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1962: A formative year for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

As Joanne Ostrow observed in her article, Searching for truth amid life’s illusions, “Imagine the audience’s shock [on October 13] 1962 when Edward Albee’s first full-length play had its Broadway debut…. The devastating language, brutal wit and merciless puncturing of illusions— it was all new onstage.”

But what were the events of the day that influenced Albee to write with such raw, unflinching dialogue and how are those events still relevant today?

Snapshots of 1962

For one week the world seems on the brink of nuclear war as the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. square-off over Soviet intermediate-range missiles in Cuba.

France transfers sovereignty to the new republic of Algeria. The transfer sparks terrorism in both Algeria and France.

Pope John XXIII opens the Second Vatican Council. The announced purpose was spiritual renewal and a reconsideration of the position of the church in the modern world. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy permits the liturgy to be conducted in vernacular language instead of Latin.

John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth.

James Meredith becomes first African American to enroll at the University of Mississippi. Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett tries to bar his admission. Angry whites riot, causing three deaths and numerous injuries.

15,000 U.S. military advisers in Vietnam.

President John F. Kennedy defends the U.S. role in Southeast Asia saying that the troops are “not combat troops in the generally understood sense of the word.”

Mariner II reaches Venus. The first interplanetary probe sends back photos of the cloud-shrouded planet.

Telstar Communications satellite launched, making it possibly the first live transatlantic television broadcast.

Pat Brown defeats Richard Nixon in California gubernatorial race

Peter Fechter the first person killed in an attempt to flee East Berlin over the Wall.

Johnny Carson replaces Jack Parr as host of the Tonight Show

Nobel Prizes

Literature: John Steinbeck

Peace: Linus Pauling

Physiology or Medicine: James D. Watson, Maurice H.F. Wilkins, and Francis H.C. Crick for determining the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).


Academy Award, Best Picture: West Side Story

Emmy Award, Outstanding Achievement Humor: The Bob Newhart Show

Grammy Award, Record of the Year: “Moon River,” Henry Mancini

Grammy Award, Album of the Year: “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” Judy Garland

Tony Award, Best Play: A Man for All Seasons

Tony Award, Best Musical: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Popular Films & Books

Major films: Lawrence of Arabia, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Manchurian Candidate

Books: Another Country (James Baldwin), In the Clearing (Robert Frost), The Tin Drum (Gunter Grass), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey), The Colossus and Other Poems (Sylvia Plath).


Marilyn Monroe, Niels Bohr, William Faulkner, Ernie Kovacs, Eleanor Roosevelt

Reprinted by permission of Syracuse Stage. Compiled by Nichole Gantshar, Syracuse Stage education office, with research, essays and other materials provided by Amy Steele, dramaturg at the Alley Theatre, and courtesy the Guthrie Theater, Belinda Westmaas Jones, editor.


Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Jan 7 – Mar 6 • Singleton Theatre