysterical," said Wood in a later interview, "always frightened me. And I told Kazan I was very worried about it. His response absolutely threw me for a loop, because he said, 'What you do, I'll let you see the film, and we'll go back and do it again. Or we can play it on Audrey's [Christie] reactions.' And I was so enraged and offended that I became hysterical. That was his way of dealing with me, and it was obviously the correct way, because we only shot it once."
For the scene in which Deanie tries to drown herself in the lake, Wood asked Kazan if she could do it in a controlled studio tank because she had a great fear of water -- particularly dark water. "I assured her it was a very shallow lake and that her feet would always be close to the bottom," said Kazan. "She said that even if her feet were on the bottom, she'd be in a panic of fear about it. So I asked my assistant, Charlie Maguire, to get into the water with her, just out of camera range, while she played the scene of struggling to save herself. This didn't entirely reassure her, but she did the scene and did it well -- then clutched Charlie. 'Cut!' I cried. On dry land she continued to shake with fear, then laughed hysterically, with relief."
by Andrea Passafiume
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
One of the most poignant themes of the 'Coming of Age' Film is First Love...usually bittersweet, wrapped in soft-focus nostalgia, and accompanied by string-drenched music. But Splendor in the Grass (1961), made at a time when both films and society were undergoing profound changes, is darker. It deals realistically, even shockingly, with the agony of first love, and the forces that drive lovers apart. Bud and Deanie are high school sweethearts in 1920's Kansas, who are finding it increasingly difficult to resist their sexual urges. Deanie's puritanical mother warns her that "nice girls don't"...so Deanie doesn't. Bud's nouveau-riche father urges him to find a not-so-nice girl to take care of those urges. The consequences are disastrous. With avant-garde composer David Amram's modern (and often dissonant) music, and Richard Sylbert's stark, striking production design adding atmosphere, Splendor in the Grass is the antithesis of sentimental.
Splendor in the Grass was based on people that playwright William Inge knew growing up in 1920's Kansas. Inge, the author of plays and films such as Picnic (1955) and Bus Stop (1956), told the story to director Elia Kazan when they were working on a production of Inge's play, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, in 1957. Both agreed it would make a good film, and that they'd like to work on it together. Inge wrote it first as a novel, then as a screenplay.
Inge had seen a brooding young actor named Warren Beatty in a New Jersey stock production, and was impressed enough to give Beatty the lead in his new play, A Loss of Roses. The play flopped, but Inge and Beatty became friends. When Splendor in the Grass was ready for production, Inge suggested Beatty for the role of Bud. Kazan, annoyed by the untried actor's arrogance, but impressed by his presence and his talent, agreed to cast him as Bud. It was Beatty's first film, and it made him an overnight star.
Natalie Wood, on the other hand, was a Hollywood veteran. Now 22, she had been an actress since she was five. Although she'd easily managed the transition from child star to adult roles, the films she'd made lately hadn't done much for her career. Wood was under contract to Warner Brothers, which was producing Splendor in the Grass, and the studio wanted Kazan to use her. Considering her an over-the-hill child star, Kazan resisted. But when he met Wood, he sensed her restlessness and volatility, ideal for Deanie. Wood threw herself into the role, even agreeing to do a nude scene - the first ever by a major star in a mainstream film. The scene was shot, but this was a "first" studio head Jack Warner could live without - he insisted the nudity be cut. Only a fleeting glimpse remains in the American release of the film.
The two stars were so intensely involved in their roles that they were soon living them, although Wood was married to Robert Wagner, and Beatty was living with Joan Collins. Far from being upset, Method director Kazan encouraged the affair. "I wasn't sorry," Kazan later admitted. "It helped their love scenes." By the time Splendor in the Grass premiered in the fall of 1961, Beatty and Wood had left their mates and were living together.
Another real-life incident during the filming now seems hauntingly prophetic. In the film, Deanie, distraught over her breakup with Bud, throws herself into a reservoir. Before the filming, Wood told Kazan that she was terrified of water, and felt that her fear would paralyze her and she wouldn't be able to play the scene. But she did, and her near-hysteria made it even more harrowing. In 1981, Wood drowned when she fell off her yacht...which was named the "Splendour."
