A Film by Michael Kantor


Porgy and Bess

Premier: October 10, 1935 Theater: Alvin Theater Music by: George Gershwin Lyrics by: DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin Book by: DuBose Heyward, based on "Porgy" by DuBose Heyward and Dorothy Heyward Directed by: Rouben Mamoulian Produced by: The Theatre Guild

    "Summertime" "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing" "My Man's Gone Now" "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'" "Bess, You Is My Woman" "It Ain't Necessarily So" "I Loves You, Porgy"
In the 1920s, George Gershwin had an ambition to compose an American opera. In 1926, he read a powerful novel by an upper-class white South Carolinian, DuBose Heyward, called PORGY. Written the previous year, it was a series of vignettes of life in a black Charleston ghetto called Catfish Row, where a cripple named Porgy falls blindly in love with a woman named Bess, whose inconstant affections both torment and inflame him. Bess is torn between the rough men of Catfish Row, like Crown, who offers her a more glamorous life, and Porgy, who can only offer her his pure devotion. Eventually, she is lured to New York by Sportin’ Life, a gambler and drug dealer, and Porgy begins a quixotic journey to find her. Having found the source material he was looking for, Gershwin took many years and constant negotiations to put together the team that would develop what he defined as “a folk tale.” But by 1933, Heyward and George’s brother, Ira, were on board to collaborate on the lyrics. George went to South Carolina to study the native Gullah culture and absorbed much of its idiom into his complex “folk opera.”

“Porgy and Bess” opened to mixed reviews and a disappointingly short run — huge for an opera, but meager for a Broadway musical. Chagrined by its reception, both brothers returned to Hollywood. Within the span of two years, George would be dead, stricken by a brain tumor in July 1937.