The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck (1908)

A blue cover with the words: “THE BLUE BIRD” in the center.  Below this: “Revised January 1975.”  There is a signature on the cover, first name George, last name not legible.  Below that, upside down, is an address for Glen C Gordon. 1714 N [illegible], Hollywood, California.

In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Nobel-winning Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck wrote a number of influential plays, poems, and essays. One such play was The Blue Bird, a story of two children who seek the "Blue Bird of Happiness" in an effort to escape the pain they see around them. The play was first staged in Moscow in 1908.  It was well-received and successful in its day and went on to be filmed a number of times throughout the 20th century, the first time in 1918 as a legendary silent movie by Maurice Tourneur.   In 1940, The Blue Bird was filmed again, this time with Shirley Temple in the lead role.  The film's producers hoped this version of the story would have a similar reception to The Wizard of Oz, which had been released the year before, but the film could not ultimately live up to that standard.  Decades later, in 1976, another version of the story was filmed, this time with a script by Hugh Whitemore, Alfred Hayes, and Aleksei Kapler.  The film boasted an all-star cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda, and Cecily Tyson.  This version of The Blue Bird was the first official co-production between the United States and the Soviet Union, and it was shot in Moscow and Leningrad.  Perhaps predictably, the combination of USA and USSR cast and crew was not a natural marriage of cultures, and the production was famed for its inefficiency and difficulty. The American and Soviet crews disagreed on filmmaking methods, and the Americans found the food and living conditions in the Soviet Union to be very challenging.  One actor, James Coco, had so much trouble with the food that he suffered a gall bladder attack and had to be replaced, while Elizabeth Taylor struggled with amoebic dysentery throughout the shoot.    

Among the Maurice Maeterlinck materials in the Patrick Mahoney Collection (M12), is a copy of Hugh Whitemore's The Blue Bird manuscript. The pages are marked with notes and changes throughout. Along with the manuscript is a "Call Sheet" from the film production, which shows dates and times for character preparation, filming, and a meal schedule. 

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Text by Andrew Rhodes, Special Collections Specialist.