Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for American playwright Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird Of Youth."
The Fickle Bird Of Youth
The Sweet Bird Of Youth, Three Plays of Tennessee Williams, New Directions Books, New York, 1959
“Sweet Bird Of Youth” is a case in point of the fickleness of youth. Not for the first time, a seemingly 1950’s style All- American boy Chance who has left his hometown, his home town girl, and his roots behind to drift in that endless spiral toward fame- Hollywood and the movies, naturally- comes back to claim what is his by right. On this little hometown reunion Chance is in the service of one aging and fretful actress who has her own issues with that elusive ‘bird of youth’. On returning to his home town it appears that Chance has stirred up a hornet’s nest with the local political establishment in the person of one red-neck preacher turned politician in order to better do “god’s work”, old Tom Findley. The object of this dispute is one Heavenly Findley, old Tom’s daughter and Chance’s left behind paramour who is now the subject of some scandal (due to the amorphously stated need for female-related medical treatment, an abortion, due to Chance’s irresponsibility). Along the way we get to see how political power is distributed in a small Southern town as well as the inevitable tempting of the fates by Chance in order to win the ‘brass ring’ before it is too late (apparently somewhere over thirty, by my reckoning). At play’s end though, where he is between a rock and a hard place, Chance may not get the chance to be Chance at thirty. Oh, that fickle bird of youth. Still, Chance, go for it.
In the movie version the recently departed excellent actor Paul Newman, a classic example of a 1950’s All-American boy type (among his other acting talents), as the movie star ‘wannabe’ and Geraldine Page as the aging actress recreated their stage performances although with a greater screen presence for Ms. Page. Moreover, Chance’s strivings to reconnect with Heavenly are more central to the plot. More importantly, the endings differ in that, despite some mauling by Tom Findley’s boys Chance takes my advice from the play version and runs, with Heavenly ( a fetching Shirley Knight), just as far and as fast as his now aging legs can carry him.