The Little Foxes

The Little Foxes is a 1939 play by Lillian Hellman, considered a classic of 20th century drama. Its title comes from Chapter 2, Verse 15 of the Song of Solomon in the King James version of the Bible, which reads, "Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." Set in a small town in Alabama in 1900, it focuses on the struggle for control of a family business.[1] Tallulah Bankhead starred in the original production as Regina Hubbard Giddens.

The Little Foxes
First edition (1939)
Written byLillian Hellman
  • Regina Giddens
  • Horace Giddens
  • Leo Hubbard
  • Oscar Hubbard
Date premieredFebruary 15, 1939 (1939-02-15)
Place premieredNational Theatre
New York City
Original languageEnglish
SettingAlabama in 1900


The play's focus is Southerner Regina Hubbard Giddens, who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th-century society where fathers considered only sons as their legal heirs. As a result of this practice, while her two avaricious brothers Benjamin and Oscar have wielded the family inheritance into two independently substantial fortunes, she's had to rely upon her manipulation of her cautious, timid, browbeaten husband, Horace. He's no businessman, just her financial support; although he's pliable enough for her ambition, that ambition has driven him into becoming merely the tool of her insatiable greed. He uses a wheelchair.

Her brother Oscar married Birdie, his much-maligned alcoholic wife, solely to acquire her family's plantation and cotton fields. Oscar now wants to join forces with his brother, Benjamin, to construct a cotton mill. They need an additional $75,000 and approach Regina, asking her to invest in the project. Oscar initially proposes marriage between his son Leo and Regina's daughter Alexandra—first cousins—as a means of getting Horace's money, but Horace and Alexandra are repulsed by the suggestion. Horace refuses when Regina asks him outright for the money, so Leo, a bank teller, is pressured into stealing Horace's railroad bonds from the bank's safe deposit box.

Horace, after discovering this, tells Regina he is going to change his will in favor of their daughter, and also will claim he gave Leo the bonds as a loan, thereby cutting Regina out of the deal completely. When he has a heart attack during this chat, she makes no effort to help him. He dies within hours, without anyone knowing his plan and before changing his will. This leaves Regina free to blackmail her brothers by threatening to report Leo's theft unless they give her 75% ownership in the cotton mill (it is, in Regina's mind, a fair exchange for the stolen bonds). The price Regina ultimately pays for her evil deeds is the loss of her daughter Alexandra's love and respect. Regina's actions cause Alexandra to finally understand the importance of not idly watching people do evil. She tells Regina she will not watch her be "one who eats the earth," and abandons her. Having let her husband die, alienated her brothers, and driven away her only child, Regina is left wealthy but completely alone.


The fictional Hubbards in the play are reputedly drawn from Lillian Hellman's Marx relatives. Hellman's mother was Julia Newhouse of Demopolis, Alabama. Julia Newhouse's parents were Leonard Newhouse, a Demopolis wholesale liquor dealer, and Sophie Marx, of a successful Demopolis banking family. According to Hellman, Sophie Marx Newhouse never missed an opportunity to belittle and mock her father for his poor business sense in front of her and her mother. The discord between the Marx and Hellman families was to later serve as the inspiration for the play.[2][3][4]

The title "The Little Foxes" was suggested by Dorothy Parker.

In 1946, Hellman wrote Another Part of the Forest, a prequel chronicling the roots of the Hubbard family.


Eugenia Rawls (Alexandra) and Tallulah Bankhead (Regina) in the Broadway production of The Little Foxes (1939)
Bankhead played every performance of The Little Foxes on Broadway and on tour, and she was angry when Bette Davis was awarded the role of Regina in the 1941 motion picture.[5]:90

Produced and directed by Herman Shumlin, the original Broadway production of The Little Foxes opened February 15, 1939, at the National Theatre. It closed February 3, 1940, running for 410 performances before its two-season tour of the United States.[6][7]


On October 30, 1939, Eugenia Rawls replaced Florence Williams in the role of Alexandra Giddens. Rawls had made her Broadway debut as one of the students in Lillian Hellman's 1934 play, The Children's Hour, which was also produced and directed by Herman Shumlin.[9] Rawls played Alexandra for the rest of the play's Broadway run and the national tour that followed.[8][10]

The 104-city tour of The Little Foxes began February 5, 1940, in Washington, D.C., and ended April 15, 1941, in Philadelphia.[5]


Tallulah Bankhead won Variety magazine's citation as best actress of the 1938–39 Broadway season.[5]:22


Lillian Hellman wrote the screenplay for a 1941 film version, a Samuel Goldwyn production directed by William Wyler. Other contributors to the screenplay included Arthur Kober, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell. The touring production of The Little Foxes went on hiatus for three months during filming, and Patricia Collinge, Charles Dingle, Dan Duryea, John Marriott and Carl Benton Reid all reprised their stage roles in their motion picture debuts. Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall and Teresa Wright star as Regina, Horace and Alexandra Giddens.[11]

The Little Foxes was presented on Philip Morris Playhouse October 10, 1941. The radio adaptation starred Tallulah Bankhead.[12]

In 1949, the play was adapted for an opera entitled Regina by Marc Blitzstein.

