Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

129-131 mins | Drama | July 1966

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HISTORY

The 5 Mar 1964 NYT announced that Warner Bros. Pictures purchased film rights for Edward Albee’s 1962 stage play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Although Albee’s contract did not prevent changes to his work, the playwright intended to supervise the production. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman was expected to script the film, and Fred Zinnemann was in negotiations to direct. According to the 12 Jul 1964 NYT, Albee received $500,000 and a percentage of gross receipts. In the three months since accepting the assignment, Lehman also chose it as his first production. Although he planned to shorten the three-hour play by one hour, Lehman maintained that its “explosive emotional impact” would be preserved. After seeing the Los Angeles, CA, production and the original Broadway company during a trip to England, Lehman “formed some tentative ideas about casting,” and decided to introduce some incidental characters to the story. Four months later, the 16 Nov 1964 LAT announced husband-and-wife actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor for lead characters “George” and “Martha.” The 29 Mar 1965 LAT reported Taylor’s salary as $1 million, with $750,000 for Burton, and percentages of gross receipts. Award-winning stage actress Sandy Dennis was cast in the coveted role of “Honey” following an impressive screen test. The picture marked Dennis’s feature film debut.
       On 12 Dec 1964, NYT announced that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would be the first film by renowned comedian and stage director Mike Nichols. He told the 2 Jul 1965 NYT that he was ... More Less

