A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Williams' most famous play and the one that catapulted him to success, changed the American theater and won Williams his first Pulitzer prize. Following this smash hit, however, the playwright staged a series of flops. In 1955, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof vaulted Williams back into the theatrical stratosphere. It took eight years, but he had produced another serious blockbuster – a play that was simultaneously a significant artistic achievement and a box-office draw.
The road to Cat's commercial and critical success was not a straight one. When director Elia Kazan read Williams' first draft, he insisted that the playwright produce a new third act, addressing Kazan's significant concerns about the commercial viability of the work. Williams complied, and the new third act helped win the author his second Pulitzer. Future productions, however, have used the original third act, beginning with a prominent London production. And in the 1974 revival Williams produced a sort of compromise version, in which he threw out some of Kazan's edits and retained others, giving the actors access to his original notes from which they could draw their own conclusions.
In 1958, the play was brought to the screen. Original cast member Burl Ives joined Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in the classic adaptation. Nevertheless, it is significantly different from the stage version, due to the era's Hays Code censorship. References to homosexuality were excised from the story, with the affair between Maggie and Skipper removed as well.
Sadly, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof proved to be the last of Williams' great successes – as he lamented late in life in the article "I am widely regarded as the ghost of a writer," he was remembered largely for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie, even while he was regularly producing new work. It was not just a matter of perception – there is a noticeable decline in the quality of his work after Cat, and this was accompanied by an increasing reliance on pills and alcohol.
As one of the Big Three of Williams' oeuvre, Cat is revived on the professional stage with great regularity. Broadway has seen three major revivals in the last two decades, including the African-American cast production in 2008 starring James Earl Jones. Williams' later plays may not enjoy the same level of esteem as the first decade of his work, but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and his other classics will continue to be treasured well into the next century of the American stage.