Okay, here’s a real good one. The more I find out about Carson McCullers (author of the novella), the more I am extremely curious about her…because, after all, I am a curious person. As it turns out, this little love triangle between the woman, the criminal and the hunchback is a bit of a mirror held up to the life of the author. In the spring of 1941, Carson was temporarily reconciled with her husband, Reeves McCullers, and they both fell in love with a composer, David Diamond. Carson had no problem with her husband having an affair with a man; in fact, she encouraged it as she, herself, was bisexual and felt it could be a special kind of bond. However, when the man Reeves was with was also her object of affection, things changed. To put it mildly, it all got a bit complicated and ended with their second separation.
Ten years later, she was in a New York City bar, hanging out with W.H. Auden…as you do. She noticed a couple and proceeded to observe them: "a woman who was tall and strong as a giantess, and at her heels she had a little hunchback." Weeks later, an "illumination," as she calls it, struck her:
"I was still working on ‘Member of the Wedding’ when with a sudden voltage I remembered the hunchback and the giantess. There was a strong impulse to write that story, suspending ‘Member of the Wedding,’ so I went back to Georgia to write ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café.’ It was a torrid summer and I remember the sweat pouring off my face as I typed, worried that I’d broken faith with ‘Member of the Wedding,’ to write this short novel. When I finished the story I jerked it out of the typewriter and handed it to my parents. I walked for several miles while they read, and when I’d come back I could see from their faces that they’d liked it. It was always my father’s favorite work."
I can’t help but wonder if her folks knew her personal inspiration for the story. At the completion of the novella, she told Diamond, "Darling, ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ is for you."
It’s safe to say that this connection wasn’t lost on Albee. After he had gotten the go ahead from McCullers to write the adaptation, he wrote to David Diamond about the idea, presumably feeling him out. Diamond wrote back to him saying that it was a fine idea and Albee was off.
Ah, the theatre.
Your humble dramaturg,