When Splendor in the Grass opened theatrically, it received excellent reviews; Wood was nominated for an Academy Award, and William Inge received one for his screenplay. Both Wood's and Beatty's performances were also highly praised. Of Natalie Wood, Bosley Crowther wrote in the New York Times, "There is poetry in her performance, and her eyes in the final scene bespeak the moral significance and emotional fulfillment of this film."
Producer/Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: William Inge
Editor: Gene Milford
Cinematography: Boris Kaufman
Production Designer: Richard Sylbert
Music: David Amram
Principal Cast: Natalie Wood (Wilma Dean Loomis), Warren Beatty (Bud Stamper), Pat Hingle (Ace Stamper), Audrey Christie (Mrs. Loomis), Barbara Loden (Ginny Stamper), Zohra Lampert (Angelina).
by Margarita Landazuri
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
AWARDS AND HONORS
Splendor in the Grass was nominated for two Academy Awards including Best Original Screenplay and Best Actress (Natalie Wood). William Inge won for Best Screenplay.
Natalie Wood received a BAFTA Award nomination as Best Foreign Actress for her work in Splendor in the Grass.
Elia Kazan was nominated for a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for his work on the film.
Splendor in the Grass received three Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama (Warren Beatty), and Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama (Natalie Wood).
In 2002 the American Film Institute ranked Splendor in the Grass number 47 on its definitive list of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time.
Critic Reviews: SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS
"Mr. Inge has written and Mr. Kazan has hurled upon the screen a frank and ferocious social drama that makes the eyes pop and the modest cheeks burn...the milieu is generally terrific--right on the beam and down Main Street, ugly and vulgar and oppressive, comic at times and sad. Pat Hingle gives a bruising performance as the oil-wealthy father of the boy...Audrey Christie is relentlessly engulfing as the sticky-sweet mother of the girl...In the end, however, the authority and eloquence of the theme emerge in the honest, sensitive acting of Mr. Beatty and Miss Wood. The former, a surprising newcomer, shapes an amiable, decent, sturdy lad whose emotional exhaustion and defeat are the deep pathos in the film...And Miss Wood has a beauty and radiance that carry her through a role of violent passions and depressions with unsullied purity and strength. There is poetry in her performance, and her eyes in the final scene bespeak the moral significance and emotional fulfillment of this film. The production is in excellent color and is scenically superb." - The New York Times
"In this picture...a relatively simple story of adolescent love and frustration in a small Midwestern town has been jargoned-up and chaptered-out till it sounds like an angry psychosociological monograph describing the sexual mores of the heartless heartland...The show, of course, is slick, exciting, professional in every detail--trust coony old Kazan for that every time. Actress Wood is quietly adroit and appealing. And Actor Beatty, who at 24 is playing his first screen part of any account, should make the big time on the first bounce...he has a startling resemblance to the late James Dean, and he has that certain something Hollywood calls star quality." -- Time Magazine
"Sentimental sudser by William Inge about emotionally broken girl rebuilding her life." - Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide
"Elia Kazan's production of William Inge's original screenplay, directed by Kazan, covers this forbidden chunk of ground with great care, compassion and cinematic flair. It is an extremely intimate and affecting experience, a drama fashioned expressly for the screen and that, in turn, benefits enormously from compatibility with its medium...Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty...are the lovers. Although the range and amplitude of their expression is not always as wide and variable as it might be, both deliver convincing, appealing performances. The real histrionic honors, though, belong to Audrey Christie, who plays Miss Wood's mother, and Pat Hingle, as Beatty's father. Both are truly exceptional, memorable portrayals, and will be worth serious Oscar consideration when the time comes for such matters." -- Variety
"Dazed moviegoers who emerge from Splendor in the Grass may be perplexed as to who deserves their chief thanks for one of the richest American movies in recent years. For simplicity, the thanks can be directed to Elia Kazan. Acting as chief coordinator between a large cast and an original screenplay by William Inge, he has directed a movie about small-town Kansas in the '20s which brings out into the open Inge's unique talent for sympathetic satire in a dramatic story; boasts the largest array of vivid characters of any movie in years; bursts with startling and revealing humor, and sweeps along with an agonizing sense of inescapable tragedy." -- Newsweek
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume