Cast & Crew
One morning, dowdy, middle-aged housewife Lola Delaney eagerly shows Marie Buckholder, an art student at the nearby college, the upstairs bedroom she hopes to let in her two-story house. Marie is noncommital about the room, and after she leaves, Lola's husband "Doc" comes down for breakfast and is put out when Lola mentions that she is looking for a lodger. The soft-spoken, refined Doc, a chiropractor, reminds Lola that despite a year of sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous, he still is vulnerable to stress and does not want a boarder. Doc changes his mind, however, when the effervescent Marie returns and arranges to turn Lola's sunny downstairs sewing room into a live-in studio. Later, Lola attends an AA meeting with Doc, whom she calls "Daddy," and watches with pride as he celebrates his one-year anniversary with the group. At home, after Marie excitedly tells Lola about the letter she received from her boyfriend Bruce, Doc asks his wife not to mention his alcoholism to Marie. As they retire to bed, Lola describes a dream she had about her little dog Sheba, who disappeared some months before. Although the patient Doc reminds her that Sheba was old and had a good life, Lola still yearns for her pet. The next morning, Lola asks Doc to take her to a movie that night, but he demurs, saying that he has needy alcoholics to help. When Lola reveals that Marie has a date with college athlete Turk Fisher, Doc dismisses Turk as a cad. While walking to his office with Marie, Doc admits that he attended a prestigious medical school but was forced to drop out before receiving his degree. Later, at the Delaney house, Lola chats with hard-working neighbor Mrs. Coffman, who advises her to get busy and forget Sheba. Lonely, Lola visits with the mailman, then listens to the radio until Marie and Turk burst in. Lola relinquishes the living room so that Marie can draw Turk in his skimpy track uniform for a poster contest. Once alone, Turk grabs Marie, and she makes a half-hearted attempt to resist his advances. When Doc returns home and sees the half-dressed Turk, he complains to Lola, but she defends Turk and Marie's relationship as harmless. Confused and upset, Doc escapes to the bathroom and sniffs Marie's lilac-scented bath powders. Later, Turk invites Marie to go dancing, prompting Lola to reminisce with Doc about their youth. Lola happily recalls her popularity in high school and the first time the shy and proper Doc kissed her, then asks him if he regrets that he had to marry her and leave school because she got pregnant. Doc reassures Lola, who lost the baby and could not have more, noting that because of his drinking, he missed many opportunities to improve their lot. After Doc drives off with fellow recovered alcoholics Elmo Huston and Ed Anderson, Lola calls plaintively for Sheba. Sometime later, Lola cleans the house in anticipation of a visit from Bruce and persuades Doc to dance with her in the living room. Once again, Turk and Marie interrupt, claiming they need to study, and Doc leaves the room, seething. Turk and Marie begin to kiss, while upstairs, Doc criticizes Lola for admitting that she sometimes "watches" the young couple. Doc leaves on AA business, and Turk, who senses the older man's hostility, insists to Marie that he is jealous. Marie, however, dismisses Turk's concerns and agrees to come back to the house with him after the Delaneys have gone to bed. When they do return, they fail to notice Doc, who was come in through the kitchen door and is observing them in the dark. Marie soon has second thoughts about the tryst and resists Turk's aggressive advances, while Doc, unnerved, retreats to the kitchen, staring longingly at the whiskey bottle that Lola keeps for special occasions. Though tempted, Doc goes to bed in a sweat, unaware that Turk has exited through Marie's window in frustrated disgust. The next morning, while setting the dining room table for that night's dinner with Bruce, Lola tells Marie about her overly strict father, who disowned her after she married Doc. His anxiety unabated, Doc then leaves for work with the whiskey bottle tucked under his raincoat. Just before Bruce arrives, Marie confides in Lola, who has gotten dressed up and prepared a fancy meal, that she has decided to marry him. When Lola goes to fix a cocktail for Bruce, she discovers the missing whiskey and quietly panics. After calling Ed for help and making excuses for Doc's absence, Lola serves the young couple dinner. Hours later, Doc stumbles back home, drunk, and replaces the whiskey bottle. Lola confronts him, but he denies he has been drinking and asks about Marie. When Lola reveals that Marie has been out all night with Bruce, Doc explodes, calling Marie and Lola "sluts." Unleashing his pent-up rage, Doc accuses Lola of being fat and lazy and threatens her with a knife. Doc then starts to choke Lola, but passes out just as Mrs. Coffman arrives with Ed and Elmo, who take Doc to the hospital to dry out. At the hospital the next day, Lola hears a delirious Doc muttering the words "pretty Lola" and cries with shame. Back at home, Lola telephones her mother and tearfully asks to visit, but is refused by her father. When Doc finally is discharged, Lola greets him lovingly and tells him that Bruce and Marie have married. Moved, Doc begs for forgiveness and compliments Lola on the improvements she has made to the kitchen. After assuring him that she intends to be a better wife, Lola fixes his breakfast and recalls the "crazy dream" she had. At the end of the dream, she says, she discovered Sheba dead and now realizes that she has to go on with life. Doc concurs, stating, "It's good to be home."
Joseph H. Hazen
James Wong Howe
Best Supporting Actress
Come Back, Little Sheba
It also had Shirley Booth in the role for which she won Tony and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, Lola Delaney, on the wrong side of frumpiness, hiding with a desperate upbeat manner her fear of no longer being loved. Daniel Mann, her stage director, also was making his film debut. Booth won an Oscar. Terry Moore, as the young coed who rents a room in their house and upsets the equilibrium with a libido never quite hidden by her ponytail, bobby sox or cheeriness, got a Supporting Actress nomination. Lancaster's role as Lola's emotionally stifled chiropractor husband, is not the kind of role that wins Oscars. He's a character others push off from on their way to Oscars. His nickname, Doc, is part of what's eating him. Every time he's addressed by it, he hears reproach. His shotgun wedding to a pregnant Lola forced him to drop out of medical school and settle for not becoming a "real" doctor. It also has turned his life into a lifelong struggle with alcoholism.
At first Hollywood wondered why Lancaster sought the role of such a recessive character, a loser. Part of the reason was that the '50s were a time of repression, and Doc slotted neatly and credibly into the zeitgeist. Lancaster was a complex man. As an actor he was largely self-taught in a period when his postwar competition came from the star pupils of New York's Actors Studio and Neighborhood Playhouse - Jimmy Dean, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando (to whom he lost the Stanley Kowalski role in the stage version of A Streetcar Named Desire). Booth shushed disparagers of Lancaster by recalling him phoning her at 3 a.m. with questions about a scene and predicted that one day he'd be a great actor. Lancaster later said Booth was the greatest actress he'd ever worked with.
She made the jump from stage to screen look easy, scoring most of Lola's points with nervous fluttering, a too-eager-to-please manner, and too many smiles at odds with the panic in her eyes. Lancaster, by contrast, plays Doc as a man who has imploded. Except for one scene when he falls off the wagon, he's impeccably polite, but almost frighteningly remote. Repeatedly, he tells Lola that despite the loss of their infant, they can't be imprisoned in the past; that they've got to move on. Yet even though she keeps dreaming of their lost little dog that gives the play and film its title, he's the one who seems stuck, immobile. The catalyst for possibly breaking their ice-jam is another new surrogate daughter -- Moore. She looks like one of the Archie comics crowd, but Inge's take on her (and screenwriter Ketti Frings', and Moore's) is more sophisticated than that. Moore's Marie may look the innocent, and behave like it, but she's more complex, too self-aware to be out of touch with her own sexual appetites, or to do something about satisfying them. Before she says yes to the nice young man she's stringing along at home, she means to sow a few wild oats with a coarse, self-satisfied but undeniably virile BMOC (Richard Jaeckel, who went on to a long career playing mostly bad guys). Her presence and the traces of scent she leaves behind after bathing, awaken long-dormant feelings in Doc. He of course is too repressed to take them beyond anything more than fatherly solicitude, or grumpy curtness when she gets too close for his comfort level. The terrifying thing about her is not her wantonness, but the unerring bourgeois calculus that governs her choice of eventual mate.
Besides, Lancaster is on to something in himself. He made affecting contact with the passive side of a mob hit target in his breakthrough film, The Killers (1946), and with the downward spiral of the railroaded athletic great in Jim Thorpe - All American (1951). He crumbles well, obviously sensed it early on, and used it when appropriate. He also projects emotional remoteness well, here most tellingly when Booth harmlessly remarks that she's pooped, and he coldly replies, "Don't use that word, Honey. It seems vulgar," drawing psychic blood by reminding his wife of the social gulf between them. During the shoot, Booth once told him, "Burt, once in a while you hit a note of truth and you can hear a bell ring. But most of the time I can see the wheels turning and your brain working."
Think ahead to Lancaster's etched-in-acid caricature of Walter Winchell in Sweet Smell of Success (1957), and you realize the most frightening thing about the powerful gossip columnist wasn't his viciousness, but his coldness. Think about the connection between his self-smothered Doc in Come Back, Little Sheba, his victim in The Killers, his study in decline of Jim Thorpe, his patient lifer in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and his aging small-time mobster obsessed with Susan Sarandon in Atlantic City (1980), and it becomes clear that this side of Lancaster's complex screen persona achieves something few American actors do as they recycle their star personas year after year. Lancaster was able to bring us inside a man's interior life.
By Jay Carr
Broadway actress Shirley Booth won both a Tony and a New York Drama Critics Award for her portrayal of a slatternly housewife in William Inge's play Come Back, Little Sheba (1950). She recreated the role of Lola Delaney in the film version of Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), and won an Academy Award® for her performance. It was an impressive film debut for Booth. And equally impressive was Burt Lancaster's performance as Lola's defeated alcoholic husband, Doc, which for the first time gave him credibility as a serious actor.
Inge's "kitchen sink" drama explores the troubled marriage and faded dreams of a middle-aged couple, which reach a crisis when a sexy young student becomes a boarder in their home. Booth was 45 when she made the film, about the same age as her character. Lancaster was a young 39, virile and physically fit. A former circus acrobat, Lancaster had played mostly action heroes since his film debut in The Killers (1946). His latest film, The Crimson Pirate (1952), was a swashbuckler, starring Lancaster as an athletic buccaneer. According to Lancaster, he begged producer Hal Wallis for the chance to play Doc. Other sources say it was director Michael Curtiz, who had worked with Lancaster in the biographical film, Jim Thorpe -- All-American (1951) who suggested him for the role. (Thorpe was a Native American star athlete whose life was ruined by alcoholism.) Wallis liked the idea of casting Lancaster in Come Back, Little Sheba for box office insurance, but the producer wasn't sure Lancaster could handle the role. Lancaster offered to test for the part, and did so, wearing no makeup and a frumpy suit, his hair plastered down.
Once cast, Lancaster threw himself into the role, wearing sloppy clothes, padding, and unflattering makeup, and adopting a shuffling, stooped walk. The normally confident actor was somewhat in awe of the stage-trained Booth. According to Kate Buford's biography, Burt Lancaster, An American Life, he was so immersed in the character that he would call Booth at three in the morning to explain a scene to him. "Don't sell him short," Booth told someone who had scoffed at Lancaster as "a gymnast." "One day he'll be a great actor." Booth herself had some problems on the film. She had played the part so many times on the stage that it was an effort to tone down her theatrical performance and stage gestures for the film.
In the end, their efforts paid off. Booth received rave reviews, and while there were a few swipes at Lancaster ("Burt Lancaster, far outside his normal range of habits, manages to give off an air of infinite repose, like a statue of Lincoln in a public park," according to the New Leader), most were pleasantly surprised. John McCarten wrote in the New Yorker, " To my astonishment and delight...a man I've always associated with the acrobats...is highly effective." Lancaster's tongue-in-cheek comment was, "Alas, for the first time since I can remember, I was called on to really act. Bear with me." But he was proud of his achievement, and of what he called "extraordinarily interesting reviews for the first time." For much of his career, Lancaster would continue to show his versatility, alternating between crowd-pleasing action roles, and the serious performances that would win him an Academy Award for Elmer Gantry (1960), and nominations for From Here to Eternity (1953), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), and Atlantic City (1980).
