Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Along with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and a few other notable modern works, Tennessee Williams’ 1947 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, helped shape the look and feel of American drama for decades to come. But nothing that occurred during the play’s original Broadway run eclipsed the emergence of a young Marlon Brando as a major creative force and a star to be reckoned with. Decades after the original Broadway premiere on Dec. 3, 1947, LIFE.com presents photos — some of which never ran in the magazine — taken during rehearsals by photographer Eliot Elisofon.

Directed by Elia Kazan and starring Brando, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter and Karl Malden, the 1947 production remains a touchstone in American drama, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for the year’s best play, as well as a Best Actress Tony for Tandy for her seminal performance as the unstable, alcoholic, melodramatic Southern belle, Blanche DuBois. Despite all the accolades it earned, however, the 24-year Brando’s galvanizing turn as Stanley Kowalski — in both the play and in Kazan’s 1951 film adaptation — was what really seared the production into the pop-culture consciousness.

Gritty, sensual, violent and bleak, Williams’ great play remains one of a handful of utterly indispensable 20th-century American dramatic works, while the sensual ferocity of Brando’s Stanley can still shock, seven decades after he first unleashed the character on a rapt theatergoing public.

Kim Hunter (left), Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and others in rehearsal for the original production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

A Streetcar Named Desire 1947

Kim Hunter (left), Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and others in rehearsal for the original production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ (Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection)

Blanche DuBois, is a Southern girl who lives in a make-believe world of grandeur, preens in faded evening gowns and makes herself out to be sweet, genteel and deliccate. She comes to visit her sister Stella and brother-in-law in the French quarter of New Orleans.

Jessica Tandy as Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” 1947.

Eliot Elisofon /The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, 1947

Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” 1947.

Eliot Elisofon / The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Blanche and Stella (Kim Hunter) undress in a bedroom which is divided from living room by partly closed curtains. Though Blanche complains about the noisy poker party which is going on in the adjoining room, she purposely stands so she can be seen by Mitch (Karl Malden, third from left).

A Streetcar Named Desire 1947

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jessica Tandy, Karl Malden, 1947

A Streetcar Named Desire 1947

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy, 1947

A Streetcar Named Desire 1947

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Jessica Tandy, Streetcar Named Desire, 1947

A Streetcar Named Desire 1947

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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A Streetcar Named Desire 1947

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Tennessee Williams on the set of Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams on the set of Streetcar Named Desire

Eliot Elisofon The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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