The small town stop for cross-country routes often consisted—- consists-- of a general location, probably near a diner or gas station. William Inge set his most famous play at one such stop, somewhere west of Kansas City, Missouri. Eight characters find themselves stranded when an unexpected blizzard strikes. From one to five am, relationship tensions of various sorts develop, taking turns dramatic, comedic, and romantic. Bus Stop drew heavily on an earlier, one-act play of Inge's, "People in the Wind." In Bus Stop, the wind has picked up, and the restricted movement places greater pressure on the characters. At the same time, the play comes the closest to comedy of anything the suicidal playwright penned.
Practical, world-wearied Grace owns the diner. She has had a long-lasting relationship of convenience with the bus route's driver, Carl. They're friends with benefits, and it's not clear if either wants that situation to change. Dr. Gerald Lymon, a philosophy professor, has trouble keeping a job due to his love of drink, dislike of educational trends, and attraction to young girls. He catches the eye of Elma Duckworth, Grace's intelligent but naïve teenage waitress. Cherie, a young hillbilly woman with aspirations of becoming a night club singer, meanwhile, encounters Beauregard "Bo" Decker, an obnoxious young cowboy who has decided they will marry, whatever Cherie— "Cherry," as he calls her-- may think. Reigning in Decker somewhat are Will Masters, the local sheriff, and Virgil Blessing, Decker's aging mentor. The characters live lives of desperation, but not all of them choose to do so quietly, and in most we can see a glimmer of hope.
Bus Stop originally ran on Broadway from March 2, 1955 to April 21, 1956. It has become a popular play for smaller theatrical companies, and a piece of Americana. The characters retain their believability and familiarity for audiences, even decades later.
Bus Stop has been revived many times, and adapted into an unsuccessful musical, Cherry, in the 1990s. It found its greatest fame, however, as a film.
The 1956 film Bus Stop adapts the source material, with significant changes. Marilyn Monroe selected the project as her first after her studies at the Actors Studio in New York1 Despite elements of comedy, played up by the director, it remains a drama, something of a risky departure for Marilyn, who wanted to establish herself as a serious performer. Joshua Logan directed; he'd had a hit the year before with an adaptation of another Inge play, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic.
The film brings our characters to the diner at the start and returns them there days later, where they play out a comparatively faithful adaptation of the play's final act. In between, however, Bo (Don Murray) and Virgil (Arthur O’Connell) head to a rodeo in Phoenix, Arizona, where they see Cherie performing for drunken cowboys at a joint called the Blue Dragon. Bo immediately identifies her as the angel he seeks for his wife; Virgil thinks she's probably the wrong kind of girl. There follows a braying, rather obnoxious performance by Murray, as he stalks Cherie and she tries to escape. It's not certain how much we're supposed to laugh as Bo goes about roping Cherie like a calf, and generally assuming livestock and women can be conquered in similar fashions. Certainly, the film eventually acknowledges that the boy's methods fall seriously out of line.
I also found Murray's performance out of line, overplayed once too often into caricature. The others fare better. Marilyn brings both strength and vulnerability to Cherie, and an awareness of her character's flaws. She knows she's not the woman Bo sees, and she regrets this slightly. Her best moments occur when the script most closely matches the source material.
We also see a lot of rodeo visuals, suited to cinescope
, but not consistently related to the story. New supporting characters-- mainly, Cherie's fellow club girls-- play small parts, while key figures from the stage drama do not appear at all.
The film received nominations for numerous awards and proved a hit. Bus Stop remains a key performance of Marilyn Monroe's. Contemporary viewers may find the movie overall has not dated so well as the original play.
In 1961, ABC adapted the play and movie to a television series. Inge served as script consultant. Cherie and Bo were not series regulars. Rather, they appeared in the sixth episode, "Cherie," played by Tuesday Weld and Gary Lockwood. "Cherie" adapts the play more faithfully than the 1956 film. Otherwise, the show features the town regulars from the source material—including Virgil Blessing—but usually focuses on other characters entirely.
Bus Stop, then, served up a grittier version of Route 66 with the premise reversed. Instead of the regulars turning up in various towns and interacting with the local drama, travelers brought their drama to Sunrise, Colorado. The show never found a large enough audience, though it received some positive responses from viewers and critics.
People remember it now—when it all—for a handful of episodes that often jarred audience expectations and/or featured notable contributors. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. penned one episode, while future star Robert Redford turned up in another.
"A Lion Walks Among Us," one of eight episodes directed by Robert Altman, sparked controversy and brought the show attention from a Congressional hearing into television violence. Adapted from Tom Wicker's novel, The Judgment, it casts peachy-keen pop star Fabian as a serial killer and rapist. The story begins with one of the most bizarre pop performance of the early 1960s; our budding psychopath watches as a hip combo screech animal noises, beat the bongo, strum guitar, pluck bass, and tell the tale of a girl who wore a muumuu.
"I Kiss Your Shadow," grafted the characters and setting onto Robert Bloch's short story of that title. Stephen King, in Danse Macabre, nominates it as the most frightening story ever done on TV (238). "...Shadow" concerns a man's reaction to the death of his fiancée in an automobile accident, and takes the series into Twilight Zone territory. Regrettably, it would be the show's last episode. Up against ratings-rustling Bonanza, Bus Stop ended with its first season. Television was going in another direction.
The original play Bus Stop also received a faithful TV adaptation in 1982. It starred Tim Matheson and Margot Kidder.
From Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author to the Beverly Hillbillies
I don't know if anyone else has made this connection before but, having seen it, I cannot unsee it. The Beverley Hillbillies may owe their existence to Bus Stop.
Certainly, I am not the first reviewer, watching the film so many years later, to draw a connection between Murray's broad performance as Bo and Max Baer Jr.'s farcical turn as Jethro Bodine. The influence, however, may be much greater. Cherie, a genuine hillbilly with blonde hair and a curvaceous figure, clearly set the physical type for Ellie May. The patriarch of the Clampett Clan, a man named Jed, dresses in a more worn-out version of the outfit sported by O'Connell as the film's Virgil and by Buddy Ebsen as the TV show's incarnation. Ebsen, of course, would play Jed in The Beverley Hillbillies, one year later and for nine seasons. In terms of tone and genre the two offerings may be miles apart, but pop culture has always cannibalized itself in bizarre ways. Mary Shelley's literary creature becomes the head of a monster family via Boris Karloff, and Inge's realist study of human beings has its most superficial elements served up in the defining 1960s idiotcom.
1. Concerned that she had become typecast, Monroe studied to broaden her range, and gain credibility as a serious actress. During that time in New York, she tried to keep a low profile, and lived with her business partner Milton Greene and his wife. Marilyn frequently babysat their son. How odd a childhood memory is that?