When it comes to the great female characters of 20th century drama, certain ladies come to mind. Blanche DuBois with her infamous streetcar and Maggie the Cat on that hot tin roof from Mr. Williams, while Mr. Albee gave us Agnes (A Delicate Balance) and Martha, who turned out to be afraid of Virginia Woolf, among them.
Lillian Hellman gave us the greatest one written by a female playwright in Regina Giddens from The Little Foxes. A triumvirate of icons (Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor) have essayed the role, with the Davis performance captured in the 1941 film. Regina is listed as one of the greatest villains in American film by the American Film Institute. The story is one of greed, treachery, and what some might call evil.
Bette Davis played her as an all-out bitch, which Regina undoubtedly was. Her bottle of poison was clearly marked with a skull and crossbones. On the other hand, Elizabeth Taylor’s Regina was a Southern Belle, flirtatious and coquettish, who poured her venom from a cut glass decanter. It’s a true shame her performance was not recorded. Seeing it at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans, I recall how the audience sat in complete silence when Ms. Taylor’s Regina shed that veneer to reveal her true self. Chilling.
The title was supposedly suggested to Ms. Hellman by Dorothy Parker, taken from Song of Solomon 2:15. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” As a title card following that quote at the beginning of the movie states, “Little foxes have lived in all times, in all places. This family happened to live in the deep South in the year 1900.”
We have a skulk of foxes we can observe today. Like Regina and her brothers, they are not content, much less happy, with what they have. They want more. They will seemingly do anything to get it. Caught in their lies and hypocrisy, they have no shame.
As Addie, the black maid and conscience of the play, says, “They’re people that eats up the whole earth…like in the Bible with the locusts. Then they’re people that stand round and watch them do it.” These latter folks come in flocks, rather than skulks.
Cole Porter described this not-so-brave new world in which we are currently residing in “Anything Goes” when he said, “The world has gone mad today and good’s bad today, and black’s white today, and day’s night today.” In these not-so-United States, we’ve got the still pandemic COVID, an investigation into the insurrection, a democracy-ish under attack from one party and ineffectually defended by the other. Not to mention climate change (a global issue), a broken electric grid (at least in Texas), rising wealth inequality (which has long-term implications for its short-term beneficiaries). And Glenn Close still doesn’t have an Oscar.
Attorney General Merrick Garland gave a speech last week with assurances that “all January 6 perpetrators at any level [would be] accountable under the law.” But it’s that any level thing that’s the sticking point. Sure, Steve Bannon got indicated for contempt of Congress, but what about Mark Meadows? And God’s nightgown, man, if you’re concerned with contempt of Congress, half the country will be up on criminal charges.
I, for one, wasn’t assured, appeased, or even mollified. It struck me that the qualities and talents associated with being effective on the Supreme Court (to which Garland was nominated) and those necessary for being a successful Attorney General have a limited intersection. I wish I had more evidence to justify additional confidence in him, but I’ve grown quite used to folks who don’t do what they say or say what they do. After all, I’ve been an American for a very long time.
Those tender grapes that today’s little foxes are trampling might very well become the grapes of wrath in another harvest, as Stuart Chase suggested.
Back to Regina. For those who haven’t seen the movie, see it. It’s on YouTube and possibly one of the streaming services. I’m telling you, it’s worth it just to hear Bette Davis say, “I hope you die. I hope you die soon. I’ll be waiting for you to die.” Evil, I’m telling you. Straight up evil.