A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

128 mins | Drama | 29 March 1961

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HISTORY

The title of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, and subsequent screenplay, was derived from the following lines of the Langston Hughes poem Harlem: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?” Its 11 Mar 1959 debut marked the first time a play written by an African-American woman was produced on Broadway. The show opened to critical acclaim, and less than a month later, it was optioned by Columbia Pictures, as announced in the 1 Apr 1959 NYT. The studio paid $300,000 for film rights, and an additional $50,000 to Hansberry to adapt the screenplay, according to an article in the 17 Jul 1960 NYT. Filming was expected to begin in Jun 1960, with a release date to be determined based on the duration of the Broadway run. On 19 Oct 1959, the stage production moved from the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to another Broadway venue, the Belasco Theatre, where it continued through 25 Jun 1960. As noted in the 1 Jun 1959 Vogue, A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best American Play of the season.
       The story was partly based on Lorraine Hansberry’s real-life experience as a child growing up in Chicago, IL. An 11 Aug 2011 Chicago Tribune article stated that, like the fictional “Younger” family, the Hansberrys purchased a home in the predominantly white neighborhood of Woodlawn, where residents invoked a racially restrictive covenant in an attempt to force them out. With the aid of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Hansberry’s father sued, and the case ... More Less

The title of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, and subsequent screenplay, was derived from the following lines of the Langston Hughes poem Harlem: “What happens to a dream deferred?/ Does it dry up/ like a raisin in the sun?” Its 11 Mar 1959 debut marked the first time a play written by an African-American woman was produced on Broadway. The show opened to critical acclaim, and less than a month later, it was optioned by Columbia Pictures, as announced in the 1 Apr 1959 NYT. The studio paid $300,000 for film rights, and an additional $50,000 to Hansberry to adapt the screenplay, according to an article in the 17 Jul 1960 NYT. Filming was expected to begin in Jun 1960, with a release date to be determined based on the duration of the Broadway run. On 19 Oct 1959, the stage production moved from the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to another Broadway venue, the Belasco Theatre, where it continued through 25 Jun 1960. As noted in the 1 Jun 1959 Vogue, A Raisin in the Sun won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best American Play of the season.
       The story was partly based on Lorraine Hansberry’s real-life experience as a child growing up in Chicago, IL. An 11 Aug 2011 Chicago Tribune article stated that, like the fictional “Younger” family, the Hansberrys purchased a home in the predominantly white neighborhood of Woodlawn, where residents invoked a racially restrictive covenant in an attempt to force them out. With the aid of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Hansberry’s father sued, and the case of Hansberry v. Lee was ultimately decided in his favor by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hansberry wrote A Raisin in the Sun roughly twenty years later, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, at the age of twenty-six, according to her 13 Jan 1965 NYT obituary. She was quoted as saying, “I wrote it… one night, after seeing a play I won’t mention, I suddenly became disgusted with a whole body of material about Negroes. Cardboard characters. Cute dialect. Or hip-swinging musicals from exotic scores.”
       Although the 6 Mar 1960 NYT claimed that Hansberry had recently completed a screen treatment, producer David Susskind stated in an interview in the 17 Jul 1960 NYT: “We’ve violated every tenet of screen production. We took no screen tests, wrote no film treatment, and we didn’t consider Sammy Davis Jr. and Earth Kitt for the leads.” Susskind collaborated on the project with first-time film producer Philip Rose, who had produced the Broadway show with funding from an estimated 147 independent investors.
       The original cast, most of whom reprised their roles in the film, took part in a protest rally against racial segregation outside Woolworth’s at Times Square on 8 Jun 1960, as stated in that day’s Var. The only four actors who did not reprise their roles were: Lonne Elder, III, who was replaced by Joel Fluellen; Glynn Turman, who was replaced by Stephen Perry; Ed Hall; and Douglas Turner. Sidney Poitier, who played “Walter Lee Younger” in both the original play and film, had reportedly renounced pictures “that utilize conflict between races as themes,” as quoted in the 29 Nov 1959 LAT. Henceforth, Poitier wanted to celebrate racial unity, and argued that Hollywood’s exploitation of racial conflict was “immoral but also unprofitable.” Later, in an interview published in the 26 Mar 1961 NYT, Poitier stated that opportunities for black actors were improving, partly due to “the Negro writer.” He described Hansberry’s accomplishment with A Raisin in the Sun as “extraordinary.” Presumably, the actor did not consider A Raisin in the Sun representative of films that focused on the conflict between races. Susskind argued against such an assumption in the 17 Jul 1960 NYT, stating, “The point of [Hansberry’s] play is not the race angle. It’s about the disparity of needs and ambitions which bring a middle class family to disaster. The fact that the Negroes move into a white neighborhood has nothing to do with it.”
       Principal photography was set to begin on 6 Jul 1960 in Chicago, IL, according to a 17 Jun 1960 DV production chart. A 5 Jul 1960 DV brief confirmed that rehearsals had ceased that day, with cast and crew en route to Chicago. Fifteen percent of the picture was to be filmed there, as noted in the 17 Jul 1960 NYT, with the remainder to be staged at Columbia Studios in Los Angeles, CA. Exterior shooting at a West Side Chicago home prompted backlash from white neighbors, who contacted the homeowner, fearing they were planning to sell the house to “Negroes,” according to an 11 Jul 1960 DV brief. The ordeal mimicked not only the screenplay but Hansberry’s real-life experience in the late 1930s, and resulted in cast and crew being forced out of the neighborhood. Bigotry also affected filmmakers when a national fraternity refused to allow a character to be depicted as a member, and the University of Chicago stipulated that production could only take place on its grounds if the institution’s name was not used. A 12 Jul 1960 DV item noted the shoot had moved to “the seamiest section” on Chicago’s South Side, on a day when actress Zsa Zsa Gabor visited the set. The 17 Jul 1960 NYT cited other Chicago locations, including the State Street “El” train stop, a nearby corner liquor store, and a “grimy,” three-story, red-brick apartment building on Calumet Avenue. An item in the 13 Jul 1960 LAT reported that interior shooting would begin in Los Angeles the following week. According to the 29 Aug 1960 DV, three six-day weeks had recently been completed, and another might be necessary to finish shooting before Labor Day, one week prior to the Boston, MA, opening of the touring version of A Raisin in the Sun, in which cast members Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands were committed to reprise their roles.
