Thursday, September 22, 2016

Charmian Carr Passes On

Charmian Carr, best known for playing Liesl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965), died on September 17 2016 at the age of 73. The cause of death was complications from a rare form of dementia.

Charmian Carr was born on December 27 1942 in Chicago. Her mother was Vaudevillian Rita Oehmen and musician Brian Farnon. She was 10 years old when her family moved to San Fernando Valley in California. She attended San Fernando High School where she was a cheerleader and played basketball. She was  attending San Fernando Valley State College and working in a doctor's office when she was cast in The Sound of Music. She had no previous acting experience. It was director Robert Wise who suggested she change her surname to Carr.

Following The Sound of Music she starred in the pilot Take Her, She's Mine opposite Van Johnson. She also starred in a musical episode of the anthology series of ABC Stage '67,  "Evening Primrose", opposite Anthony Perkins. It featured music by Stephen Sondheim. Miss Carr married the following year and retired from show business.

She later operated an interior design firm, Charmian Carr Designs, in Encino, California. She wrote two books, Forever Liesl: A Memoir of The Sound of Music, published in 2000, and Letters to Liesl, published in 2001.

If you know me at all, you know that I am not a fan of The Sound of Music. I have probably fallen asleep during the movie more times than I have actually watched it in its entirety. That having been said, I think it has an absolutely fantastic soundtrack. It includes some of Rogers and Hammerstein's best work. Indeed, "Sixteen Going on Seventeen", "Edelweiss", "So Long, Farewell". and "My Favourite Things" number among my favourite Rogers and Hammerstein songs. With that in mind, I have to say that Charmian Carr had a lovely voice and was a very good singer. She was perfect for the role of Liesl. While I know others have played the role (Lauri Peters originated the role on Broadway), I have a hard time seeing anyone better than  Charmian Carr was. Beyond being very talented, reportedly she was a very nice and very charming woman. She was always gracious to her fans.  Charmian Carr may not have had a very long career in show business, but she will definitely remembered for years to come.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Curtis Hanson R.I.P.

Curtis Hanson, who directed L.A. Confidential (1997) and Wonder Boys (2000), died yesterday, September 20 2016, at the age of 71. He died of natural causes. He had been suffering from a rare condition called Frontotemporal Degeneration.

Curtis Hanson was born on March 24 1945 in Reno, Nevada. Not long after the end of World War II his parents, both natives of Los Angeles, moved back to that city. During his senior year Curtis Hanson dropped out of high school. Despite not attending classes there, he became a movie critic for the California State University, Los Angeles newspaper. He later became its entertainment editor. His uncle, Jack Hanson (owner of the Jax women’s clothing shops), bought the magazine Cinema, where Mr. Hanson initially served as office help. Eventually Curtis Hanson became editor and art director of the magazine.

Curtis Hanson's film debut as a screenwriter was The Dunwich Horror (1970), which he co-wrote with Henry Rosenbaum and Ronald Silkosky. He made his directorial debut with the thriller Sweet Kill (1972), whose screenplay he also wrote. He closed out the Seventies directing Evil Town (1977) and The Little Dragons (1979), as well as writing the screenplay for The Silent Partner (1978).

In the Eighties Mr. Hanson wrote the screenplays for White Dog (1982), Never Cry Wolf (1983), and The Bedroom Window (1987), as well as the teleplay for the TV movie The Children of Times Square (1986). He directed the films Losin' It (1983), The Bedroom Window (1987), and Bad Influence (1990), as well as the TV movie The Children of Times Square.

In the Nineties Curtis Hanson saw mainstream success with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992), which proved to be a major box office hit. It was followed by The River Wild (1994). What is probably his most successful film critically and financially was L.A. Confidential (1997). He both directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay with Brian Helgeland. L. A. Confidential was nominated for nine Oscars, and won the awards for  Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay). Mr. Hanson closed out the decade with another critically acclaimed film, Wonder Boys (2000).

In the Naughts Curtis Hanson directed 8 Mile (2002), In Her Shoes (2005), Lucky You (2007), and Chasing Mavericks (2012), as well as an episode of Greg the Bunny and the TV movie Too Big to Fail (2012).

Mr. Hanson served on the Director Guild of America's  Creative Rights Committee, the President’s Committee on Film Preservation, and the Film Foundation board.