George Schaefer produced and directed Robert Hartung's television adaptation of The Little Foxes for the Hallmark Hall of Fame, broadcast December 16, 1956, on NBC. The cast included Greer Garson (Regina), Franchot Tone (Horace), Sidney Blackmer (Ben), E. G. Marshall (Oscar) and Eileen Heckart (Birdie).[13]


Mike Nichols directed a production that opened October 26, 1967, at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, then transferred to the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It ran a total of 100 performances. The cast included Anne Bancroft as Regina, Richard A. Dysart as Horace, Margaret Leighton as Birdie, E.G. Marshall as Oscar, George C. Scott as Benjamin, and Austin Pendleton as Leo. Costume design was by Patricia Zipprodt.[14] In reviewing the production, Time said, "An admirable revival of Lillian Hellman's 1939 play in Lincoln Center demonstrates how securely bricks of character can be sealed together with the mortar of plot. Anne Bancroft, George C. Scott, Richard Dysart and Margaret Leighton are expertly guided by Director Mike Nichols through gilt-edged performances."[15] The production was profiled in the William Goldman book The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway.

Austin Pendleton directed a production at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale for three weeks that transferred to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. for six weeks before opening on Broadway. The production opened on May 7, 1981 at the Martin Beck Theatre for 123 performances and 8 previews. The cast included Elizabeth Taylor as Regina, Tom Aldredge as Horace, Dennis Christopher as Leo, Maureen Stapleton as Birdie, and Anthony Zerbe as Benjamin. Florence Klotz was the costume designer.[16] In a Time article prior to the Broadway opening, Gerald Clarke reported nearly $1 million worth of ticket sales during the week after advertisements announcing Taylor's appearance appeared in The New York Times.[17] Taylor received nominations for both the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play. Tony nominations also went to Pendleton for Best Direction of a Play, Aldredge for Best Featured Actor in a Play, Stapleton for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and the play itself for Best Revival.

A 1997 revival, again at the Vivian Beaumont, ran for 27 previews and 57 performances from April 3 to June 15. Directed by Jack O'Brien, the cast included Stockard Channing as Regina, Kenneth Welsh as Horace, Brian Kerwin as Oscar, Brian Murray as Benjamin, and Frances Conroy as Birdie. Murray was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, and John Lee Beatty was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design.[18]

The production was revived at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, June 3–28, 2009, with Venida Evans, Ron Brice, Deanne Lorette, Brian Dykstra, Fisher Neal, Kathryn Meisle, Einar Gunn, Philip Goodwin, Lindsey Wochley, Bradford Cover, and directed by Matthew Arbour.[19]

Another revival was produced by Cleveland Play House in the 75th anniversary year of the original Broadway production, September 12 - October 5, 2014 in the Allen Theatre (Playhouse Square) in Cleveland, Ohio. The production was directed by Artistic Director Laura Kepley.[20]

Kyle Donnelly directed a revival at Washington, DC's Arena Stage September 23 - October 30, 2016. The cast included Marg Helgenberger, Edward Gero, Isabel Keating, and Jack Willis.[21]

The Manhattan Theatre Club produced a Broadway revival that began previews on March 29, 2017 and opened officially on April 19 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. It starred Laura Linney (who was nominated for a Tony Award - Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play) and Cynthia Nixon who alternated the roles of Regina Giddens and Birdie, with direction by Daniel J. Sullivan. The production team included Scott Pask, Justin Townsend, Jane Greenwood, Fotz Patton, and Tom Watson.[22][23][24] It played its final performance on July 2, 2017.[25]


  1. "The Little Foxes". Theater Scene. September 27, 2011. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved May 28, 2011.
  2. "Demopolis Stories of Hellman and Wyler". The Hellman Wyler Festival. 2009. Archived from the original on July 28, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2011.
  3. "Demopolis: Lillian Hellman". Southern Literary Trail. Retrieved May 28, 2011.
  4. Jason Cannon (March 23, 2011). "Local women's history celebrated". The Demopolis Times. Retrieved May 28, 2011.
  5. Carrier, Jeffrey L. (1991). Tallulah Bankhead: A Bio-bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313274527.:51
  6. "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  7. "News of the Stage". The New York Times. February 3, 1940. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
  8. "The Little Foxes". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  9. "News of the Stage". The New York Times. November 2, 1939. Retrieved 2018-06-30.
  10. "Tallulah and Stage Daughter Look Alike". The Amarillo Globe. January 22, 1941. p. 11.
  11. "The Little Foxes". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  12. "Johnny Presents". Harrisburg Telegraph. October 10, 1941. p. 15. Retrieved July 21, 2015 via
  13. "Hallmark Hall of Fame, Season 6 (1956–57)". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved 2016-09-21.
  14. "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  15. "Review". Time. 10 November 1967. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  16. "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  17. Clarke, Gerald (30 March 1981). "Show Business: The Long Way to Broadway". Time. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  18. "The Little Foxes". Playbill Vault. Retrieved 2014-04-24.
  19. "The Little Foxes". Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. Retrieved 2014-04-22.
  20. "The Little Foxes". Cleveland Play House. Retrieved 2014-08-27.
  21. Gans, Andrew (September 23, 2016). "Marg Helgenberger Stars in The Little Foxes, Beginning Tonight at Arena Stage". Playbill. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  22. Clement, Olivia. "Broadway’s 'The Little Foxes' Begins March 29" Playbill, March 29, 2017
  23. Little Foxes
  24. Clement, Olivia. "Broadway’s 'The Little Foxes' Opens April 19" Playbill, April 19, 2017
  25. Olivia Clemont, | "Broadway's 'The Litle Foxes' Closes July 2nd", Playbill, July 2, 2017.
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