Tennessee Williams began writing Summer and Smoke in 1945 and finished it three years later in 1948. The play was originally titled Chart of Anatomy, but the title was changed most likely in reference to the line from the Hart Crane poem “Emblems of Conduct.”
"The wanderer later chose this spot of rest
Where marble clouds support the sea
And where was finally borne a chosen hero.
By that time summer and smoke were past."
The show first opened for a run in Dallas, then on Broadway on October 6, 1948 at the Music Box Theatre. The original run was not a huge success, especially in comparison to Williams’ previous work, A Streetcar Named Desire. Summer and Smoke ran for only 102 performances.
In 1952, José Quintero directed a revival at the Circle in the Square Theatre, which at the time was located downtown (the theater not yet having acquired its Broadway location). The production starred Geraldine Page as Alma and this time, the play was a massive success. It launched the careers of both Quintero and Page, and is credited as a starting point in the Off-Broadway movement.
Page went on to star in a one-hour cut of the play performed on the radio series Best Plays, and in a film version of the play in 1961. Paramount Pictures produced the film and it starred Page, Laurence Harvey as John, and Rita Moreno as Rosa. Both Page and Una Merkel, who played her mother, received Academy Award nominations for the film. A television remake was made in 1972.
The show did not premiere in London until 2006. It opened at the Apollo Theatre directed by Adrian Noble and starring Rosamund Pike as Alma and Chris Carmack as John.
In 1962, Williams revised Summer and Smoke. The new play, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, premiered on Broadway in 1976. It starred Betsy Palmer as Alma.