For example, the entire scene with Mrs. Johnson was eliminated from the original stage presentation of Raisin. Another deletion from the complete version was the scene in which Beneatha has cut her hair and is wearing it in the “natural” style that she knows Asagai will admire.
This scene, although very important to Hansberry, was taken out because, just before the show opened, the actress playing the role of Beneatha had inadvertently been given a disastrous haircut, which everyone involved in the production of Raisin felt would have made a negative statement to the audience about Hansberry’s true, positive feelings about the natural hairstyle. The dramatic change in Beneatha’s hairstyle is shown in the complete version, the American Playhouse television presentation.
Another omission from the original stage production, but one which appears in the complete version (and in the American Playhouse presentation), is in the scene in which Travis is playing with a group of neighborhood boys; for sport, they are chasing a rat. Later, Travis is at home, telling his family about the fun he had chasing the rat with his friends.
In each of these scenes which were omitted from the original stage production, Hansberry was attempting to make a deeply felt statement. In the scene with Mrs. Johnson, Hansberry takes a position on the Booker T. Washingron/W. E. B. Du Bois debate, in which Hansberry is clearly siding with Du Bois. Hansberry is also using this scene to poke fun at the blacks who are too fearful of racist reprisals to demand equality.
In the scene where Beneatha unveils the natural look, Hansberry is making a statement on the identity crisis within the black community long before the Afrocentric awakening of the 90s.
In the scene where Travis is chasing a rat for sport, Hansberry is attempting to show the horrors that daily confront the children of the poor.
The screenplay of Raisin (the film was released in 1960) is altered in many ways. In Act I, Scene 1, Walter Lee gives Travis a dollar (that he can ill afford). In the complete version and in the American Playhouse presentation, Walter Lee returns to ask Ruth for fifty cents for carfare to work. This is omitted from the screenplay. In the screenplay, not only does Walter not return, but he is later seen at his job as a chauffeur. In this scene in the screenplay, Walter is standing near his boss’ limousine in a heavily populated metropolitan area. In the stage presentation and even in the complete version (which includes the American Playhouse presentation), Walter talks about going to the Green Hat, a bar that he frequents, but the screenplay version has Mama going to the bar in order to find Walter. In the screenplay, Mama goes to the Green Hat and gives Walter the $6,500 in the bar.
The screenplay also shows the Younger family actually going to their new house in Clybourne Park. Neither the original stage production nor the complete version nor the American Playhouse presentation shows the Younger family in any setting other than their Southside apartment.
A Raisin in the Sun was revised as the musical Raisin and ran on Broadway from October 1973 until December 1975 for 847 performances. It won the Tony and Grammy Awards as Best Musical, and it toured 50 cities. Raisin was so well received that the mayors of the cities and the governors of the states in which it toured often proclaimed the show’s arrival as “Lorraine Hansberry Day.”
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF ORIGINAL CAST
Ruth Younger Ruby Dee
Travis Younger Glynn Turman
Walter Lee Younger (“Brother”) Sidney Poitier
Beneatha Younger Diana Sands
Mama Claudia McNeil
Joseph Asagai Ivan Dixon
George Murchison Louis Gossett
Karl Lindner John Fiedler
Bobo Lonne Elder III
Moving Men Ed Hall, Douglas Turner
Directed by Lloyd Richards
Some of the above actors went on to make their marks in the American theater while others of this group made a lasting impression in Hollywood. All the members of the original cast of A Raisin in the Sun became successful actors, although nearly all of them were unknown when the play opened in 1959.
Ruby Dee (Ruth), the wife of veteran actor Ossie Davis, has received critical acclaim for her many stage performances and has appeared in numerous films, including Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Glynn Turman (Travis) has appeared in numerous Hollywood films and in the weekly television series A Different World, as the on-campus military presence.
Sidney Poitier (Walter Lee) has appeared in numerous Hollywood films, receiving an Academy Award for his performance in Lilies Of The Field, in 1963.
Diana Sands (Beneatha) continued her stellar performances in the legitimate theater until her untimely death at age 39 in 1973. Although she was not known as a Hollywood actress, Sands, just prior to her death, was scheduled for the female lead with James Earl Jones in the movie Claudine, a role that ultimately went to Diahann Carroll.
By the time Claudia McNeil (Mama) had been chosen as the matriarch of the Younger family in Raisin, she had already appeared in Langston Hughes’ Simply Heavenly in 1957 and in Winesburg, Ohio in 1958. Avoiding Hollywood, she continued her work as a stage actress, where she remained a beacon for aspirants to the legitimate theater.
After appearing in Wedding in Japan in 1957 and in Cave Dwellers the same year, Ivan Dixon (Joseph Asagai) landed his role on stage in Raisin in 1959. He appeared in numerous Hollywood films and is perhaps best known for his television role as one of Hogan’s Heroes, the popular 60s sitcom.
Louis Gossett, Jr. (George Murchison) has appeared in numerous Hollywood films, receiving the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982. However, he is best known for his portrayal of “Fiddler” in Alex Haley’s television miniseries Roots.
John Fiedler (Karl Lindner) has enjoyed a lengthy and well-earned reputation as one of this country’s great character actors, appearing in numerous films such as Billy Budd, 1945; The Odd Couple, 1965; and Our Town, 1969.
After his appearance in Raisin in 1959, Lonne Elder III (Bobo) joined the Negro Ensemble Company, a theater company founded by Douglas Turner Ward, one of the moving men in the original stage production of Raisin. In 1965, Lonne Elder appeared in Day of Absence, a very successful Negro Ensemble Company production. Then, in 1967, Lonne Elder’s venture into the realm of playwrighting proved successful when he penned the award-winning Ceremonies in Dark Old Men.
Douglas Turner Ward (Moving Man) founded the Negro Ensemble Company in 1967 with Robert Hooks. A director and actor, he is also well known for his two plays Day of Absence and Happy Ending.
Lloyd Richards, the director of Raisin, was named Dean of the Yale Drama School in 1979.