John Steinbeck: Pipe Dream

(301 words)

A Rodgers and Hammerstein musical comedy based on Sweet Thursday. Steinbeck had written his novel with its eventual adaptation to the stage in mind, but he had no official role in the production. As he attended rehearsals and out-of-town tryouts, however, he became deeply concerned about the entire tone of the show. Accustomed to creating wholesome, family entertainment, Oscar Hammerstein kept revising the libretto to make the material more and more innocuous, even to the point of clouding the fact that Suzy is engaged as a working prostitute at the Bear Flag; in his version, she may simply be rooming there (Morsberger, “Pipe Dream,” 89-90). Steinbeck protested to Hammerstein that “to avoid this fact that Suzy is a hooker is to throw out the only story there is in this particular thing” (Morsberger, “Pipe Dream,” 91). He warned that the show was “in grave danger of mediocrity” because “what emerges now is an old fashioned love story” (Letters, 516-17). However, Steinbeck’s long letters to the producers with detailed, line-by-line suggestions were simply ignored.

The production opened at New York’s Shubert Theatre on November 30, 1955. The reviews, though mixed, were less than enthusiastic and often made exactly the criticisms Steinbeck had anticipated. The show did manage to survive the season, running for a total of 246 performances, but by Rodgers and Hammerstein standards, it could be called a failure. Pipe Dream had the shortest run of any of their productions and lost the most money (Morsberger, “Pipe Dream”, 93). After this experience, which came on the heels of his disappointment with Burning Bright, Steinbeck made no further attempts to write for the stage.

See: Morsberger, Robert E. “Pipe Dream, or Not So Sweet Thursday.” Steinbeck Quarterly 21 (Summer-Fall 1988): 85-96; Steinbeck, John. Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. Ed. Elaine Steinbeck and Robert Wallsten. New York: Viking, 1975.

Meyer, Michael J.. "Pipe Dream". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 24 August 2007
[, accessed 31 August 2015.]