Elevenses with Harvey

Elevenses wtih Harvey

What’s wrong with it?

Elevenses wtih Harvey

They invented colour after 1950!

Elevenses wtih Harvey

Little bears are watching Harvey

Elevenses wtih Harvey

… the 1950 movie, in black and white!, with James Stewart.

Grayce Mills and James Stewart
Grayce Mills and James Stewart

The movie came out to great reviews in 1950:

If you’re for warm and gentle whimsy, for a charmingly fanciful farce and for a little touch of pathos anent the fateful evanescence of man’s dreams, then the movie version of “Harvey” is definitely for you.

As a matter of fact, we’ll even wager that, if you’re not in a mood for all of these, an hour and three-quarters with “Harvey” will do you a world of good. And if it does not — if a visit to the Astor, where it opened yesterday, does not send you forth into the highways and the byways embracing a warm glow — then the fault will be less with “Harvey”, we suspect, than it will be with you.

For, with all due respect to the people who have done the Mary Chase play or the stage (and this includes some of the people now doing it on the screen), this genial translation of the classic, which Universal-International has turned out, possesses the novelty and vigour of a fresh theatrical surprise. Indeed, so freely flowing is the screenplay which Mrs. Chase and Oscar Brodney have prepared, so vivid and droll is the direction which Henry Koster has given it and, particularly, so darling is the acting of James Stewart, Josephine Hull and all the rest that a virtually brand new experience is still in store for even those who saw the play.

The real virtue of this picture, as derived from Mrs. Chase’s play, is its wonderfully warm and sympathetic presentation of character and its wistfully sweet appreciation of the innocence of a benevolent lush. As Elwood P. Dowd, the rabbit fancier — Harvey’s companion in killing time — Mr. Stewart is utterly beguiling and disarming of all annoyance. A faint touch of seeming imbecility, which is somewhat distasteful at the start, is quickly dispelled as Mr. Stewart makes Elwood a man to be admired.

James Stewart and Josephine Hull
James Stewart and Josephine Hull

Josephine Hull plays Elwood’s sister with such hilarious confusion and daft concern that she brings quite as much to the picture as does Mr. Stewart — or his pal. To be sure, Miss Hull has known Elwood — and Harvey — almost as long as has Mrs. Chase, having been in the original stage company from its uncertain start. And it would be an unhappy screen version that did not contain her rotund frame, her scatter-brained fussing and fluttering and her angelic gentleness of soul.

Victoria Horne, also from the stage play, is perfect as Elwood’s timorous niece and Jesse White, another stage alumnus, is a smash as the loony-bin guard. Cecil Kellaway as an addled doctor, William Lynn as the family counsellor, and Peggy Dow and Charles Drake as young attendants do their jobs cheerfully and well.

And that goes for everybody. The producers, like Harvey, have overcome not only time and space but any objections. Who could ask for anything more?

From the left, Charles Drake, Peggy Dow, Josephine Hull and James Stewart
From the left, Charles Drake, Peggy Dow, Josephine Hull and James Stewart

Harvey premiered on Broadway November 1, 1944, starring vaudevillian Frank Fay. In 1947 Fay took leave for a seven-week vacation, and producer Brock Pemberton brought in James Stewart, by then an established film star, as his replacement. Stewart’s celebrity packed houses for the entire seven weeks and breathed life into the play’s run.

Stewart later returned to the production for an extended engagement, and he returned to Broadway in 1970 for the first revival of Harvey, which co-starred Helen Hayes.

Little Puffles and Honey saw Harvey at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis.

Elevenses wtih Harvey

A Day at the Guthrie Theatre

A Day at the Guthrie Theatre

In 1942, during the early days of US involvement in World War II, Mary Chase learned about a widow in the neighborhood whose only son was killed in the South Pacific. When she saw the woman resume her daily commute to her job downtown, Chase resolved to write something that would make her laugh again and started her two-year journey writing the play that would become Harvey. Brock Pemberton and Antoinette Perry, the same producer and director, respectively, of Now You’ve Done It, undertook staging Harvey on Broadway, where the play opened November 1, 1944. It was an immediate, unqualified success, eventually running for 1,775 performances. On May 7, 1945, Chase received the Pulitzer Prize for drama for Harvey (over Tennessee Williams’s first masterwork, The Glass Menagerie).

The second Broadway revival of Harvey was in 2012 with Jim Parsons as Elwood P. Dowd.

Jim Parsons in "Harvey", NYT
Jim Parsons in “Harvey”, NYT

Would have loved to see this production! The reviews of the production and Jim Parson’s performance were outstanding!

Such is the charm of the director Scott Ellis’s production of this 1944 chestnut, led by a supremely winning Jim Parsons as the gentle protagonist, Elwood P. Dowd, that you may find yourself wistfully scanning the departing crowds for a glimpse of Elwood’s boon companion, that big, furry critter who spreads both exasperation and enchantment among all who encounter him.

Mr. Ellis’s amiable staging — which features expert supporting performances from Jessica Hecht, as Elwood’s dithery sister, Veta, and Charles Kimbrough, as the eminent psychiatrist she hopes will lock her troublesome brother up for good — strikes the right, gently dizzy tone. Most important, Mr. Parsons carries the weight of a role immortalized on film by the inimitable James Stewart as lightly as Elwood does the hat and coat he keeps on hand for his furry companion. The breakout star of the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory, the soft-spoken Mr. Parsons makes an ideal Elwood, the drinker and dreamer who passes his days in the company of Harvey, doing little more than sitting around saloons making friendly conversation with whoever happens by. Mr. Parsons possesses in abundance the crucial ability to project an ageless innocence without any visible effort: no small achievement for an actor in these knowing times.

Jim Parsons and Angela Paton in "Harvey", NYT
Jim Parsons and Angela Paton in “Harvey”, NYT

With his honeyed drawl, elfin features and sweet, sidelong grin, Mr. Parsons’s Elwood is a man who has managed to pickle the literal-mindedness of a young boy in the booze he consumes in stevedore-worthy quantities, without imbibing a single drop of bitters. (The play’s indulgent attitude to Elwood’s affection for alcohol strikes a radical note today; a similar character in a contemporary play would be depicted as pathological.)

Mr. Parsons is never funnier than when Elwood is treating everyone he encounters as a potential friend. When a taxi driver greets his invitation to dinner with a perfunctory “sure, be glad to,” Elwood replies with amiable urgency, “When — when would you be glad to?” Elwood means every word he says, and he never says an unkind word.

Doctor, I wrestled with reality for forty years, and I am happy to state that I finally won over it. ~ Elwood P. Dowd

Elevenses wtih Harvey

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