Curtis Hanson was a very talented director, but I think he may have been an even better writer. He wrote some particularly strong scripts during his career besides L. A. Confidential, including The Silent Partner, Never Cry Wolf, and The Children of Times Square. As it was he was a fairly strong director as well. Even when a particular film was not very good (The Cradle Will Rock being a perfect example), Curtis Hanson's direction was still solid. Indeed, I consider L. A. Confidential to be one of the few films that is nearly perfect. Following L. A. Confidential Mr. Hanson made Wonder Boys, which also remains one of my all time favourite films of recent years. He was nothing if not versatile, directing everything from neo-noir (L. A. Confidential) to women's films (In Her Shoes) to comedies (Wonder Boys).

If Curtis Hanson directed some truly great films, much of it was because he simply loved movies. His films are laced with references to the classics in ways that never feel forced. As a member of the DGA he tirelessly campaigned for film preservation. In many ways Curtis Hanson was a film fan like so many of the rest of us, simply one who got to make movies. He was also from all reports a very nice and very humble man. Those who worked with him always spoke of him kindly. Those few lucky enough to meet him always said that he was a very kind and very approachable. A great director and a truly good human being, his passing is then very sad indeed.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Edward Albee R.I.P.

Edward Albee, the award winning playwright who wrote Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), died on September 16 2016. He was 88 years old.

Edward Albee was born in Virginia. His mother's name was Louise Harvey; who gave him the name "Edward". Almost nothing is known of his father, who apparently deserted mother and child. He was only a few weeks old when he was put up for adoption. He was placed with Reed A. Albee, son of  a vaudeville impresario Edward Franklin Albee II, and his wife. They formally adopted him ten months later.

Edward Albee attended a number of different schools, including  Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York; the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania; and the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. He attended  Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut for a time before being expelled. He then moved to Greenwich Village.

Edward Albee's first play, The Zoo Story, was rejected by producers in New York City, so it premiered in West Berlin at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt in September 1959. It was on a double bill with Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett. Its premiere in the United States was in January 1960 as an Off-Broadway production at the Provincetown Playhouse. It won the 1960 Obie Award for Distinguished Play and Distinguished Performance, William Daniels.

It was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that marked Mr. Albee's debut on Broadway. It premiered at the Billy Rose Theatre on October 13 1962. It won the Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actor (for Arthur Hill), Best Actress (for Uta Hagen), Best Direction of a Play (for Alan Schneider), and 1963 Best Producer of a Play (for Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder). It also won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Despite winning awards, it was controversial for its language and overt sexuality, two things that would cause problems when it was adapted as a film (1966's Who's Afraid of Virginian Woolf?).

Edward Albee's next play, The Ballad of the Sad Café, received several Tony nominations, but won no awards. The same held true for his play Tiny Alice. His play A Delicate Balance won the 1967 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Marian Seldes and the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Following the height of Mr.Albee's career in the Sixties there would be several between awards for his plays. His 1975 play Seascape won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as did his 1991 play Three Tall Women. His 2002 play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? won the Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Edward Albee won a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005 and then  Drama Desk Award Special Award in 2008.

Edward Albee was one of the most talented playwrights of the late 20th Century. His characters were always fully developed, to the point that they seemed like real people. What is more, they were not always pleasant. Indeed, for Edward Albee, relationships in the modern United States were often contentious and existed in a constant state of denial. Edward Albee's characters often led lives of quiet desperation. While Edward Albee's characters were not always pleasant, and his plays in many ways very dark, at the same time they rang of a certain truth. Certainly everyone in modern day North America is not self deluded and self absorbed the way many of Mr. Albee's characters were, but there enough for those characters to seem all too familiar.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The 1966-1967 Emmy Awards

Last night was the annual Emmy Awards ceremony. I am not going to comment on it (although I am happy that Rami Malek won for Mr. Robot). Instead I want to take a look back nearly 50 years ago to the Emmy Awards for the 1966-1967 season. The 1966-1967 Emmys (the ceremony took place on June 4 1967) are particularly interesting because a number of historic shows were nominated. In fact, the show of the night was the low-rated, but critically acclaimed Mission: Impossible. It walked away with three wins. Among other shows that were nominated in various categories were The Avengers, Star Trek, Bewitched, and Get Smart.

I am not going to discuss every single category, as I really don't want this blog post to be very long. That having been said, I will discuss what are generally considered the major awards. The winner of each award is in bold face.