The 5 Mar 1964 NYT announced that Warner Bros. Pictures purchased film rights for Edward Albee’s 1962 stage play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Although Albee’s contract did not prevent changes to his work, the playwright intended to supervise the production. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman was expected to script the film, and Fred Zinnemann was in negotiations to direct. According to the 12 Jul 1964 NYT, Albee received $500,000 and a percentage of gross receipts. In the three months since accepting the assignment, Lehman also chose it as his first production. Although he planned to shorten the three-hour play by one hour, Lehman maintained that its “explosive emotional impact” would be preserved. After seeing the Los Angeles, CA, production and the original Broadway company during a trip to England, Lehman “formed some tentative ideas about casting,” and decided to introduce some incidental characters to the story. Four months later, the 16 Nov 1964 LAT announced husband-and-wife actors Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor for lead characters “George” and “Martha.” The 29 Mar 1965 LAT reported Taylor’s salary as $1 million, with $750,000 for Burton, and percentages of gross receipts. Award-winning stage actress Sandy Dennis was cast in the coveted role of “Honey” following an impressive screen test. The picture marked Dennis’s feature film debut.
       On 12 Dec 1964, NYT announced that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would be the first film by renowned comedian and stage director Mike Nichols. He told the 2 Jul 1965 NYT that he was “running and rerunning” the work of iconic filmmakers Elia Kazan, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and George Stevens in preparation for the challenge. Nichols also solicited advice from contemporary directors John Frankenheimer and Norman Jewison.
       According to the 11 Jul 1965 NYT, three weeks of “informal rehearsals” preceded the start of production. The article also revealed that Taylor was cast a year earlier, but two months passed before she and Lehman decided on her husband for the male lead. In the 28 Jul 1965 LAT, Nichols complimented Taylor on her professionalism, particularly when she defended his decision to film her at unflattering angles. The director described Taylor and Burton as the biggest stars he had ever directed, and the most cooperative.
       The 28 Apr 1965 Var reported that Academy Award-winner Harry Stradling was hired as director of photography. Days before filming began, however, he was replaced by Haskell Wexler, as noted in the 28 Jul 1965 LAT.
       The 21 Jul 1965 Var announced the 26 Jul 1965 start of principal photography. As stated in the 28 Jul 1965 Var, a “two-story college campus house” set occupied Stage 8 of Warner’s Burbank, CA, studio lot. Meanwhile, assistant to the producer Hal Polaire was scouting locations in Northampton, MA, according to the 11 Aug and 1 Sep 1965 Var. Production charts in the 24 Nov 1965 Var noted that after four weeks of interior photography, the company moved to Northampton. Weeks earlier, the 20 Oct 1965 Var reported that neighboring dairy farmer John Baraniuk was suing the film company. Baraniuk claimed that klieg lights were illuminating his property into the early morning hours and disturbing his cows, costing him approximately $1,500 in lost milk production. Although a Warner employee named Jerry Shapiro promised to compensate the farmer, the studio later reneged, saying it was not “entirely at fault” for Baraniuk’s losses.
       That same week, the 19 Oct 1965 LAT revealed that production was behind schedule and would likely continue until Christmas. More than a month later, the 24 Nov 1965 Var reported that Elizabeth Taylor suffered a “bruised eyeball” after her young nephew shot her with a toy gun, forcing her to take a brief hiatus. On 22 Dec 1965, Var stated that filming was completed the previous week. The 4 May 1966 Var estimated the final budget at $7.5 million.
       Studio president Jack L. Warner announced in the 26 May 1966 LAT that all exhibitor contracts for the film would include an “Adults Only” clause, prohibiting admission to anyone under eighteen years of age, unless accompanied by an adult. On 8 Jun 1966, Var reported that Jack Valenti and Louis Nizer, president and special council, respectively, of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), refused to approve the film, based on the assessment of Production Code administrator Geoffrey Shurlock. Warner Bros. appealed the ruling, confident that it would be overturned. The article also noted that the Legion of Decency, an organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, approved the picture based on its artistic merits, while overlooking the sometimes shocking dialogue. Regardless of the MPAA’s decision, Warner executives had no intention of censoring the film. One week later, the picture received MPAA approval, as stated in the 15 Jun 1966 Var. Members of the association’s Review Board declared that the content in question “was not designed to be prurient,” but instead reflected the “tragic realism of life.” Three months later, the 20 Sep 1966 LAT stated that the cases of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the English production, Alfie (1966), prompted the MPAA to revise its Production Code.
       The 5 Mar 1966 LAT announced the 22 Jun 1966 world premiere at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles, CA. According to the 27 Apr 1966 Var, the film opened 23 Jun 1966 in New York City at the Criterion Theatre. The screening was followed by a “supper ball” at the Astor Hotel, hosted by Jack L. Warner. Proceeds benefited the Richard Burton Hemophilia Fund, and the American Music and Dramatic Academy, headed by the actor’s stepfather, Philip Burton. Neither member of the starring couple were expected to attend, as they were in Italy, filming The Taming of the Shrew (1967, see entry). Forty-two “pre-release” openings continued through the end of Jun 1966, in such cities as Waikiki, HI; Boston, MA; Atlanta, GA; and Vancouver, BC, Canada.
       Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opened to enthusiastic public and critical response. It garnered thirteen Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Editing, Sound, Actress in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Black-and-White Cinematography, Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration, and Black-and-White Costume Design. The picture won in the latter five categories. Taylor, Burton, and Nichols received awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and Nichols was also pronounced Director of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). In addition, Ernest Lehman won a Writers Guild of America (WGA) award for best American drama.
