The History of PICNIC

Picnic premiered at Broadway’s Music Box Theatre on February 19, 1953.  The production was directed by Joshua Logan, who had directed the original Broadway productions of Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific just a few years earlier.

The play was an immediate hit and ran 477 performances.  William Inge won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play, and Joshua Logan won the Tony Award for Best Director.  The play also won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.  It was revived on Broadway in 1994 starring Ashley Judd as Madge and again in 2013 with Ellen Burstyn as Mrs. Potts.

In 1955, the play was adapted for the silver screen with Joshua Logan once again serving as director.  The film starred William Holden, Kim Novak, and Rosalind Russell.  The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two.

Picnic has also seen a long life on the small screen.  It was produced for TV by Showtime in 1986, starring Gregory Harrison as Hal, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Madge, and Rue McClanahan as Flo.  A 2000 TV remake starred Josh Brolin as Hal and Gretchen Mol as Madge.

Pictures and Videos of Picnic‘s Past

Fun Facts

  • Picnic marked the Broadway debut of a then unknown Paul Newman.  While Newman campaigned heavily for the leading role of Hal, director Joshua Logan did not think Newman was large or athletic enough to play the role.  As a result, Ralph Meeker was given the role of Hal and Newman played Hal’s former college roommate, Alan, and understudied the role of Hal.  He eventually took over the role later in the run, and went on to have a monumental career in film.
  • Meeker was offered the role of Hal in the 1955 film version, but he turned the role down because he did not wish to sign a long-term contract with the film studio.  He was never offered a role of similar stature ever again.
  • Several characters in Picnic are schoolteachers, and the character of Flo Owens runs a boarding house.  William Inge’s mother ran a boarding house that at one time was occupied by three female schoolteachers.  Inge once said, “I saw their attempts, and, even as a child, I sensed every woman’s failure.  I began to sense the sorrow and the emptiness in their lives, and it touched me.”
  • The setting for Picnic was argued over by Inge and director Joshua Logan.  Eventually, the decided to set the play in a shared yard between two back porches.  Ironically, the picnic referenced in the play and in its title does not occur in the yard, so there is no picnic scene in Picnic.
  • Kim Stanley, then 28, played the role of 18 year old Millie in the original Broadway production.  She would go on to play the lead role of Cherie in Inge’s 1955 play, Bus Stop.
  • While Picnic was not Kim Novak’s first film role, her turn in the starring role of Madge launched her into stardom.
  • William Holden was 37 years old when he played Hal in the film version and almost turned down the role due to his age.  Though Holden was a big star at the time and could demand a $250,000 salary, he earned only $30,000 for the film.
  • Holden didn’t want to do the dance scene in the film.  He demanded that the studio pay him a $8,000 “stuntman premium” for the scene, hoping that his ridiculous demand would force the studio to cut the scene.  To his surprise, the studio paid up, and Holden was forced to do the scene, though he was allowed to do it under the influence of alcohol.
  • Columbia Pictures wanted to promote Rosalind Russell for an Academy Award nomination for her work as the schoolteacher, Rosemary Sydney.  However, Russell refused to be placed in the Best Supporting Actress category and was therefore not nominated.

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