Tea and Sympathy, 1956

“Tea and Sympathy” was mentioned recently in one of the articles reprinted from Ivy Magazine. It’s also on the reading list featured in the “Official Preppy Handbook.”

I figured it was time to check it out.

Written by Robert Anderson for the stage, “Tea and Sympathy” was adapted for the screen in 1956 with Vincente Minnelli at the helm. Unissued on DVD in the US, the movie has been digitized and uploaded to YouTube in 14 bite-size installments. Part one is presented below.

“Tea and Sympathy” is set at a boys’ prep school, where sensitive Tom Lee (played by John Kerr) is hazed by an army of khaki-clad hearties at the height of the buckle-in-back craze. Tom finds consolation in the company of one of the faculty wives, played by Deborah Kerr (no relation). The film is standard ’50s melodrama with some fine collegiate clothing; I say collegiate because while set at a prep school, the students all look like college seniors.

Author Robert Anderson died just recently, in February, at the age 91. Here’s the NY Times obituary.

If the prospect of watching an entire movie on YouTube sounds tedious, then just watch one segment each morning while having your coffee and checking your eBay alerts. You’ll be done in just two weeks. — CC

1 Comment on "Tea and Sympathy, 1956"

  1. I’d read the play a couple of times, so I’m glad to finally see the movie. Several of the play’s original cast members reprised their roles for the screen.

    Anderson was a 30-something Exeter alum when the play was produced on Broadway, and the play is set in the clannish and insular world of a mid-century boarding school. This predictably manifests itself horizontally in the tightly knit students who refer to themselves and each other as “the guys,” but also vertically: Tom’s father, his roommate’s father, and his housemaster Bill Reynolds are all alumni. Laura, Bill’s wife of about a year, is in some ways just as much an outsider to this male world as is Ellie Martin, “[t]he gal who waits on table down at the soda joint.”

    The movie turns out to be far more tame than the book, apparently because of the movie production code. In the play, Tom isn’t seen sewing with the faculty wives. As Ralph tells it, “The guys saw [Tom and Mr. Harris] down at the dunes… bare-assed.” Then he says, “You watch and see. Hariss’ll get bounced, and I’m gonna lock my room at night as long as Tom is living in this house.” Or as Bill tells Laura, “[Harris] was lying there naked in the dunes, and one of the students was lying there naked too. Just to talk about it is disgusting.” In Harris’s own words, it was simply “going down to the dunes and swimming.”

    The play is about conforming to group expectations and the devastating effects of false accusations — or perhaps the accusations are true? The text is never explicit. Either way, the play is much more a product of the Communist-hunting McCarthy era in which it was produced than it is a gay liberation piece.

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