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Andy Griffith Show
Get Smart 
Hogan's Heroes
The Monkees

I think you can see what I mean about a number of historic shows being nominated for the 1966-1967 Emmys. Every single comedy series from the 1966-1967 season that was nominated for "Outstanding Comedy Series" can still be seen today in syndication. What is more, every single one of them is available on DVD. I dare say every single American, no matter how young or old, has heard of all them. In many ways I think Emmy voters had to make some very hard choices in this category. That having been said, I think The Monkees certainly deserved to win the award. While I must admit I am biased here (it is my favourite sitcom of all time), I think at the time it was positively revolutionary. It was fast paced, made use of effects rarely seen on sitcoms before, and incorporated music into its episodes in a way no other sitcom had before.

Of course, that having been said, if I had been old enough to appreciate television in 1966 and 1967, I don't think I would have been disappointed if a show other than The Monkees had won. All five number among my favourite shows of all time and I think there is no denying that all five are classics.

Outstanding Dramatic Series
The Avengers
I Spy
Mission: Impossible
Run for Your Life
Star Trek

Like the comedies, the dramas nominated for the 1966-1967 season were also particularly strong. In fact, three of them have persisted in syndication ever since (The Avengers, Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek). One of them could even be the most successful drama of all time in syndication (Star Trek). Certainly Mission: Impossible numbers among the most successful shows of all time. Even people who have never seen the show or the movies can recognise its theme song. That having been said, I don't think Mission: Impossible should have won. And, no, I would not have gone with Star Trek either. My winner would have been The Avengers. It is my favourite drama of all time, and this was when The Avengers was at its height artistically: the black and white episodes with Dame Diana Rigg as Emma Peel. As revolutionary as both Mission: Impossible and Star Trek were, they could not match The Avengers in sheer quality during the 1966-1967 season, as far as I am concerned.

Outstanding Variety Series
The Andy Williams Show
The Dean Martin Show
The Hollywood Palace
The Jackie Gleason Show
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Unlike the sitcoms and dramas, I rather suspect some younger people might not recognise some of the titles listed here. This is probably particularly true of The Hollywood Palace. For those who are wondering, The Hollywood Palace was essentially ABC's answer to The Ed Sullivan Show. It featured a variety of acts, everything from acrobats to stand up comedians. The Rolling Stones made their debut on American television on The Hollywood Palace. Unlike The Ed Sullivan Show, The Hollywood Palace did not have a regular host, instead relying on guest hosts throughout the its run. Bing Crosby held the record for hosting The Hollywood Palace the most times (31 in all).

Like the Comedy and Dramatic Series Categories, it is hard to pick a winner for the Variety Series category for the 1966-1967 season. That having been said, I can say who I don't think should have won. While I am a huge fan of Andy Williams, I don't think The Andy Williams Show deserved to win the Emmy. I also have to say that I don't think The Hollywood Palace, The Jackie Gleason Show,and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson deserved the award either. While of these shows were excellent, by the 1966-1967 season they had all been on the air for a while (The Hollywood Palace was the youngest at around three years old). None of them added anything particularly new to the variety show format during the 1966-1967 season.

 As to who should have won, I would have to go with either The Dean Martin Show or The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The Dean Martin Show had a totally relaxed atmosphere from other variety shows of the time, so much so that bloopers often made it into the final tape of any given edition of the show. Much of the show was extemporised, and much of the humour was physical. I must admit that, it is quite possibly my favourite variety show of all time (if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know I am a huge Dean Martin fan). That having been said, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour had a good deal going for it as well. The show expanded the boundaries of what was considered acceptable for a variety show, often featuring biting political satire. It made several references to youth culture, something rarely done on variety shows at the time. It also regularly featured rock acts, including Buffalo Springfield, Cream, Donovan, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Who (whose appearance on the show became legendary). It is very difficult for me to say which of these two shows should have win. I would probably go with The Dean Martin Show, but I can see very good arguments for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour as well.

Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series:
Don Adams as Maxwell Smart on Get Smart
Bob Crane as Col. Robert E. Hogan on Hogan's Heroes
Brian Keith as Uncle Bill Davis on Family Affair
Larry Storch as Cpl. Randolph Agarn on F Troop

This category proves difficult for me. I definitely think Don Adams deserved to win for Get Smart, but then there is the small matter of Larry Storch on F Troop. I think he did at least as good a job as Don Adams, perhaps even better. The problem is that I am not sure that Corporal Agarn was a lead role on F Troop. To me the lead role was most definitely Forrest Tucker as Sgt. O'Rourke. The question is then whether Corporal Agarn was a lead character or a supporting character. I would say he was a lead, but then I think of Mr. Spock as a lead role on Star Trek as well. That having been said, Leonard Nimoy was nominated as a supporting actor for this very Emmy Awards! Anyway, if Larry Storch is counted as a lead, I might well give him the award for Actor in a Leading Role. If not, then it would go to Don Adams.

Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series
Lucille Ball as Lucy Carmichael on The Lucy Show
Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens on Bewitched
Agnes Moorehead as Endora on Bewitched
Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie on That Girl

Okay, as much as I love Lucy, I wouldn't have given her the Emmy for Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series. That having been said, as much as I love Agnes Moorehead as Endora, I think it is another case like Corporal Agarn and Mr. Spock. Is Endora a lead character? A supporting character? I think I will then just take the easy way out and give the Emmy to Elizabeth Montgomery, who definitely played the lead on Bewitched. She was fantastic as Samantha, who remains one of the most memorable characters of all time.

Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series
Bill Cosby as Alexander Scott on I Spy
Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson on I Spy
Ben Gazzara as Paul Bryan on Run for Your Life
David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble on The Fugitive
Martin Landau as Rollin Hand on Mission: Impossible

Okay, I have to admit that Martin Landau as Rollin Hand brings up the Agarn/Spock/Endora question again. Is Rollin Hand a lead character? A supporting character? Given Mission: Impossible was pretty much an ensemble, I would say all of the regular characters on the shows were leads (so, yes, Greg Morris could have been nominated in this category as well--I think he deserved to be). That being the case, I would then have given the Emmy to Martin Landau. As Rollin Hand he was a master of disguise, essentially playing at least two or more characters per episode (well, playing Rollin Hand playing one or more characters, anyway). When I watch Mission: Impossible today, it's not the technology that stands out for me (which, by today's standards is pretty primitive), it's Martin Landau as Rollin Hand. I honestly don't see how he lost this award.

Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series
Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter on Mission: Impossible
Diana Rigg as Emma Peel on The Avengers
Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley on The Big Valley

First, can we talk about how there were only three women nominated in the Lead Actress in a Drama category? Granted, the 1966-1967 was the height of a cycle towards action-adventure shows on which most of the leads were men, but it is not as if there were only three dramas that aired during the season on which there were female leads. There was Dana Wynter on The Man Who Never Was, Kathryn Hays on The Road West, and Stefanie Powers on The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Now I've never seen The Road West, so I can't vouch for Kathryn Hays's performance on the show, and I can't say I was overly impressed with Stefanie Powers on The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (although, in Miss Powers's defence, she didn't have a lot to work with), but surely Dana Wynter deserved to at least be nominated!

Anyway, this is one of those categories I have always had an issue with. While I think Barbara Bain did well enough as Cinnamon Carter, I really don't think she should have won the Emmy in this category. I think both Diana Rigg and Barbara Stanwyck did much better jobs in their respective roles than Barbara Bain did (for that matter, I think Dana Wynter did a better job...). As to who did the best out of all of them, I would have to say it was Diana Rigg. There is a reason that even people who have never seen The Avengers know who Emma Peel is. At least in the United States it was a groundbreaking role and it is an iconic role across the English speaking world. While a lot of the credit goes to The Avengers's writing staff, a lot of the credit for Emma Peel becoming one of the best known television characters is simply Diana Rigg's talent. To me, that she didn't win the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series is one of the greatest errors in judgement in the history of the Emma Awards.

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Comedy
Gale Gordon as Mr. Theodore J. Mooney on The Lucy Show
Don Knotts as Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, (Episode: "Barney Comes to Mayberry")
Werner Klemperer as Col. Wilhelm Klink on Hogan's Heroes

I might well have put Larry Storch in this category, which would have only made it even harder to choose who should have won!  Barney Fife is one of the all time greatest TV characters, and it is all because of Don Knotts. At the same time, Gale Gordon was easily the best thing about The Lucy Show. No one could do a slow burn like he did! And Werner Klemperer was great as Colonel Klink. Ultimately I would still have to go with Don Knotts as the winner, but it would still be tough to choose!

