Shrew Survey: The 1960s

Joseph Papp’s celebrated New York Shakespeare Festival in Central Park gave us the first documented Shrew spanking of the new decade, The production opened August 18, 1960, and was scheduled to run till September 3, but proved so popular that it was granted an extra performance on September 4. J. D. Cannon, who had spanked Colleen Dewhurst at the same festival five years earlier, now returned to the role. Colleen was due to resume her place across his knee, too, but other commitments left her unable to be at rehearsals, and Jane White was her last-minute replacement:

An audio performance, with Trevor Howard and Margaret Leighton, was issued on record, with a copy of the play for readers to consult. The cover is interesting:

01 Shrew

For 1961, the Shrew spanking stakes are represented by two anecdotes.

On July 6, the actress Barbara Touliatos took her actor husband George Touliatos to court.

Since 1957, the couple had managed the Front Street Theater in Memphis, Tennessee, with no little success: the troupe achieved national recognition and was awarded a large Ford Foundation grant that spring. But a familiar story played itself out when they scheduled a production of The Taming of the Shrew, complete with spanking business that George played with such ‘masterful realism’ that Barbara was left nursing an unsittable bottom. Like many a spanked wife of that era, she sued for divorce, and another actor in the company, Macon McCalman, testified on her behalf that her soon-to-be-ex-husband ‘really hit and hurt her’ in the scene. Divorce granted!

Later the same month, a production from the University of Detroit’s Repertory Theater made an unlikely transition – to a teatime children’s television show, Jingles. The year before, as an experiment, the actors had performed an excerpt from The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which went down better than expected with the kids; so this time round, they decided to do the wooing scene from the current Shrew production. Charles Noel and Mahala Lenzi presented themselves at the television studio in the afternoon for the single rehearsal they were allowed, and immediately spotted a problem. Part of the scene’s rough-and-tumble in this production was a moment when Petruchio dumps Kate onto the ground. No problem onstage, where the boards were sprung, but the floor of the television studio was made of concrete. So they needed to come up with some alternative business in a hurry. Guess what they decided to do?

The kids loved it and went home and told their folks. But what they didn’t retain in their juvenile memories was the title of the play. So the next day, the box office received a lot of requests for tickets to ‘the play where the man chases the woman around and spanks her’!

From 1963, we have a production from Finland, with Heikki Savolainen spanking Maikki Lansio:

And we also have a summer stock production that played July 2-6 at Ledges Playhouse, Lansing, Michigan, whose publicity took a leaf from Kiss Me Kate, or rather a graphic:

Maybe this is what the spanking scene actually looked like, with Dan Staples and Kay Pierce?

Well, here’s a strange thing: in this production, Petruchio and Kate were played by husband-and-wife team Lael and Margaret Woodbury, not by Dan and Kay. What you are looking at is Lucentio spanking Bianca – which might make an interesting ending to the play (once Kate has proven an obedient wife and Bianca a disobedient one), though it’s at least as likely that the two principals simply weren’t available for the photoshoot and the two secondary leads stood in to do the iconic moment.

Stepping aside from the theater for a moment, the year also saw the publication of this edition of the play aimed at the general reader:

And still with books, 1963 also saw an approving review in the New York Herald Tribune of the Laurel Shakespeare series by Dell Pocketbooks, in which Maurice Dolbier praised the volumes for how convenient they were for use in the rehearsal room, with particular reference to two standard bits of Shakespeare business:

If I were a Shakespearean actor, as once I was, I’d choose to work with the Laurel, whose size and blessed flexibility make it easy for you to hold a copy in one hand while spanking Katherina or banishing Bolingbroke with the other.

The Laurel edition of the play had come out in 1958, incidentally, with a cover by Jerome Kuhl that did not include that standard Shrew business, but something else instead:

Since it was the Shakespeare quatercentenary year, 1964 featured a lot of interest all over the world, which meant many productions, especially of those plays considered the most accessible and popular, of which The Taming of the Shrew was then one. (It later became ‘controversial’, then, sadly, ‘problematic’.) And at least some of those productions featured spanking.

Here’s a student production in February at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington, with Rich Dykes and Patricia Poor:

March 3-7 saw a performance by the Highland Players of North Carolina, with Richard McCord and Barbara Bolton:

The Casa Manana Playhouse in Fort Worth, Texas, offered a series of educational Shakespeare performances, including three Shrew shows between March 7 and 22. William Hardy, the director, adapted the play for a young audience and cast himself to spank Mary Lou Hoyle:

On March 8, the wooing scene was performed as a one-act play at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, California, with Robert Vogel and Phyllis Newman:

The piece was admired, and selected for a repeat performances as the entertainment at college events on March 17 and April 12. And if Miss Newman thought that after that she could go back to sitting comfortably, she would have another think coming later in the year…

In July (8 through 19, to be precise), Trotwood Community Theater in Dayton, Ohio, presented The World of Shakespeare, an anthology of scenes, including this one with Norton Wettstein and Janet Reed:

The full Shrew featured in the Victoria Shakespeare Festival in Texas, opening July 24. The production set the play in the Wild West, and was one of those where Kate, played by Madge Grant in cowboy boots, spanks Bianca – with a bullwhip!