Making his debut as a film director on Come Back, Little Sheba was Daniel Mann, who had directed the stage version. Mann would go on to direct such films as The Rose Tattoo (1955), I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), and Our Man Flint (1966). Terry Moore, who usually played ingénues or sexpots, was cast as the student who disrupts the lives of Lola and Doc in Come Back, Little Sheba. It was the best performance of a mediocre career, and earned her an Academy Award® nomination as Best Supporting Actress. Editor Warren Low was also nominated for his work.
Director: Daniel Mann
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay: Ketti Frings, based on the play by William Inge
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Editor: Warren Low
Costume Design: Edith Head
Art Direction: Henry Bumstead, Hal Pereira
Music: Franz Waxman
Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Doc Delaney), Shirley Booth (Lola Delaney), Terry Moore (Marie Buckholder), Richard Jaeckel (Turk Fisher), Philip Ober (Ed Anderson), Lisa Golm (Mrs. Coffman), Walter Kelley (Bruce).
BW-96m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
Come Back, Little Sheba
According to a June 1950 Hollywood Reporter news item, Paramount bought the rights to William Inge's play for $100,000, plus a percentage of the profits. Both Sidney Blackmer and Shirley Booth, who created the roles of "'Doc'" and "Lola" on the stage, were considered for the film, according to the Hollywood Reporter item, but only Booth was cast. Come Back, Little Sheba marked the screen debuts of Booth and director Daniel Mann. According to an October 1951 Variety news item, producer Hal Wallis considered casting Bette Davis as Lola when Booth appeared unavailable because of Broadway commitments. Modern sources note that Davis turned down the role. Booth, who won a Tony for her Broadway portrayal of Lola, also won a Best Actress Academy Award and was named best actress of 1952 by the New York Critics Circle. In March 1952, according to a New York Times item, Booth signed a three-picture contract with Wallis. Booth, who was in her mid-forties when she made Come Back, Little Sheba, appeared in only four more pictures. Her last screen role was in Paramount's 1958 release Hot Spell . In the early 1960s, she starred in the popular television series Hazel.
According to modern sources, Burt Lancaster persuaded Wallis to cast him as Doc, even though, at age thirty-eight, he was too young for the part. In his autobiography, Wallis commented that in order to make the trim and muscular Lancaster appear older, his baggy, shapeless costume was padded at the waist and he was instructed to stoop, hollow his chest and shuffle his feet. Critics praised Lancaster's performance. The Hollywood Reporter reviewer commented that it was a "complete switch from anything he has ever done and easily the outstanding effort of his career," while the Variety critic declared that the actor had "brought an unsupected talent" to the role.
The following actors were listed by the CBCS, but their roles were not included in the final film: Peter Leeds (Milkman), Anthony Jochim (Mr. Cruthers), Henry Blair (Western Union boy) and Beverly Mook (Judy Coffman). According to a February 1952 New York Herald Tribune article, scenes were added for the screen adaptation, including the sequence at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Although the article states that scenes of Doc at work would be added, the final film does not include any office sequences. Hollywood Reporter news items add Mary Murphy and Patricia Christie to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Another Hollywood Reporter news item mentioned that Vince Edwards was being tested for a role, but he was not in the fil, Reviews and the CBCS list Terry Moore's character as "Marie Loring," but she is called "Marie Buckholder" in the picture. According to modern sources, location filming took place near the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.
In addition to Booth's Oscar, the film was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Terry Moore) and Best Film Editing Academy Awards. Modern sources note that the picture earned 3.5 million dollars at the box office and was the number thirteen money-maker of 1953. On December 31, 1977, the NBC network, in association with Great Britain's Granada Television, broadcast a televised version of Inge's play, starring and produced by Laurence Olivier and co-starring Joanne Woodward.
Released in United States October 1996
Released in United States on Video May 30, 1991
Released in United States Winter February 1953
Released in United States Winter February 1953
Released in United States on Video May 30, 1991
Released in United States October 1996 (Shown in New York City (American Museum of the Moving Image) as part of program: Hollywood Independents: Wallis-Hazin Productions" October 12-27, 1996.)