       Following the company move to Los Angeles, black cast members faced difficulty finding housing near Columbia Studios at Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in Hollywood. The 19 Aug 1960 NYT reported that Sidney Poitier and his family were unable to find a home to sublet, at a budget of $1,500 per month, while other actors were offered rooms at only “the cheapest sort of motel,” outside of black neighborhoods which were too far from the studio to be convenient. Poitier indicated racism was behind the purported housing shortage. He and his wife and three daughters ultimately stayed in three apartments at the Chateau Marmont, while the rest of the out-of-town cast members were able to get rooms at the Montecito Hotel on Franklin Avenue.
       Principal photography ended the week of 8 Sep 1960, according to a Los Angeles Sentinel item published that day. Paul Weatherwax was the initial film editor, but he died of a heart attack on 13 Sep 1960, before the picture was completed. Director Daniel Petrie subsequently flew from New York City to Los Angeles to begin working on the edit, as stated in a 23 Sep 1960 DV brief. He oversaw the cutting of fifteen minutes, to achieve a 128-minute running time, according to a 9 Feb 1961 DV brief. William A. Lyon was credited as film editor, in addition to Weatherwax.
       Scoring began at Columbia Studios in late Nov 1960, as stated in the 23 Nov 1960 DV.
       Columbia financed the $1.5 million budget, despite considering the material risky. The 17 Jul 1960 NYT quoted a studio spokesperson who expected they would have to “write off most of the Southern market because of the Negro theme.” Publicity was handled by the independent firm of Kaiser, Sedlow & Temple, according to an 8 Feb 1961 Var item, which addressed the recent phenomenon of studios outsourcing advertising campaigns.
       The picture opened on 29 Mar 1961 at the Forum Theatre and Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre in New York City. It later screened on 13 May 1961 as one of the U.S. entries to the Cannes Film Festival. It received largely positive reviews and was lauded by Hansberry, who deemed the film “more effective than the play” in a note of congratulations to Columbia chief Sam Briskin. The 28 Mar 1961 DV review praised the picture and noted its cultural significance at a time when race relations in the U.S. were at “a critical juncture.” According to items in the 16 Mar 1961 DV, 28 Apr 1961 LAT, and 20 Dec 1961 NYT, A Raisin in the Sun received citations from the Federation of Motion Picture Councils and the Hollywood Race Relations Bureau, and Ruby Dee was named Best Supporting Actress by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. In 2005, the film was added to the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. The following year, it was ranked #65 on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers list of the most inspiring films of all time. A made-for-television adaptation of the play, starring Sean Combs and Phylicia Rashad, was aired by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 2008.
       A Raisin in the Sun marked Lorraine Hansberry’s only screenwriting credit before her untimely death on 12 Jan 1965. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
11 Aug 2011
p. 1, 21.
Daily Variety
21 Apr 1959
p. 4.
Daily Variety
23 Feb 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
31 May 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
17 Jun 1960
p. 8.
Daily Variety
5 Jul 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
7 Jul 1960
p. 4.
Daily Variety
11 Jul 1960
p. 1.
Daily Variety
12 Jul 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
29 Aug 1960
p. 1.
Daily Variety
14 Sep 1960
p. 11.
Daily Variety
19 Sep 1960
p. 8.
Daily Variety
23 Sep 1960
p. 2.
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1960
p. 10.
Daily Variety
9 Feb 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
16 Mar 1961
p. 6.
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1961
p. 2.
Daily Variety
27 Mar 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
28 Mar 1961
p. 3, 14.
Daily Variety
7 Apr 1961
p. 15.
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1961
p. 3.
Daily Variety
16 May 1961
p. 4.
Los Angeles Sentinel
31 Dec 1959
Section A, p. 12.
Los Angeles Sentinel
8 Sep 1960
Section C, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
29 Nov 1959
Section E, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
13 Jul 1960
Section A, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
20 Jul 1960
Section A, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
27 Jul 1960
p. 25.
Los Angeles Times
26 Mar 1961
Section K, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
15 Apr 1961
Section A, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
28 Apr 1961
Section B, p. 11.
New York Times
1 Apr 1959
p. 43.
New York Times
6 Mar 1960.
---
New York Times
17 Jul 1960
p. 69.
New York Times
19 Aug 1960
p. 14.
New York Times
5 Mar 1961.
---
New York Times
26 Mar 1961.
---
New York Times
30 Mar 1961
p. 24.
New York Times
20 Dec 1961
p. 36.
New York Times
13 Jan 1965
p. 25.
Variety
8 Jun 1960
p. 70.
Variety
8 Feb 1961
p. 58.
Vogue
1 Jun 1959
pp. 78-79.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstyles
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (New York, 11 Mar 1959).
DETAILS
Release Date:
29 March 1961
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 29 March 1961 at the Forum and Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatres
Los Angeles opening: 20 April 1961 at the Warner Beverly
Production Date:
6 July--early September 1960
Copyright Claimant:
Paman--Doris Productions
Copyright Date:
1 April 1961
Copyright Number:
LP20541
Duration(in mins):
128
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

