Golden Boy is a drama by Clifford Odets. The play was initially produced on Broadway by The Group Theatre in 1937. Odets' biggest hit was made into a 1939 film of the same name, starring William Holden in his breakthrough role, and also served as the basis for a 1964 musical with Sammy Davis, Jr..
Joe Bonaparte, a young Italian-American man and talented violinist, dreams of becoming a professional musician. Joe, however, fights a boxing match for manager Tom Moody, which he wins. Joe's father, Mr. Bonaparte, has scraped up enough money to afford a top-of-the-line violin for Joe's 21st birthday. However, upon learning of Joe's fight from Joe's brother Frank, Mr. Bonaparte decides not to give Joe the violin. Two months later, Joe has become a successful boxer for Moody and Roxy Gottlieb, a prizefight promoter. However, Joe won't throw punches, attempting to protect his hands. Later, Joe prepares to go on a boxing tour, where Mr. Bonaparte presents Joe with the violin. Joe plays it, but tells his father to return it.
Six months later, Joe's career continues to advance. Infamous gangster Eddie Fuseli approaches Moody and Roxy, demanding to be signed on as a partner, which Joe agrees to. Moody, believing Joe to be distracted by his fame, convinces his girlfriend Lorna to talk to Joe. She does so, and the pair profess their love to each other. Despite this, Lorna cannot bring herself to break off her relationship with Moody. Feeling that he has lost Lorna as well as his father's respect, Joe no longer holds back in the ring. In his next match, Joe defeats his opponent, but breaks a hand, thereby ruining any future career he may have had as a violinist.
Six months later, Joe has become a top-ranked prizefighter. He has become disillusioned with his fame and his managers, and has become more vicious in the ring. After learning Lorna is engaged to Moody, Joe confronts her and they argue, where Lorna accuses Joe of being a killer like Fuseli. Disoriented, Joe is unable to stay focused against his opponent, but pulls through with a victory. Before the celebration begins, Joe learns his final blow has killed his opponent. Meanwhile, Joe's managers arrive at the Bonaparte home to wait for Joe and Lorna. Frank receives a call informing him that Joe and Lorna have died in a car accident. Mr. Bonaparte prepares to retrieve the body, saying he will bring Joe "home ... where he belongs."
Following his 1935 successes Waiting for Lefty and Awake and Sing!, Odets went to Hollywood to write The General Died at Dawn with the intention of using his salary to support the Group Theatre, the independent theatre company that had produced his earlier plays, despite his previous protests against large corporations, including movie studios. His own internal struggle to choose between art and materialism became the basis for the theme of his play, his first to focus more on psychology and personal relationships than social criticism. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviewer noted that Odets wrote about social consciousness in Waiting for Lefty and "lessons of faith" in Awake and Sing, but in Golden Boy he set out to "merely tell a story."
Odets called the play "symbolic," with one latter-era critic noting that "the show pits spiritual ideals against lust for fame and money in what can only be termed an implausible setup." According to John Lahr, "The heroes of 'Golden Boy' and 'The Big Knife' are both torn between commercial success and artistic fulfillment, driven crazy by their decision to live against their natures; both murder themselves out of nostalgia for their lost integrity."
The Broadway production, directed by Harold Clurman, opened on November 4, 1937 at the Belasco Theatre, where it ran for 250 performances. The cast included Luther Adler as Joe, Robert Lewis as Roxy, Morris Carnovsky as Joe's father, Roman Bohnen as Tom, and Frances Farmer as Lorna, with Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, Howard Da Silva, Karl Malden and John Garfield in supporting roles.
A second Broadway revival, produced by the Lincoln Center Theater, opened on December 6, 2012 at the Belasco Theatre. Direction is by Bartlett Sher with Seth Numrich as Joe Bonaparte and Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna Moon. The play closed on January 20, 2013 after 53 performances and 30 previews.Golden Boy received eight 2013 Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Play, and three Drama Desk Award nominations, including Outstanding Revival of a Play.