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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof could have been very different. Director George Cukor was circling the project before he sensed that the censors were circling it too. Grace Kelly was first thought of to play Maggie, and Ben Gazzarra, who played the lead on Broadway, would have been opposite her.
But the film was destined for Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, both of whom were looking to further establish themselves in Hollywood. Taylor was transitioning into mature roles, while Newman was building off of his success of Somebody Up There Likes Me. For her part, Taylor received $125 thousand, and Newman got $25 thousand. Nevertheless, Cat would help both of their careers and push them to new heights.
1. Liz came alive on camera.
Elizabeth Taylor’s Cat performance is, without a doubt, stunning. But according to her co-stars, rehearsals lacked that touch of magic. Judith Anderson said that she “had a tendency to ‘dog it’ during rehearsals.” Paul Newman felt the same thing, but director Richard Brooks (who had worked with Taylor on The Last Time I Saw Paris) assured him that when the cameras started rolling, she’d be there. And that’s just what happened. Newman later reflected, “[Taylor] had a lot of guts. She’d go ahead and explore and risk falling on her face [when acting].”
2. Williams wasn’t a fan.
Playwright Tennessee Williams actually disliked the film adaption of his Broadway play – mostly because it removed the subtext of Newman’s character’s relationship with his dead best friend – a necessity given the Motion Picture Production Code at the time. Williams allegedly even confronted people on the street who were headed into the theater to tell them not to see the film! One thing he did like about the film, however, was Elizabeth Taylor’s performance. “I loved her in Cat. She was the best in the film,” he said.
3. Taylor was a champ.
After the loss of her beloved husband, Mike Todd (read more about that here), Taylor was devastated and began to lose weight. It was noticeable especially to Burl Ives, who visited her during her grieving. He and Brooks devised a way to help her regain her appetite by using the dinner scene in the film. The director would tell her to eat on camera, then give an excuse to reshoot so the scene so she’d have to do it again. Ives said, “This went on for two fill days, and over that period Elizabeth devoured the equivalent of a half-dozen solid meals… [and] restored her appetite.”
4. It was almost black and white.
To keep costs down, the studio wanted the film to be black and white. Brooks immediately knew that the choice was wrong. Mike Todd, Elizabeth Taylor’s husband at the time, was able to change the studio mind though, and after he met with them, representative went to ask Brooks why he wanted to film in black and white.