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Comedy
Frances Bavier as Aunt Bee on The Andy Griffith Show
Nancy Kulp as Jane Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies
Marion Lorne as Aunt Clara on Bewitched

As great as Frances Bavier was as Aunt Bee, I don't think I would have given her the Emmy in this category. In fact, I think Nancy Kulp as Miss Jane may have deserved the award more. That having been said, I think I would have ultimately given the award to Marion Lorne. As Aunt Clara she was one of the best things about Bewitched. In fact, aside from Sam, Darrin, and Endora, she seems to be the one character everyone remembers, this despite the fact that she didn't appear in every episode! Now that is the mark of a great character played by a great actress.

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama
Leo G. Carroll as Alexander Waverly on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock on Star Trek 
Eli Wallach as Happy Locarno on Poppies Are Also Flowers

Okay, I realise this category says "Drama" rather than "Dramatic Series", which means performances in TV movies would also be eligible. Still, it doesn't seem right to me that Eli Wallach was nominated. To me the category should have been open to actors from TV series only and there should have been a completely separate category for supporting roles in TV movies. While I have never seen Poppies Are Also Flowers (for those who are wondering, it was a highly regarded anti-drug TV movie), I think the Emmy should have gone to Leonard Nimoy. There is a reason that, even in the first season of Star Trek, Mr. Spock became the most popular and recognisable character on the show. As Spock during the first season of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy gave one of the greatest performances in the history of episodic television.

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama
Tina Chen as Vietnamese girl on CBS Playhouse, (Episode: "The Final War of Olly Winter")
Agnes Moorehead as Emma Valentine on The Wild Wild West, (Episode: "Night of the Vicious Valentine")   
Ruth Warrick as Hannah Cord on Peyton Place

Unlike the Supporting Actor category, only one of the nominees was for a regular role in a series--the other two were guest appearances (for those who are wondering, CBS Playhouse was an anthology series that aired about three episodes a year). I must confess, that makes me less than comfortable with this category. I'd rather it have been Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series. That having been said, I barely remember Peyton Place and I haven't seen any episodes of CBS Playhouse (that I remember, anyway). Despite this, I have to suspect that they were right in giving Agnes Moorehead the Emmy. I think it was one of the best performances of her career, to the point that Emma Valentine is always the third character who comes to my mind when I think of Agnes Moorehead (the first two are Endora, of course, and then Margot Lane on the radio show The Shadow).

Beyond these major categories, I have to mention another category, one that had been newly created. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences created the category of Individual Achievements in Music - Composition for the 1965-1966 Emmy Awards. While the category was well publicised for the 1966-1967 Emmy Awards (to the point that the four nominees were announced ahead of time), it was not even mentioned during the ceremony. What is more, no winner was ever announced. Among the four nominees was Lalo Schifrin for Mission: Impossible, whose theme music has since become one of the most famous in the history of American television. A Billboard story from the June 17, 1967 issue addressed the disappointment of Broadcast Music, Inc. (better known by its initials BMI) at what it perceived as the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' snub of composers. Not only do I have to sympathise with BMI, but I think most people will agree with me that Lalo Schrifin should have won an Emmy for the theme to Mission: Impossible alone. As to the other nominees, they were: Aaron Copland (for CBS Playhouse), Earle Hagen (for I Spy), Pete Rugolo (for Run for Your Life), and Ticker Freeman and George Wylie (for The Andy Williams Show).

Looking back, I have to say that we should perhaps feel fortunate that so many iconic shows were nominated for the 1966-1967 Emmy Awards. In fact, today I have to suspect that such shows as The Avengers and Star Trek would not have even been nominated. For that matter, The Monkees probably would not have been nominated, much less won. That so many shows now regarded as classics today (The Andy Griffith Show, The Avengers, Bewitched, F Troop, Get Smart, Mission: Impossible, The Monkees, Star Trek, and others) were nominated shows that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was at least doing something right in the 1966-1967 season. While I do have my problems with some of the categories, I do think the awards for the 1966-1967 season were better than they would be in later years.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Agatha Christie's Spider's Web

Producer Peter Saunders with Margaret
Lockwood and Agatha Christie
In the early Fifties Agatha Christie dominated the West End of London. Her first play actually dated to 1930, Black Coffee having debuted that year at the Embassy Theatre in Swiss Cottage. The Forties saw the Agatha Christie plays And Then There Were None, Appointment with Death, and Murder on the Nile. Her 1951 play The Hollow ran for eleven months and 376 performances at the Ambassadors Theatre. While The Hollow saw some success, it would be The Mousetrap that would prove to be her most successful play. Phenomenally successful upon its premiere in 1952, it became the world's longest running play. Mrs. Christie followed the success of The Mousetrap with Witness for the Prosecution. Like The Mousetrap it also proved to be extremely successful. The Hollow, The Mousetrap, and Witness for the Prosecution were all produced by Peter Saunders.

