Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Hardcover)

Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? By Philip Gefter Cover Image

Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Hardcover)


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"Very smart and entertaining . . . dishy-yet-earnest . . . Gefter shows why Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hit the '60s like a torpedo."-NPR, Fresh Air

“Raucous, unpredictable, wild, and affecting.”-Entertainment Weekly

An award-winning writer reveals the behind-the-scenes story of the provocative play, the groundbreaking film it became, and how two iconic stars changed the image of marriage forever.

From its debut in 1962, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a wild success and a cultural lightning rod. The play transpires over one long, boozy night, laying bare the lies, compromises, and scalding love that have sustained a middle-aged couple through decades of marriage. It scandalized critics but magnetized audiences. Across 644 sold-out Broadway performances, the drama demolished the wall between what could and couldn't be said on the American stage and marked a definitive end to the I Love Lucy 1950s.

Then, Hollywood took a colossal gamble on Albee's sophisticated play-and won. Costarring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the sensational 1966 film minted first-time director Mike Nichols as industry royalty and won five Oscars. How this scorching play became a movie classic-surviving censorship attempts, its director's inexperience, and its stars' own tumultuous marriage-is one of the most riveting stories in all of cinema.

Now, acclaimed author Philip Gefter tells that story in full for the first time, tracing Woolf from its hushed origins in Greenwich Village's bohemian enclave, through its tormented production process, to its explosion onto screens across America and a permanent place in the canon of cinematic marriages. This deliciously entertaining book explores how two couples-one fictional, one all too real-forced a nation to confront its most deeply held myths about relationships, sex, family, and, against all odds, love.

Philip Gefter is the author of What Becomes a Legend Most: The Biography of Richard Avedon; Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, which received the 2014 Marfield Prize for arts writing; and an essay collection, Photography After Frank. He is a regular contributor to the New Yorker's Photobooth, Aperture, and the New York Times, where he was an editor and photography critic for over fifteen years. Gefter produced the award-winning documentary, Bill Cunningham: New York. He lives in New York City.
Product Details ISBN: 9781635579628
ISBN-10: 1635579627
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: February 13th, 2024
Pages: 368
Language: English

“A lively, well-researched book that displays great affection for the film and the highly gifted and vastly troublesome people who made it.” —Glenn Frankel, Washington Post

“Delicious . . . unapologetically obsessive . . . [Gefter gets] to the marrow: of male ego, rushing into new projects with hubris and jostling for posterity.” —New York Times Book Review

“Good, harrowing fun . . . Just as the extreme nature of George and Martha's all-night brawl helps us to understand all marriages, the antics of Liz and Dick and Mike and Ernie reveal the love-hate dynamic that's common to all artistic collaborations.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Charming . . . filled with enjoyable anecdotes and recollections of how Hollywood accidentally makes great movies from time to time.” —The New Republic

“In this well researched and deliciously dishy new book, Philip Gefter explores the world that shaped Albee and how he used it to develop his great work, and follows the ups and downs involved in creating the film-Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were just the beginning!-to paint an incredible picture of the creative process among some of the brightest minds of their time.” —Town & Country

“Raucous, unpredictable, wild, and affecting.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Multilayered and eminently revisitable (like the play and the film), Gefter's wonderful book helps readers reevaluate vis-a`-vis values prevalent half a century later.” —Library Journal, starred review

“A cinematic history of an explosive portrayal of marriage . . . [Gefter] takes a deep dive into the genesis, making, and reception of the movie, from its 1962 beginnings on Broadway (the first three-acter for playwright Edward Albee) to its transformation into the acclaimed movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton . . . Gefter offers a close reading of the movie to support his assessment of it as 'era-defining' . . . A penetrating examination of a bold film.” —Kirkus Reviews

“[An] erudite study . . . Gefter persuasively credits the film with setting the template for more bracing Hollywood depictions of love after romance's first blush. This will renew readers' admiration for the classic film and its source material.” —Publishers Weekly

“Very smart and entertaining . . . dishy-yet-earnest . . . Gefter shows why Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? hit the '60s like a torpedo.” —NPR, Fresh Air

“[Gefter] virtuosically plumbs the depths of Albee's masterwork and its cultural impact . . . Cocktails with George and Martha offers a gimlet-eyed interpretation of Albee's play, and by book's end, readers should be fully behind Gefter's submission that Virginia Woolf challenged 'the hypocrisies of mainstream America, herald[ed] the sexual revolution, and register[ed] an entirely new psychological dimension to the public discourse.” —Shelf Awareness

“Gefter filters the limelight cast on, and by, iconic personalities into a kind of granular beam. Irradiating long-archived details, he interrogates monumentalized reputations up close, weighs the bad and good in a crumbling studio system, and explores the movie's influences and origins.” —Air Mail

“Terrific! With a dynamically deft touch, Philip Gefter chronicles how a uniquely volatile mix of timing, talent, pressure, and passion turned a landscape-altering play into a cinematic detonation. Savor this juicy bit of time travel, because we'll never see the likes of these people and these circumstances again.” —Steven Soderbergh, Academy Award-winning filmmaker

“The high-stakes film adaptation of Edward Albee's famous play was turbocharged by the real-life chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They were the perfect couple to play the shockingly honest George and Martha. This book vividly captures the realities of marriage, onscreen and off, taking the reader into the fraught fictional world of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as well as its stars' famously passionate and volatile relationship.” —Kate Andersen Brower, #1 New York Times-bestselling writer and author of ELIZABETH TAYLOR: THE GRIT AND GLAMOUR OF AN ICON

“A finely detailed, step-by-step, sometimes day-by-day account of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - from the play to the movie and beyond. I thought I knew this story already, but Philip Gefter's book is full of surprising twists, startling quotes, and striking insights. Many marriages are examined: not just George and Martha, of course, and Liz and Dick, but the intimate, radioactive partnership of a hungry writer-producer and a rising young director. This is a wonderfully readable work of cultural history, sexual politics, and social comedy.” —Christopher Bram, author of EMINENT OUTLAWS: THE GAY WRITERS WHO CHANGED AMERICA

“With a critical acumen as keen as his eye for a juicy anecdote, Philip Gefter goes spelunking into the deep history of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a work that would scandalize audiences and transform two artistic mediums during a pivotal four-year stretch of the mid-twentieth century. No one who's interested in the history of theater, film, media censorship, or good old-fashioned celebrity gossip should miss the chance to read this book.” —Dana Stevens, author of CAMERA MAN: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century