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Sweet Bird of Youth is a 1959 play by Tennessee Williams which tells the story of a drifter, Chance Wayne, who returns to his home town with a faded movie star, Princess Kosmonopolis, hoping she can help him to break into the movies. The main reason he returns to his home town is to get back what he had in his youth; primarily, his old girlfriend, whose father had run him out of town years before.


The play begins with the protagonist, Chance Wayne, drinking coffee in a hotel room in St. Cloud, Floridamarker, while Princess Kosmonopolis, alias of aging actress Alexandra del Lago, sleeps in the bed in the room. Princess agrees to help Chance start a career in acting. Later, we discover that Chance has come back to reconcile with Heavenly Finley, a girlfriend whom he infected with a venereal disease, much to the chagrin of Boss Finley, her father and a powerful figure in the town. In the end, Chance fails to reconcile with Heavenly and it is implied that he is castrated at the hands of Boss Finley's henchmen in retribution for corrupting his daughter.

Production history


The original production was produced on March 10, 1959 by Cheryl Crawford at the Martin Beck Theatre in New York Citymarker. Directed by Elia Kazan, it starred Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Sidney Blackmer, Madeleine Sherwood, Diana Hyland, Logan Ramsey, John Napier, and Rip Torn. Bruce Dern also played a small role. The production was nominated for 4 Tony Awards, including Best Actress for Geraldine Page. The play ran for 375 performances.

A revival opened on December 29, 1975 at the Harkness Theatre, in a production directed by Edwin Sherin, starring Christopher Walken as Chance Wayne and Irene Worth as Princess Kosmonopolis. Irene Worth won the 1976 Tony Award for Best Actress.


It took 26 years for Sweet Bird of Youth to reach London's West Endmarker. It opened on July 8, 1985 at the Haymarket Theatremarker in a production directed by Harold Pinter and presented by impresario Douglas Urbanski it starred Lauren Bacall and Michael Beck with James Grout. This production later transferred to Los Angeles under the direction of Michael Blakemore.

Film and television adaptations

In 1962, the play was made into a film starring Paul Newman, Geraldine Page, Shirley Knight, Madeleine Sherwood, Ed Begley, Rip Torn and Mildred Dunnock. The movie was adapted and directed by Richard Brooks.

It won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ed Begley), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Geraldine Page) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Shirley Knight).

Sweet Bird of Youth was made for television in 1989, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mark Harmon, Valerie Perrine, Ronnie Claire Edwards and Rip Torn. It was adapted by Gavin Lambert and directed by Nicolas Roeg.

The opening scene of the film Death Becomes Her portrays the closing scene of a parody musical adaptation of Sweet Bird of Youth, entitled Songbird! Meryl Streep (as aging film and Broadway star Madeleine Ashton) performs in a song-and-dance number simply titled, "Me." Two disgusted patrons are seen leaving the theatre, one exclaiming: "Can you believe that? A musical version of Sweet Bird of Youth? Who are they kidding?" The other replies, "Thank God you wanted to leave!"

Cultural references

  • Sweet Bird of Youth is an album by The Rock*A*Teens.
  • "Sweet Bird of Truth" is a track by the band The The on the album Infected.
  • "Youth of a Thousand Summers" by Van Morrison is based on this play.

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