The Little Foxes

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The Little Foxes is a 1939 play by Lillian Hellman. Its title comes from Chapter 2, Verse 15 in 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."


Plot synopsis

The focus is on Southern aristocrat Regina Hubbard Giddens, who struggles for wealth and freedom within the confines of an early 20th century society where a father considered only sons as legal heirs. As a result, her avaricious brothers Benjamin and Oscar are independently wealthy, while she must rely upon her sickly, wheelchair-using husband Horace for financial support.

Regina's brother Oscar has married Birdie, his much-maligned, alcoholic wife, solely to acquire her family's plantation and its cotton fields. Oscar now wants to join forces with his brother, Benjamin, to construct a cotton mill. They approach their sister with their need for an additional $75,000 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. When Regina asks Horace outright for the money, he refuses, so Leo, a bank teller, is pressured into stealing his uncle Horace's railroad bonds from the bank's safety 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 suffers 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 and she acquires 75% ownership in the cotton mill. 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 her 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.

Original Broadway production

The play premiered on February 15, 1939 at the National Theatre and ran for 410 performances. In addition to Bankhead as Regina Giddens, the opening night cast included Carl Benton Reid as Oscar, Charles Dingle as Benjamin, Frank Conroy as Horace, Patricia Collinge as Birdie, Dan Duryea as Leo, and Florence Williams as Alexandra. The production was produced and directed by Herman Shumlin. Eugenia Rawls replaced Williams later in the run.

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