Stage Plays
Click here to read an excerpt from "No Time for Sergeants"

No Time For Sergeants (Stage Play)


INTRODUCTION: The impact of rollicking military comedy No Time For Sergeants' success cannot be overstated. Levin's initial one-hour TV adaptation of Mac Hyman's novel begat a full-length Levin-scribed Broadway adaptation, followed by a movie, a TV series, and more. Sergeants' collective impact helped 'bring Country to the masses', engendering all manner of subsequent countrified fare from The Andy Griffith Show to The Beverly Hillbillies. To say nothing of the phalanx of military comedies that also followed in its wake. [“...television’s Gomer Pyle was based on [Sergeants’ lead] Will Stockdale, and even the latter day Forrest Gump borrows from Will’s childlike worldview.” —MoMA Blog]

Hale Centre Theatre (2017)

Having just scripted 1955's one-hour live television adaptation of No Time for Sergeants, Levin was approached by actor/producer Maurice Evans to adapt Mac Hyman's novel anew, as a full-length Broadway play – Evans having purchased the Broadway rights prior to the TV production's inception. Levin, still a draftee in the US army, humorously recounted Evans' overture in a New York Times piece of the day:

(Above) Rare color photo from Sergeants' original Broadway run (Robert Cranston and William Klein for "Sunday News," May 1956)

There was just one hitch: Evan's option to adapt the book required its mounting by no later than November 1955. Mere months remained, and Levin was still three months shy of the end of his two-year draft service. Evans took the unusual step of petitioning the army for an early discharge, on the grounds of seasonal employment. The Army consented. (It was now peacetime, the Korean War having ended while Levin was still in basic training.) Levin was granted an honorable discharge, and was able to go straight to work on his stage adaptation.

The Broadway production proved a howling success – the later film's trailer termed it "the best-loved play of our day" – and it ran for two solid years (1955-1957), with almost one million theatergoers stopping by the Alvin theater to see it during that time. (New York Herald Tribune) Multiple national tours followed, along with productions in London, Austria, France, Holland, Germany, Sweden, and beyond.

“[Sergeants’] early success didn’t really affect me. I just assumed that when you write a play, that’s what happens.
    —Levin (The Aquarian, 1978)


Jersey Journal-Observer (1955)

Sergeants' producer Maurice Evans had originally contracted the two-man writing team that created "Stalag 17" to adapt Sergeant's Broadway incarnation, but wound up replacing them with Levin. (Not uncommon – Levin was himself replaced as screenwriter on Bunny Lake Is Missing).

We note an interesting parallel: in Rosemary's Baby, Guy's big Broadway break comes when a rival actor – Donald Baumgart – is mysteriously stricken blind. Sergeants was Levin's own entrée to Broadway... and one of the two writers he was replacing (as above) was named Donald Bevan. As Guy says, "It’s a hell of a way to get it."

Donald Bevan was, as it happens, a skilled illustrator, who ended up drawing the caricatures on Sardi's famed theatrical who's-who walls from about 1954 to 1974. While we hope there's no connection with the above, we've always found it strange that Levin's caricature was never added.

  • Sergeants' producer Maurice Evans – a seasoned actor as well – would later play Hutch in Rosemary's Baby
  • The Pentagon had to approve the entire play (Newark Sunday News, 1956)
Gallery

(Above) Broadway souvenir program

(Above) Levin in rehearsal (1955)

(Above) Levin's opening night performance notes

(Above) Amusing company letter to Levin

(Above) Maurice Evans early discharge request

(Above) Congratulatory telegram from legendary agent Flora Roberts

(Above/Below) Rare color photos from Sergeants' original Broadway run (1956)