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Philip Gefter

Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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An award-winning writer reveals the behind-the-scenes story of the provocative play, the groundbreaking film it became, and how two iconic stars changed the image of marriage forever.

From its debut in 1962, Edward Albee's 
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a wild success and a cultural lightning rod. The play transpires over one long, boozy night, laying bare the lies, compromises, and scalding love that have sustained a middle-aged couple through decades of marriage. It scandalized critics but magnetized audiences. Across 644 sold-out Broadway performances, the drama demolished the wall between what could and couldn't be said on the American stage and marked a definitive end to the I Love Lucy 1950s.

Then, Hollywood took a colossal gamble on Albee's sophisticated play-and won. Costarring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the sensational 1966 film minted first-time director Mike Nichols as industry royalty and won five Oscars. How this scorching play became a movie classic-surviving censorship attempts, its director's inexperience, and its stars' own tumultuous marriage-is one of the most riveting stories in all of cinema.

Now, acclaimed author Philip Gefter tells that story in full for the first time, tracing 
Woolf from its hushed origins in Greenwich Village's bohemian enclave, through its tormented production process, to its explosion onto screens across America and a permanent place in the canon of cinematic marriages. This deliciously entertaining book explores how two couples-one fictional, one all too real-forced a nation to confront its most deeply held myths about relationships, sex, family, and, against all odds, love.

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Editorial Reviews

“[An] erudite study . . . Gefter persuasively
credits the film with setting the template for more bracing Hollywood depictions of love after romance's first blush. This will renew readers' admiration for the classic film and its source material.” Publishers Weekly

“A cinematic history of an explosive portrayal of marriage . . . [Gefter] takes a deep dive into the genesis, making, and reception of the movie, from its 1962 beginnings on Broadway (the first three-acter for playwright Edward Albee) to its transformation into the acclaimed movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and
Richard Burton . . . Gefter offers a close reading of the movie to support his assessment of it as 'era-defining' . . . A penetrating examination of a bold film.” Kirkus Reviews

“In this well researched and deliciously dishy new book, Philip Gefter explores the world that shaped Albee and how he used it to develop his great work, and follows the ups and downs involved in creating the film-Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were just the beginning!-to paint an incredible picture of the
creative process among some of the brightest minds of their time.” Town & Country

“Terrific! With a dynamically deft touch, Philip Gefter chronicles how a uniquely volatile mix of timing, talent, pressure, and passion turned a landscape-altering play into a cinematic detonation. Savor this juicy bit of
time travel, because we'll never see the likes of these people and these circumstances again.” Steven Soderbergh, Academy Award-winning filmmaker

“Wise and ebullient . . . Gefter takes the reader inside so many of Avedon's photo shoots, and so deftly explicates his work, that you're thirsty to sate
your eyes with Avedon's actual images . . . One of the achievements of Gefter's biography is to argue persuasively for Avedon's place, as a maker of portraits, as one of the 20th century's most consequential artists.” Dwight Garner, The New York Times, on WHAT BECOMES A LEGEND MOST

“Gefter weaves the particulars of Avedon's life story into a larger narrative about American culture in the decades after World War II . . . Read in the context of our own precarious political and ecological moment, this assessment alone argues eloquently for the abiding, even urgent relevance of Avedon's imperfect Art.” Caroline Weber, The New York Times Sunday Book Review, on WHAT BECOMES A

“Imagine the offspring of Marcel Proust and the Energizer Bunny-that's who Richard Avedon was, a chronicler of fashion, an analyst of social types, the
author in pictures of his era. And Philip Gefter captures him. His biography is an Avedon of Avedon.” Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE

“An admiring and absorbing biography.” The New York Times Book Review on WAGSTAFF

“I just couldn't stop reading this book! . . . not only about the New York art scene of the 70s but also about an entire generation.” Edmund White on WAGSTAFF

“Philip Gefter's eloquent biography captures the challenges and the thrills of this dramatic life. It is a smart, sexy biography of a brilliant, charismatic
man; it is also a portrait of a time when our ideas of art and our attitudes toward sexuality were in extraordinary flux.” Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of FAR FROM THE TREE, on WAGSTAFF

About the Author

Philip Gefter is the author ofWhat Becomes a Legend Most: The Biography of Richard Avedon; Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe, which received the 2014 Marfield Prize for arts writing; and an essay collection,Photography After Frank. He is a regular contributor to theNew Yorker's Photobooth, Aperture, and theNew York Times, where he was an editor and photography critic for over fifteen years. Gefter produced the award-winning documentary,Bill Cunningham: New York.He lives in New York City.

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