The Heiress (1947), THEATRE
Comments 26


the Baz & Wendy Hiller in “The Heiress” in 1947


The new production of THE HEIRESS opened in NYC yesterday, at the Walter Kerr theatre on West 48th, starring Jessica Chastain, David Strathairn and Dan Stevens. This is the second or maybe third revival since the Baz created the role of Austin Sloper on Broadway almost exactly 65 years ago, in September 1947. Here’s Ben Brantley’s NYT review , which also links to Brooks Atkinson’s review of the original with Rathbone.

Brantley doesn’t altogether like the production or Strathairn’s interpretation of Dr Sloper, describing him as “surprisingly low-key and deferential.” Rathbone, by contrast, won a Tony for his performance and was described by Atkinson as playing “perfectly with irony and arrogance.”

Ralph Richardson The Heiress

And yet,interestingly, Brantley doesn’t compare Strathairn with the Baz, even though they both played the part on Broadway. No, indeed, with wonderful irony, Brantley ignores Rathbone completely and instead compares Strathairn with none other than Ralph Richardson who played in the 1949 film, opposite Olivia de Havilland, after Rathbone was inexplicably passed over for the part.

Rather a neat little illustration of how fate so often seems, even now, to conspire to rob the Baz of his due.

Go see this show if you’re in NYC and let us know what you think. Do you agree with Brantley, or no.


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  2. david strathairn says

    just want to say I would never presume to compare with either the impeccable sir Ralph or the glorious Basil


  3. roesbette says

    The play was reviewed in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and it didn’t get a good review in either place. Chastain’s performance received the most criticism — how can she possibly compare with Olivia deHavilland’s tour de force?


  4. Kaitlyn says

    Greetings I am so thrilled I found your web site, I’m a huge fan of Basil’s. I saw The Heiress a few days ago and IMO it can’t compare to the 1949 film. Chastain is no substitute for De Havilland. And Strathairn doesn’t have the gravitas. Why I am posting is I have an 89-yr old friend who saw the show with me and who also saw the 1947 opening night! She has vivid memories of Basil as Austin Sloper and tells me he was one of the most magnetic stage presences she ever saw – and she is a veteran theatre-goer who has been visiting Broadway every season since she was 11 years old. She remembers the Cornell/Rathbone Romeo and Juliet. She says he invested Sloper with such complexity and tragedy that it gave the piece a lot more depth and balance than it has as a text. She aid you found yourself almost understanding, if not exactly sympathising with him. She described him as conveying so much unspoken pain behind his rigid demeanor. I really envy her the experience of seeing him and intend to pick her brains for anything else she remembers


    • AnnaPindurka says

      Oh, this is just fantastic, I can’t wait to hear what she has to say. Basil’s Romeo!! Really looking forward to hear what else your friend can tell you and us.


        • Kaitlyn says

          Oh I most definitely will pass anything on. My friend believes she has a playbill from her visit to The Heiress, signed by Basil and Wendy Hiller.


    • Don’t think I’ve ever seen one, but if anyone can find one I’ll post it as it’s personally very relevant to me right now πŸ™‚ Can’t imagine going back on stage a day after he broke his wrist. What a trouper.

      oh and welcome aboard Countess! πŸ™‚


  5. MaskedMadman says

    I saw Strathairn and Chastain in preview, and as usual Ben -write my review in the bar during interval – Brantley doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But then I hated Richardson’s portrayal and imo Rathbone would have made a better and more textured film.


  6. roesbette says

    There was also a production with Cherry Jones a few years back. I think she won the Tony. Don’t know who played Dr. Sloper.

    The problem with Baz’s performance is we have no record of it, other than reviews, so it would be hard for someone to compare it to Straitharin’s or Richardson’s.

    My own speculation why Baz wasn’t cast in the film: Basil had played in two films where he was considered a “rival” for Olivia deHavilland’s affection: Robin Hood and Captain Blood. Perhaps there was concern that movie audiences might still carry that association, even though technically, Basil was I think around 25 year older than she, so technically, old enough to play her father. I even wonder whether there might be some sexual chemistry between the two that might be revealed and offset the notion that he is playing her father.


    • Margaret G says

      Ooh, interesting suggestion about the chemistry! But did Basil want to be in the movie? He’d left Hollywood just a year or whatever earlier because he was sick of making films!


    • I saw that production, Cherry was fan-freakin-tastic! I can see where Chastain might not have the chops. Also she’s too pretty.


    • Thomas Dekker says

      But isn’t there supposed to be a hint of inappropriate sexual tension there? Wouldn’t its presence only deepen and heighten the drama? Though of course that doesn’t mean it would have been acceptable to Hollywood in 1939.


      • roesbette says

        The year was 1949. I would say that the sexual tension would have been inappropriate because the point of The Heiress is that the daughter is completely love-deprived, and the father is somewhat contemptuous of her because she never measured up to her mother.


    • Thomas Dekker says

      True, we can’t directly compare, but Brantley ought still to have referred to Rathbone as a Tony-winner and to Brooks-Atkinson’s review when he was making his rundown of “previouses.” The webmaster is correct to point out it’s unjust and, yes, is part of a wider tendency in regard to his career. Broadway tends to overlook his stage roots and dismiss him as a “movie star” trying to do theatre, and Hollywood perchance never forgave him for walking out on what they were offering. Is that another reason he wasn’t given Sloper in the film?

      Just some observations from a theatre-lover and Rathbone admirer.


  7. FRAN Goodacre says

    Good point that Rathbone i passed over for comparison. Given he won Best Actor Tony for his performance it seems weirdly invidious not to mention him in the review at all.


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