       Despite its success, the film remained controversial, exemplified by an incident reported in the 20 Jul 1966 Var. According to the article, Nashville, TN, police sergeant/Sunday-school teacher Fred Cobb halted a screening by confiscating a reel of the picture, forcing 700 patrons to demand refunds. Cobb denounced the film as blasphemous, citing frequent use of “God’s name in vain,” and attempts to “belittle” contemporary evangelists. One week later, the 27 Jul 1966 Var stated that a Nashville court overruled Cobb and required him to return the reel. On 10 Aug 1966, Var reported that Police Chief L. J. Campbell of Columbia, SC, received “inquiries” about the controversial picture. Noting its approval by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), and the embarrassment suffered by Cobb, Campbell declined to interfere with the film’s exhibition.
       Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was ranked 67th on AFI's 2007 100 Years...100 Movies—10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1966.
---
Filmfacts
15 Aug 1966
pp. 149-52.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 1966
p. 3.
Life
10 Jun 1966
pp. 87-91.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Jun 1966
Section C, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
16 Nov 1964
Section C, p. 22.
Los Angeles Times
29 Mar 1965
Section C, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
28 Jul 1965
Section C, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
19 Oct 1965
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
5 Mar 1966
p. 20.
Los Angeles Times
26 May 1966
Section C, p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
22 Jun 1966
Section D, p. 1, 15.
Los Angeles Times
23 Jun 1966
Section D, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
20 Sep 1966
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1966
Section C, p. 23.
Los Angeles Times
20 Jan 1967
Section C, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
21 Feb 1967
p. 3, 18.
New York Times
5 Mar 1964
p. 37.
New York Times
12 Jul 1964
Section X, p. 7.
New York Times
12 Dec 1964
p. 36.
New York Times
2 Jul 1965
p. 16.
New York Times
11 Jul 1965
Section X, p. 5.
New York Times
11 Jun 1966
p. 46.
New York Times
24 Jun 1966
p. 28.
New York Times
7 Jul 1966
p. 28.
New York Times
6 Feb 1967
p. 33.
New York Times
29 Mar 1967
p. 38.
New York Times
11 Apr 1967
p. 54.
New York Times
26 Apr 1967
p. 39.
New Yorker
2 Jul 1966
pp. 64-65.
Newsweek
4 Jul 1966
p. 84.
Sight and Sound
Autumn, 1966
pp. 198-99.
Time
1 Jul 1966.
---
Variety
28 Apr 1965
p. 15.
Variety
21 Jul 1965
p. 26.
Variety
28 Jul 1965
p. 22.
Variety
11 Aug 1965
p. 22.
Variety
1 Sep 1965
p. 16.
Variety
20 Oct 1965
p. 19.
Variety
24 Nov 1965
p. 20, 23.
Variety
8 Dec 1965
p. 21.
Variety
22 Dec 1965
p. 5.
Variety
27 Apr 1966
p. 4.
Variety
4 May 1966
p. 1.
Variety
1 Jun 1966
p. 7.
Variety
8 Jun 1966
p. 4.
Variety
15 Jun 1966
p. 4.
Variety
22 Jun 1966
p. 6, 13, 26.
Variety
13 Jul 1966
p. 5.
Variety
20 Jul 1966
p. 9, 22, 28.
Variety
27 Jul 1966
p. 23.
Variety
10 Aug 1966
p. 25.
Variety
28 Sep 1966
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Ernest Lehman Production
Ernest Lehman's Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
SOUND
MAKEUP
Supv hairstylist
Hair styles for Miss Taylor created by
Miss Taylor's makeup
Mr. Burton's makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Asst to the prod
Prod adv
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, produced on the stage by Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder (New York, 13 Oct 1962).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Release Date:
July 1966
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Los Angeles: 22 June 1966
New York opening: 23 June 1966
Production Date:
26 July--mid December 1965
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
2 July 1966
Copyright Number:
LP33596
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
129-131
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
21074
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At two a.m. on the campus of a New England college, a middle-aged professor of history and his wife return home from a party. Their life together, after twenty years of marriage, is dominated by violent arguments tempered by occasional moments of tenderness. George, the husband, is a victim of lost idealism--a fact that his wife, Martha, eagerly points out by constantly comparing him to her father, the president of the college. Martha conceals her own vulnerability and frustration behind a show of loud vulgarity. She has created an imaginary son, and George has indulged her in the pretense, partially for his own sake as well. Earlier in the evening, Martha invited a faculty couple, Nick and Honey, to drop by for a drink; as soon as they arrive, Martha begins making flagrant advances toward the younger man. Honey, embarrassed by Martha's behavior and unaccustomed to so much liquor, becomes ill. Intoxicated, Nick confides to George that he married Honey because she falsely told him that she was pregnant. The long night of drinking and quarreling wears on, and Martha eventually lures the opportunistic and drunken Nick to her bedroom upstairs, while George watches their shadows from the yard below. When he learns that Martha has told Honey about their son, George brutally destroys his wife's fantasy by announcing that the son is dead. He then reduces her to hysteria by conducting a mock funeral service in Latin. With the coming of dawn, the guests depart. Physically and emotionally exhausted, George and Martha share a moment of ... +


At two a.m. on the campus of a New England college, a middle-aged professor of history and his wife return home from a party. Their life together, after twenty years of marriage, is dominated by violent arguments tempered by occasional moments of tenderness. George, the husband, is a victim of lost idealism--a fact that his wife, Martha, eagerly points out by constantly comparing him to her father, the president of the college. Martha conceals her own vulnerability and frustration behind a show of loud vulgarity. She has created an imaginary son, and George has indulged her in the pretense, partially for his own sake as well. Earlier in the evening, Martha invited a faculty couple, Nick and Honey, to drop by for a drink; as soon as they arrive, Martha begins making flagrant advances toward the younger man. Honey, embarrassed by Martha's behavior and unaccustomed to so much liquor, becomes ill. Intoxicated, Nick confides to George that he married Honey because she falsely told him that she was pregnant. The long night of drinking and quarreling wears on, and Martha eventually lures the opportunistic and drunken Nick to her bedroom upstairs, while George watches their shadows from the yard below. When he learns that Martha has told Honey about their son, George brutally destroys his wife's fantasy by announcing that the son is dead. He then reduces her to hysteria by conducting a mock funeral service in Latin. With the coming of dawn, the guests depart. Physically and emotionally exhausted, George and Martha share a moment of silence. +

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

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