Fortune and Men's Eyes
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|Fortune and Men's Eyes|
VHS cover for the film
|Directed by||Harvey Hart|
|Produced by||Lester Persky|
Lewis M. Allen
|Written by||John Herbert|
|Music by||Galt MacDermot|
|Edited by||Douglas Robertson|
Plot of the Play
The plot follows Smitty, a 17 year old, after he is sentenced to 6 months in a youth reformatory. His cellmates are Rocky, a "dangerous and unpredictable" 19 year old serving time for stealing a car from his male lover, Mona, an 18 or 19 year old who is sentenced for making a homosexual pass at a group of boys, and Queenie, a flamboyant homosexual serving time for robbing an old woman. The only other character who appears onstage is a Prison Guard.
Smitty, who asserts that he is heterosexual, seems to get along with his new cellmates quickly. Queenie, who has friends amongst the "politicians" of the prison, informs him of what to expect, and warns that Mona has been gang raped because he didn't have an "old man" looking out for him. Rocky later manipulates Smitty into becoming his sexual subordinate by threatening to arrange a similar treatment for him if he refuses. Smitty tries to make the best of his new situation, and he learns that Rocky knows a secret about the Guard taking a bribe, which he uses to subjugate him as needed. Smitty also learns of further horrors to which uncooperative inmates can be subject. Queenie encourages Smitty to beat up Rocky and spread the news so he can win a better protector from amongst the "politicians" in the guard house, which is really to Queenie's own benefit more than Smitty's. At Christmastime, the inmates prepare to perform in a pageant: Queenie has planned a drag act, and Mona intends to read Shakespeare. Mona's act is rejected at the last minute, and Smitty uses the information he knows to get the guard to leave him alone with Mona while everyone else attends the show. Mona admits he was falsely accused of the crime for which he is serving time, and Smitty admits unhappiness that Queenie is now choosing his lovers for him. Smitty makes an offer to become Mona's "old man" which Mona refuses. Smitty becomes upset, but Mona comforts him with Shakespeare's poem When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes. The two are laughing and embracing when Queenie and Rocky return from the pageant: Rocky and Queenie immediately begin to beat Mona, accusing him of making a sexual advance on Smitty. The Guard takes Mona away to be tortured, despite Smitty's pleas. Angrily, Smitty threatens both Queenie and Rocky, establishing himself as the new dominant male in the cell. The play ends with Smitty listening to Mona's punishment offstage and swearing to "pay them back." 
The title comes from William Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, which begins with the line "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes". It has been translated into 40 languages and produced in over 100 countries. It is the most published Canadian play, and won the Dominion Drama Festival's Massey Award in 1968, which Herbert refused, and the Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award in 1975.
The play was inspired in part by Herbert's own experience; he spent four months imprisoned in a youth reformatory after having been convicted of wearing drag in 1947. The character of Queenie in the play is an authorial self-insertion.
Herbert encountered difficulties in getting the play staged. After being rejected by several directors, Herbert, on the recommendation of Robertson Davies, who frequented the University Club at which Herbert worked as a waiter, sent the script to Douglas Campbell at the Stratford Festival. Campbell accepted the play for the festival's young actors workshop and assigned it to Bruno Gerussi to direct, but the Stratford Festival's board of directors forbade the production from being staged publicly.
Herbert sent a copy of the play to renowned Canadian theatre critic Nathan Cohen, who replied
I hope you understand that there's not a chance in the world of this getting a professional production in Canada. I've taken the liberty of sending it to a producer of my acquaintance in New York and, of course, promise nothing.
Cohen recommended the play to Broadway press agent David Rothenberg, who in turn recommended it to Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman workshopped the play at the New York Actors Studio in 1966, taking the role of Rocky, while Jon Voight played Smitty.
In 1967 the play, produced by Rothenberg, premiered off-Broadway at the Actors Playhouse from 23 February 1967 to January 1968. Reviews were initially mixed, and many reviewers were shocked by the subject matter. Reviewer Herbert Whittaker wrote in The Globe and Mail that the play was "the art of washing our dirty linen in the neighbor's yard." Cohen wrote in the Toronto Star that the play "lifts the carpet and shows what is underneath", and that "It asks deeply disturbing questions about long-established personal and social assumptions. It does not enrich our vision. It undermines it."
The play toured to Chicago, San Francisco and Montreal and ran for 15 weeks at the Central Library Theatre in Toronto.
In 1969, the play was produced and directed by Sal Mineo at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles. Don Johnson played the lead role of Smitty and Michael Greer played the role of Queenie, Smitty's cellmate. Mineo took the role of Rocky. This production garnered more critical approval, but included additional scenes which were not approved by John Herbert.
Cast of the Film
- Wendell Burton as Smitty
- Michael Greer as Queenie
- Zooey Hall as Rocky
- Danny Freedman as Mona
- Larry Perkins as Screwdriver
- James Barron as Holy Face Peters
- Lázaro Pérez as Catso
- Jon Granik as Sgt. Gritt
- Tom Harvey as Warden Gasher
- Hugh Webster as Rabbit
- Kirk McColl as Guard Sullivan
- Vance Davis as Sailor
- Robert Goodier as Doctor
- Cathy Wiehl as Cathy
- Georges Allard as Fiddler
- Modesto as One-Eye
- Michel Gilbert as Young Prisoner
- Robert Saab as Piano Player
- A. Zevotouman as Drummer
- John Herbert, Fortune and Men's Eyes. Grove Press, New York, 1967.
- "UW acquires Herbert archives". Waterloo Chronicle. 2 June 1982. p. 17. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
- John Herbert at the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia.
- "That Man's Scope: John Herbert now". The Body Politic, Vol 10 (1973).
- Michaud, Michael Gregg. Sal Mineo: A Biography. Crown Archetype: New York.