Notes on Amanda Wingfield: Part One

Laurette Taylor

New Orleans

There are several points about Amanda that I would like to set straight:

1. She had those gentlemen callers.

2. She's funny; she's a performer. She has infused the gift of performing into her children.

3. She's a fighter, but she's terrified, for she is caught in the time knot, and there is no annuity to ease her imminent fall.

At no time, and in no production, has the actress portraying Amanda captured those three essential elements. I do not know why. I was there for many of these productions, and I can provide no answer. Perhaps it is impossible for some actresses to portray fear without it appearing somewhat sad, faded, a Faith Baldwin gesture. Perhaps fear is really anger to some actresses, and there are many who are afraid to let themselves be seen submitting to this wild and violent emotion, no matter how well-earned. 

Far too many actresses have believed that their performance would be lessened--would be seen as less laudable--if they swam in the comical waters. Laurette did not mind: Laurette could master any daunting channel of comical water, and her telephone calls were masterly examples of comic acting, and to sit through those, to laugh at both her comedic skill and her character's desperation, made the constant crashes to earth all the more heartrending.

Amanda is not delusional in speaking of the men who came calling, of lovely evenings on the lake: Amanda is delusional in thinking that these things matter, or that these things are a guarantee of anything other than a nice night on the lake, or a kiss, or a bouquet, or a memory to tide you through a night when the lights are turned off and the salmon is going bad and the linoleum keeps turning up at the baseboards. Amanda is surrounded by judgments--many more brutal than her own--that things have not turned out as they should have, as she deserved, as she dreamed.

The glass menagerie is comprised of dreams, hopes, those scenarios we concoct and that we see falling to earth--which is to say reality--all the time, on some evil and consistent schedule over which we have no control.

I am ashamed to say that I suggested to Margo Jones [one of the play's original directors] that I wanted the sound effect, throughout the play, of distant glass falling to the pavement, to earth. I am happy to report that this idea was abandoned.

Helen Hayes, in Spain, as Amanda

Helen Hayes lacked many of the qualities I deem essential for Amanda, chiefly a sense of humor. It is also true that she did not like Amanda, and called her a 'loon' on several occasions. Someone like Helen Hayes cannot understand a woman who does not simply achieve or procure what she wants or what she needs, because Helen Hayes does not know or entertain the notion of lack. Therefore, you never sensed any desperation in her Amanda, because someone--perhaps the Theatre Guild--would come to the door at any moment and rescue her with a happier play with prettier sets and costumes.

Where Helen Hayes was brilliant, however, was in evoking the tragedy of  dreams dashed, glass shattering, because the audiences knew they were seeing someone adorable, once loved, now abandoned, now without hope. That is an essential quality for Amanda to have: We must mourn for and with her for all that she has lost and for all that she cannot provoke from her children.


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