"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

First Amendment to the United States Constitution

                    

 

NOTE:  A revised version of The Male Animal which eliminates the character of Cleota, the maid, has been approved by the Thurber & Nugent estates and is available for rental from Samuel French.  You must specifically ask for the revised version if you plan to present a production of the play. A copy of the first few minutes of the play is available here.

THE MALE ANIMAL

by James Thurber and Elliott Nugent


James Thurber illustration for The Male Animal.

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"... If I can't read this letter today, tomorrow none of us will be able to teach anything except what Mr. Keller here and the Legislature permit us to teach. Can't you see what that leads to what it has led to in other places?  We're holding the last fortress of free thought, and if we surrender to prejudice and dictation, we're cowards."

Professor Tommy Turner in The Male Animal

 

Plot Summary of The Male Animal
from the Samuel French, Inc. Catalogue

Tommy Turner has been married for ten years to Ellen, and he is quietly settled in a teaching job at Mid Western University. This is the week end of the Michigan game and Joe Ferguson, the greatest football hero Mid Western has ever had, comes to town and sees Ellen, his old sweetheart. In addition, Tommy is drawn into a controversy when a young intellectual writes an article in which he calls the board of trustees fascists. Tommy wants to read a letter to his composition class written by Vanzetti and is about to join the ranks of the martyrs who have been fired because the trustees are shouting "Red!" Ellen tries to dissuade Tommy from reading the letter and he tells her to go with Joe and leave him to his books and his principles. Eventually Tommy challenges Joe to fisticuffs after he has fortified himself with the proper courage. He steadfastly maintains his right to read the letter and to teach the young to think. Ellen sees him as pretty good example of the male animal and stands up with him.

 


 

Original 1940 Playbill for The Male Animal.

James Thurber and Elliott Nugent's romantic comedy, The Male Animal, premiered on Broadway at the Cort Theatre on January 9, 1940 with a cast that included Elliott Nugent as professor Tommy Turner, Ruth Matteson as his wife Ellen, Leon Ames as ex-football hero Joe Ferguson, and 19-year-old Gene Tierney as Ellen's co-ed sister Patricia Stanley.

The play had a successful run of 243 performances and was selected as one of the ten "Best Plays" of the 1939-1940 theater season by the Burns-Mantle Best Plays theater annual.


 

ORIGINAL 1940 CAST OF
THE MALE ANIMAL

Elliott Nugent - Tommy Turner
Ruth Matteson - Ellen Turner
Leon Ames - Joe Ferguson
Gene Tierney - Patricia Stanley
Matt Briggs - Ed Keller
Ivan Simpson - Dean Frederick Damon
Robert Scott - Michael Barnes
Don DeFore - Wally Myers
Minna Phillips - Mrs. Blanche Damon
Regina Wallace - Myrtle Keller
Amanda - Randolph Cleota
Richard Beckhard - "Nutsy" Miller
John Boruff - Newspaper Reporter
 

Produced and Staged by Herman Shumlin
Scenic Design by Aline Bernstein

 

Co-author Elliott Nugent as Tommy Turner in the original 1940 production of "The Male Animal."

Co-author of "The Male Animal," American humorist and cartoonist, James Thurber.

 

Robert Scott as Michael and Gene Tierney as Patricia in the original 1940 production of "The Male Animal."

Elliott Nugent (left rear), Leon Ames, Ruth Matteson, Amanda Randolph and Gene Tierney in the original 1940 production of "The Male Animal."

1942 Film Version

 In 1942, Warner Bros. released a film adaptation of The Male Animal starring Henry Fonda, Olivia De Havilland, Jack Carson and Joan Leslie.  Elliott Nugent directed the film.

Henry Fonda and Olivia De Havilland in the 1942 Warner Brothers film version of The Male Animal.

 

Original poster from the 1942 Warner Brothers film version of The Male Animal.

Original one-sheet movie poster from the 1942 Warner Brothers film version of  The Male Animal.

CAST OF THE 1942 FILM,
THE MALE ANIMAL

Olivia de Havilland - Ellen Turner
Joan Leslie - Patricia Stanley 
Jack Carson - Joe Ferguson 
Eugene Pallette - Ed Keller 
Herbert Anderson - Michael Barnes 
Hattie McDaniel - Cleota 
Ivan F. Simpson - Dr. Fredrick Damon 
Don DeFore - Wally Myers 
Jean Ames - Hot Garters Gardner 
Minna Phillips - Blanche Damon 
Regina Wallace - Myrtle Keller 
Frank Mayo - Coach Sprague 
William B. Davidson - Alumnus at Rally 
Bobby Barnes - Nutsy Miller 

Directed by Elliott Nugent
Produced by Hal B. Wallis

Screenplay by Stephen Morehouse Avery,
Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein
Cinematography by Arthur Edeson

1952 Broadway Revival

In April of 1952, blacklisted Hollywood director Michael Gordon directed a stage revival of The Male Animal for a scheduled two-week run at New York City's City Center.  The production was so well received that it transferred immediately to Broadway, opening on May 15th at The Music Box Theatre for a run of 317 performances, outlasting the original Broadway run by two months.  Robert Preston co-starred as Joe Ferguson in a cast headed by Elliott Nugent, reprising his original role, and Martha Scott as Ellen.

 

Robert Preston, Martha Scott and Elliott Nugent in the 1952 Broadway revival of "The Male Animal."

CAST OF THE 1952 REVIVAL OF
THE MALE ANIMAL

Elliott Nugent - Tommy Turner
Martha Scott - Ellen Turner
Robert Preston - Joe Ferguson
Nancy Nugent - Patricia Stanley
Matt Briggs - Ed Keller
Halliwell Hobbes - Dean Frederick Damon
John Gerstad - Michael Barnes
Charles Boaz - Wally Myers
Leora Thatcher - Mrs. Blanche Damon
Dorothy Blackburn - Myrtle Keller
Eulabelle Moore - Cleota
Billy James - "Nutsy" Miller
Peter Harris - Newspaper Reporter
 

Produced by John Golden

Directed by Michael Gordon
Artistic Supervision by George Schaefer
Scenic Design by Melvin Bourne
Costume Design by Noel Taylor
 

Martha Scott, Robert Preston, Billy James, Matt Briggs in the 1952 Broadway revival of "The Male Animal."

Robert Preston, Charles Boaz and Martha Scott in the 1952 Broadway revival of "The Male Animal."

Radio and Television

On radio, Tommy Turner was played by a number of actors including Joel McCrea, William Holden and Elliott Nugent, repeating his stage role.  Nugent also starred with Martha Scott in a February 27, 1950 television broadcast of The Male Animal on the anthology series, Your Lucky Strike Theatre, hosted by Robert Montgomery.  Andy Griffith starred with Ann Rutherford and Edmond O'Brien in a 1958 television adaptation for Playhouse 90, with Charlie Ruggles as Dean Damon, Gale Gordon as Ed Keller and Dick Sargent as the student radical, Michael Barnes.  A 1968 British television production of the play featured American guest star Anthony Perkins as Tommy Turner. 

The play was a popular attraction in regional, summer stock and amateur theaters throughout the 1940s and 1950s.  Buddy Ebsen, Jose Ferrer, Tom Ewell, Arthur Hill and Gregory Peck are just a few of the actors who starred as Turner.

 

Some interesting links:

Alexander Cockburn, Nation Magazine, July 10, 1995

Turner Class Movies page on the 1942 movie version

 An article on the revised script

 

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