Did you know that one of Doris Betts’ short stories was adapted into an Academy Award-winning short film?
In 1969, the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts was published in the Red Clay Reader, an annual magazine focusing on the work of southern authors and artists. Betts, a UNC English professor, was also an award-winning author short stories, novels, plays, and poetry. “The Ugliest Pilgrim” told the story of a disfigured young woman named Violet who travels by bus from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma in the hopes of being healed by a televangelist.
In 1981, “The Ugliest Pilgrim” was adapted into a short film titled Violet, which in 1982 garnered the Academy Award for Best Short Film. The film starred Didi Conn in the title role, otherwise known for her portrayal of “Frenchy” in the film Grease. UNC celebrated the success of the adaptation with a screening at the Carolina Fall Festival that year.
“The Ugliest Pilgrim” was later adapted into a musical (also titled Violet), by Jeanine Tesori and Brian Crawley, which has been performed across the country, including a production by Playmakers Repertory Company. A one-act adaptation starring Sutton Foster will debut on Broadway this month.
From the Doris Betts Papers #4695, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.