When William Inge’s “summer romance,” Picnic, premiered at New York’s Music Box Theatre in the winter of 1953, the part of Hal–a handsome, sexy, fun-loving, self-destructive galoot–was played by Ralph Meeker, who would go on to win cult fame as Mike Hammer in the first movie about nuclear terrorism, Kiss Me Deadly. In the role of Hal’s nerdy, rich-kid foil, Alan, was 28-year-old Paul Newman, who would go on to win all kinds of fame playing handsome, sexy, fun-loving, self-destructive galoots. I bring this up because Newman died the other day, Writers’ Theatre is running a production of Picnic through 11/16 (see my review), and it’s interesting to wonder what unrecognized legends may be playing against type on Chicago stages right now.
ADDENDUM, 10/7: According to the N.Y. Times obit by Aljean Harmetz, Paul Newman met the love of his life, Joanne Woodward, during that premiere run of Picnic in 1953. Woodward was an understudy, and Newman was married to an actress named Jacqueline Witte. “Mr. Newman and Ms. Woodward were attracted to each other in rehearsals of ‘Picnic,'” the N.Y. Times piece says. “But he was a married man, and Ms. Woodward has insisted that they spent the next several years running away from each other.”