That’s blonde Janet Barton with her bottom in danger, but after eight performances she gave up the part and brunette Sharon McCray became Bianca for the rest of the run, which ended August 16. Here she is:

But one thing we don’t know is whether Kate got a taste of her own medicine from Petruchio, played by Charles McCally, who also directed.

Back to Cabrillo College now, where Phyllis Newman’s spring success in the wooing scene was rewarded with further spankings in November. The college was so impressed that it decided to mount a production of the whole comedy, which was understood to be the first time a complete Shakespeare play had been performed in Santa Cruz county. According to a reviewer:

‘Miss Newman pouts and shouts, bawls and squawls, slugs and mugs without restraint in the role of the spoilt rich brat who finds her come-uppance in the calm-downing of Petruchio.’

This was a different Petruchio, Jerry van Steenbergen, but the outcome for Phyllis was much as before.

There were five performances, November 13 through 22, the last of which, a special Sunday matinee, was sponsored by the American Association of University Women, which put the proceeds towards a fund supporting women to pursue graduate study. So Phyllis was spanked in a good cause!

In 1965, Center Stage Touring Company was established as a theater-in-education group that went into Baltimore Schools to perform extracts from different plays. Here are Burke Byrnes and Jane Alden doing a scene from Shrew:

And there was a full production in Tennessee, with Ben Morgan as Petruchio and Shirley Alderman as the Chattanooga shrew-shrew:

This year also saw the publication of Apples Every Day, a romance novel by Grace Richardson, with action including an amateur production of Shrew. One comment is interesting in its implications:

He tamed Kate with cleverness, not roughness: there was no spanking scene.

And while that’s disappointing for those who would prefer there to be a spanking scene, it shows just how entrenched the business was in stagings of the play at this time, that its very absence was considered worthy of mention.

In 1966, the annual Shakespeare Festival at Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, featured a selection of scenes from the Bard, including this one with Luis Barroso and Jeannie Britt:

October 19 was the opening night of a student production at Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin. It was a women’s college, so the men’s parts were played by visitors from the University of Wisconsin, including Bill Burnett, seen here being boisterous with Candy Lehman:

In February 1967, the Hickory Community Theater in North Carolina presented a ‘mod’ themed Shrew starring husband-and-wife team Glenn and Jackie Sumpter as a colorful Petruchio and Kate, the latter wearing a miniskirt that, sadly, doesn’t really show up well in the available photo:

March 16-18 saw a student production at Whitworth College, Spokane, with Gary Tuttle and Kay Keller:

There was a repeat performance for charity on April 21.

The year saw yet another interesting book cover:

Kate and Petruchio seem painted to resemble Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who, surely not by coincidence, were the stars of a film version released that same year; you can read about it here.

The year also saw Hugh Hood’s novel The Scenic Art, in which the narrator accompanies the gay actor Adam Sinclair to a performance of his least favorite Shakespeare play, ‘given in costumes appropriate to the Calgary Stampede’. Cue a two-page diatribe about how Shrew is ‘a rotten play, a really shitty play’, while the musical derivate dear to our hearts is also ‘a worthless piece of shit’. He continues:

I’ve seen it done on a bare stage, and with several elaborate sets, as a musical revue, and as a treat for SM freaks who really dug the spanking scenes. Like all of Shakespeare’s work the play has some mysterious quality of universal appeal. I confess to certain mixed feelings whenever I catch sight of women staring, fascinated, at poor Katherine kicking as she is held firmly in place across Petruchio’s knee. Sexual spanking has its place in the hearts of most of us, though not in the heart of A. Sinclair. The scene I have in mind seemed deeply repellent to him.

And when the show is over, Sinclair gives it an impromptu review, to the effect that ‘there is now no viable way to bring the work onstage and that it had therefore better be left alone’ – an opinion we were to hear a lot more of in the ensuing half-century up to the present day…

February 23 through 25, 1968, were the performance dates for the student production at Broome County Technical Institute, New York. Here’s Rita Opie being smacked by Dave Henderson:

On March 7 and 8, 1968, Allen County Community College, Kansas, presented a Shakespeare play for the first time in its history, and chose The Taming of the Shrew. Here are Larry Blake and Carol Habiger putting in some rehearsal:

But we have to end the decade with a minor disappointment in 1969. A youth production by a Presbyterian church in Poughkeepsie, New York, included the spanking scene: great for Gary Kanter, possibly not so great for Barbara Frey. But maddeningly, the local paper’s coverage of the rehearsal showed the moment just after she was spanked!

The performance dates were May 23 through 25.

There is better news about a production that ran at Fort Worth, from October 26 through 29, starring this lady:

Cheri Ellis

But it’s not back to Texas yet, because the Casa Manana Playhouse lived up to its name, meaning we won’t actually get to see her spanked until 1970…

For school productions in this decade, see here (1960-64) and here (1965-69). Also see here for the 1968 Birmingham school production in which a student spanked his teacher.

One thought on “Shrew Survey: The 1960s

  1. John Smith says:

    Delightful as always. That it was played at women’s colleges really is an interesting reflection of how attitudes have changed to the play.

    It would be interesting to review what the various editions of the Shrew say about spanking in their commentary.


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