The Youngers are a Negro family living in three crowded, sunless rooms on Chicago's South Side. The squalid routine of their lives is suddenly disrupted when Lena Younger receives a $10,000 check from the company that insured her late husband. Lena wants to use the money to buy a house and to help her daughter, Beneatha, finish medical school. Lena's son, Walter Lee, however, wants to invest the money in a liquor store so he can rise above his status of chauffeur for a wealthy white man. Lena disapproves of the idea and makes a down payment of $3,500 on a small house in a white neighborhood. Frustrated and enraged, Walter Lee quarrels with his mother and his wife, Ruth, and storms out of the flat. He stays away from work for 3 days, and Lena finds him in a bar. She offers him the remaining $6,500 ($3,500 of which is to be set aside for Beneatha's education). Once more united and optimistic, the family prepares to move into their new home. Not even a visit from a hypocritical representative of an "improvement association," who offers to buy back the house at a higher price to preserve the community's all-white character, can alter their decision to move. Then their world collapses. Unknown to the rest of the family, Walter Lee invests the entire $6,500 in a liquor store and is swindled. Realizing he has betrayed his mother's trust, threatened his sister's future, and thrown away his father's life savings, Walter Lee desperately decides to accept the "improvement association"'s offer. But under the eyes of his entire family, he sees that such a move is only a step backwards, and ... +


The Youngers are a Negro family living in three crowded, sunless rooms on Chicago's South Side. The squalid routine of their lives is suddenly disrupted when Lena Younger receives a $10,000 check from the company that insured her late husband. Lena wants to use the money to buy a house and to help her daughter, Beneatha, finish medical school. Lena's son, Walter Lee, however, wants to invest the money in a liquor store so he can rise above his status of chauffeur for a wealthy white man. Lena disapproves of the idea and makes a down payment of $3,500 on a small house in a white neighborhood. Frustrated and enraged, Walter Lee quarrels with his mother and his wife, Ruth, and storms out of the flat. He stays away from work for 3 days, and Lena finds him in a bar. She offers him the remaining $6,500 ($3,500 of which is to be set aside for Beneatha's education). Once more united and optimistic, the family prepares to move into their new home. Not even a visit from a hypocritical representative of an "improvement association," who offers to buy back the house at a higher price to preserve the community's all-white character, can alter their decision to move. Then their world collapses. Unknown to the rest of the family, Walter Lee invests the entire $6,500 in a liquor store and is swindled. Realizing he has betrayed his mother's trust, threatened his sister's future, and thrown away his father's life savings, Walter Lee desperately decides to accept the "improvement association"'s offer. But under the eyes of his entire family, he sees that such a move is only a step backwards, and he once more rejects the offer. Though it means hard work and years of sacrifice for all, the Youngers make their move. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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