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January 22, 2024

Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman on the Set of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958)

Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor in the MGM/Richard Brooks drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958. Though the Pulitzer Prize winning Tennessee Williams’ play the movie was based upon had Paul’s character “Brick” dealing with his feelings of latent homosexuality, the movie version was scrubbed clean of the more blatant references to this in order to sanitize the film for 1950s movie audiences. Paul and Elizabeth, however, determined privately that they were going to play their characters true to the original version, quietly slipping in moments of reality despite the studio’s objections. Both stars later became vocal LGBTQ advocates, Paul stating his support for gay rights, Elizabeth founding a charity to help those afflicted with AIDS/HIV.

The original stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opened on Broadway on March 24, 1955, with Ives and Sherwood in the roles they subsequently played in the film. Ben Gazzara played Brick in the stage production and rejected the film role. Athlete-turned-actor Floyd Simmons also tested for the role.

Lana Turner and Grace Kelly were both considered for the part of Maggie before the role went to Taylor.

Production began on March 12, 1958, and by March 19, Taylor had contracted a virus which kept her off the shoot. On March 21, she canceled plans to fly with her husband Mike Todd to New York City, where he was to be honored the following day by the New York Friars’ Club. The plane crashed, and all passengers, including Todd, were killed. Beset with grief, Taylor remained off the film until April 14, 1958, at which time she returned to the set in a much thinner and weaker condition.

The film was successful with audiences and grossed over $1 million over the Labor Day weekend and was number one at the US box office for five consecutive weeks throughout September 1958, before being knocked off the top spot by Damn Yankees. It returned to the top spot for the next four weeks and was also the number-one film for the month of October. According to MGM records, the film earned rentals for the studio of $7,660,000 in the United States and Canada as well as $3,625,000 in other markets, resulting in a profit of $2,428,000.


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