As New York Newsday describes: "Its two central characters are the Princess, an aging motion picture actress in flight from her latest screen disaster, and Chance Wayne, a young hustler whom she has picked up. Taking advantage of her drunkenness and his youth and good looks, he manages to lure her to the Southern town of his birth in order to see again a young girl with whom he has had an affair and whom he still loves. Word of his arrival spreads like contagion through the small town. Boss Finley, a political despot and father of the young girl, is especially interested. What Chance does not know is that unwittingly he has infected the girl and ever since the Boss, his sadistic son and his toadies have lain in wait for his return and for their revenge. Chance's scheme is to use the Princess to promote a motion picture career for himself and his girl. Naturally this falls afoul and in the end the avengers are about to close in on the passively waiting Chance, who has been deserted by his patroness and far worse, by his youth."
Sweet Bird of Youth premiered at the Martin Beck Theater in New York City in March 1959 under the direction of Elia Kazan.