While Agatha Christie was having enormous success on the West End in the early Fifties, an actress born on Mrs. Christie's twenty-sixth birthday in Karachi, British India (now Pakistan) saw her once successful film career in the doldrums. Margaret Lockwood had become a star with Carol Reed's Bank Holiday and Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes in 1938. By the mid to late Forties she had become the most popular British actress in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, while Miss Lockwood was still a popular star, the early Fifties saw many of her movies failing at the box office. Margaret Lockwood then took the opportunity to return to the stage. She appeared as the title character in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre in both 1949 and 1950, and then played Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion at the Edinburgh Festival and on tour.

Margaret Lockwood was an avid reader of mystery novels, and was a fan of Agatha Christie in particular. It was then quite natural for Miss Lockwood to ask her agent, Herbert de Leon, to approach his friend Peter Saunders about getting Agatha Christie to write a play for the actress. Peter Saunders liked the idea and so he approached Mrs. Christie about it. Agatha Christie and Margaret Lockwood then met for lunch at the Mirabelle restaurant in London. The two women, both fans of each other's work, took a liking to each other immediately. Mrs. Christie conceived the idea of a comedy thriller in which Miss Lockwood would star. It would mark the first time ever that Agatha Christie was commissioned to write a play for a specific star.

Agatha Christie finished the play, titled Spider's Web, in the summer of 1954. Margaret Lockwood loved the finished script, in which she played Clarissa Hailsham-Brown, an upper class woman with an overactive imagination. Mrs. Christie had written the role of Pippa Hailsham-Brown, Clarissa's teenage stepdaughter, with Margaret's daughter Julia in mind, thinking the two women might like to appear on stage together. Unfortunately Julia Lockwood had prior commitments that would keep her from appearing in the play.

Before its premiere on the West End, Spider's Web went on an eleven week tour of England and Wales, starting with the Theatre Royal in Nottingham. Spider's Web received a warm reception from audiences in such cities as Oxford and Cardiff. Unfortunately, while theatre goers loved Spiders Web and Margaret Lockwood's performance in it, critics were not quite so kind. They criticised the quality of the script and the flightiness of Miss Lockwood's character.

The critics would not keep Peter Saunders from opening Spider's Web in London, particularly given the amount of money the play made on its tour. He simply asked Agatha Christie to do a rewrite of the script and the proceeded to open the play on the West End. This would give Agatha Christie three plays running simultaneously on the West End (The Mousetrap, Witness for the Prosecution, and Spider's Web), the most of any playwright up to that time.

Spider's Web opened at the Savoy Theatre in London in December 1954. It proved as successful at the box office in London as it had elsewhere in England and Wales. Unfortunately, critics were still less than enthusiastic about the play, and chalked its success up largely to the star power of Margaret Lockwood. Despite the critics' lack of enthusiasm for Spider's Web, it proved very successful. It ran for 774 performances.

Margaret Lockwood went onto reprise her role as Clarissa in a 1955 BBC adaptation of Spider's Web. In 1960 a film adaption of the play, retitled The Spider's Web, was released with Glynis Johns in the role of Clarissa. The BBC adapted Spider's Web again in 1982 with Penelope Keith playing Clarissa. The play has also seen the occasional revival at various theatres in the United Kingdom and United States.

Alongside The Mousetrap and Witness for the Prosecution it marked the height of Agatha Christie's career as a playwright. It also successfully launched Margaret Lockwood, previously a successful movie star, as a stage actress. Miss Lockwood go onto several more successful plays in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. While it is not seen often today, Spider's Web then proved to be a significant in work Agatha Christie's oeuvre.

( For more information on Spider's Web you might want to check out Lyndsy Spence's excellent biography of Margaret Lockwood, Margaret Lockwood--Queen of the Silver Screen.)