The Life of Langston Hughes - Vol. 2

By Arnold Rampersad | Go to book overview

5

STREET SCENE
1945 to 1947

Sometimes a few scraps fall
From the tables of joy.
Sometimes a bone
Is flung.

"Luck," 1946

IN RESPONSE TO his telegram, a phone call to Elmer Rice brought Langston Hughes a proposition as fascinating as it was utterly unexpected. Walking away together from a meeting in Manhattan of the Dramatists Guild, Rice and the German-born composer Kurt Weill had started to talk about the possibility of collaborating on an opera based on one of Rice's plays. The work in question was Street Scene, a pungent drama of Manhattan tenement-house life that had won Rice a Pulitzer Prize in 1929. Having seen the play in Europe, Weill later claimed, he "had thought of it many times as a perfect vehicle for a musical play.... It was a simple story of everyday life in a big city, a story of love and passion and greed and death. I saw great musical possibilities in its theatrical device—life in a tenement house between one evening and the next afternoon. And it seemed like a great challenge to me to find the inherent poetry in these people and to blend my music with the stark realism of the play." Within a few days of the Guild meeting, Elmer Rice and Weill decided that the time was right for such an effort. What Rice wanted to know now was whether or not Langston Hughes would be interested in joining their team as a lyricist.

Although Langston barely knew Rice, he had seen and enjoyed not only the first production of Street Scene in 1929 but also the motion picture of the play, starring Estelle Taylor and Sylvia Sidney. In 1933, Rice had responded swiftly and generously to Langston's appeals for help to defend the Scottsboro Boys by sending not only money but, ironically, the original handwritten draft of the germinal idea of Street Scene. The following year, when Langston had organized his Scottsboro auction in San Francisco, with James Cagney wielding the hammer as auctioneer, the draft had been sold quickly. Yet Langston's knowledge of Rice's generosity did not make the present invitation any less surpris

-108-

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The Life of Langston Hughes - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Life of Langston Hughes - I Dream a World *
  • Contents *
  • 1 - Still Here 1941 3
  • 2 - Jim Crow''s Last Stand 1941 To 1943 32
  • 3 - Simple Speaks His Mind 1943 To 1944 61
  • 4 - Third Degree 1944 To 1945 88
  • 5 - Street Scene 1945 To 1947 108
  • 6 - Heart on the Wall 1947 To 1948 128
  • 7 - On Solid Ground 1948 To 1950 146
  • 8 - In Warm Manure 1951 To 1953 189
  • 9 - Out from under 1953 To 1956 223
  • 10 - Making Hay 1957 To 1958 263
  • 11 - You Are the World 1958 To 1960 288
  • 12 - Ask Your Mama! 1960 To 1961 314
  • 13 - In Gospel Glory 1961 To 1963 341
  • 14 - Blues for Mister Backlash 1963 To 1965 364
  • 15 - Final Call 1965 To 1966 386
  • 16 - Do Nothing till You Hear from Me 1966 To 1967 404
  • Afterword 426
  • Abbreviations 436
  • Notes 437
  • Acknowledgments 493
  • Index 499
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