Thomas Lanier Williams III (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983), better known as Tennessee Williams, was a major American playwright who received many of the top theatrical awards. He moved to New Orleans in 1939 and changed his name to "Tennessee," the state of his father's birth. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, The Glass Menagerie (1945) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards. His 1952 play The Rose Tattoo received the Tony Award for best play.
He was born in Columbus, Mississippi, in the home of his paternal grandfather, the local Episcopal rector. The home is now the Mississippi Welcome Center and tourist office for the city. Williams' middle name, Lanier, indicates his family's Virginia connections to the artistic family from England, and earlier from Italy.
By the time Thomas was three, the family had moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi. At five, he was diagnosed with a paralytic disease. It caused his legs to be paralyzed for nearly two years but his mother encouraged him to make up stories and read. She gave him a typewriter when he was 13.
His father Cornelius Williams was a traveling salesman who became increasingly abusive as his children grew older. The father often favored Tennessee's brother Dakin, perhaps because of Tennessee's illness and extended weakness and convalescence as a child. Tennessee's mother Edwina Dakin Williams had aspirations as a genteel southern lady and was somewhat smothering. She may have had a mood disorder.
In 1918, when Williams was seven, the family moved again, this time to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1927, at 16, Williams won third prize (five dollars) for an essay published in Smart Set entitled, "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?" A year later, he published "The Vengeance of Nitocris" in Weird Tales.
In the early 1930s Williams attended the University of Missouri, where he joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. His fraternity brothers dubbed him "Tennessee" for his rich southern drawl. In the late 1930s, Williams transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for a year, and finally earned a degree from the University of Iowa in 1938. By then, Williams had written Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!. This work was first performed in 1935 at 1780 Glenview in Memphis.
Tennessee Williams found inspiration in his problematic family for much of his writing.
Williams lived for a time in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. He moved there in 1939 to write for the WPA. He first lived at 722 Toulouse Street, the setting of his 1977 play Vieux Carré. The building is part of The Historic New Orleans Collection. He began writing A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) while living at 632 St. Peter Street. He finished it later in Key West, Florida, where he moved in the 1940s. He lived in a separate building at the home of a family named Black. Mr. Black was an Episcopal minister. George Black, the son, became one of his gay partners, and they were close for many years, even after George and his family moved to Miami. It has been suggested that this Mr. Black was the inspiration for the film John Q.
Tennessee was close to his sister Rose, a slim beauty who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. As was common then, Rose was institutionalized and spent most of her adult life in mental hospitals. When therapies were unsuccessful, she showed more paranoid tendencies. In an effort to treat her, Rose's parents authorized a prefrontal lobotomy, a drastic treatment that was thought to help some mental patients who suffered extreme agitation. Performed in 1937 in Knoxville, Tennessee, the operation made Rose incapacitated for the rest of her life.
Williams never forgave his parents. Her surgery may have contributed to his alcoholism and his dependence on various combinations of amphetamines and barbiturates often prescribed by Dr. Max (Feelgood) Jacobson. They may have shared a genetic vulnerability, as Williams also suffered from depression.
Williams' relationship with Frank Merlo, a second generation Sicilian American who had served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, lasted from 1947 until Merlo's death from cancer in 1963. With that stability, Williams created his most enduring works. Merlo provided balance to many of Williams' frequent bouts with depression and the fear that, like his sister Rose, he would go insane.
Tennessee Williams died at the age of 71 after he choked on an eyedrop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York. He would routinely place the cap in his mouth, lean back, and place his eyedrops in each eye. His brother Dakin and some friends believed he was murdered. The police report, however, suggested his use of drugs and alcohol contributed to his death. Many prescription drugs were found in the room. Williams' lack of gag response may have been due to drugs and alcohol effects.
Williams' funeral took place on Saturday March 3, 1983 at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in New York City. Williams' body was interred in the Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. Williams had long told his friends he wanted to be buried at sea at approximately the same place as the poet Hart Crane, as he considered Crane to be one of his most significant influences.
Tennessee Williams left his literary rights to Sewanee, The University of the South in honor of his grandfather, Walter Dakin, an alumnus of the university. It is located in Sewanee, Tennessee. The funds support a creative writing program. When his sister Rose died after many years in a mental institution, she bequeathed over 50 million dollars from her part of the Williams estate to Sewanee, The University of the South as well.
In 1989, the City of St. Louis inducted Tennessee Williams into its St. Louis Walk of Fame.
The "mad heroine" theme that appeared in many of his plays seemed clearly influenced by the life of Williams' sister Rose.
Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was understood to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is also based on her, as well as Williams himself. When Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire, he believed he was going to die and that this play would be his swan song.
Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was generally seen to represent Williams' mother. Characters such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Williams himself. In addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a motif in Suddenly, Last Summer.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar named Desire both included references to elements of Williams' life such as homosexuality, mental instability and alcoholism.
Williams wrote The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer when he was 29 and worked on it through his life. It seemed an autobiographical depiction of an early romance in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This play was produced for the first time on 1 October 2006 in Provincetown by the Shakespeare on the Cape production company, as part of the First Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.
The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer was published by New Directions in the spring of 2008, in a collection of previously unpublished experimental plays titled The Traveling Companion and Other Plays, edited by Williams scholar Annette J. Saddik.
Williams' last play A House Not Meant to Stand is a gothic comedy published in 2008 by New Directions with a foreword by Gregory Mosher and an introduction by Thomas Keith. Williams called his last play a "Southern gothic spook sonata."
Short stories by Tennessee WilliamsEdit
- The Vengeance of Nitocris (1928)
- The Field of Blue Children (1939)
- The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin (1951)
- Hard Candy: a Book of Stories (1954)
- Three Players of a Summer Game and Other Stories (1960)
- The Knightly Quest: a Novella and Four Short Stories (1966)
- One Arm and Other Stories (1967)
- Eight Mortal Ladies Possessed: a Book of Stories (1974)
- Tent Worms (1980)
- It Happened the day the Sun Rose, and Other Stories (1981)
One-Act Collections by Tennessee WilliamsEdit
Tennessee Williams wrote over 70 one-act plays during his lifetime. The one-acts explored many of the same themes that dominated his longer works. Williams' major collections are published by New Directions in New York City.
- Dragon Country: a book of one-act plays
- Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams, Plays 1937-1955 (Library of America, 2000) ISBN 978-1-88301186-4.
- Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams, Plays 1957-1980 (Library of America, 2000) ISBN 978-1-88301187-1.
- Williams' work has had a great influence on the British band The The: for example, 'Sweet Bird of Truth' is a track on their album Infected; the track 'August and September' on the album Mind Bomb starts with the lines 'Suddenly last summer/I started going out of my head'.
- Gore Vidal refers to Williams as the "Glorious Bird" when he met him in Rome after World War II. He noted the image of "the bird is everywhere in his work"
- The rock band Manic Street Preachers referred to Williams in a song called "Tennessee," included in their debut album Generation Terrorists.
- The American indie rock band The National refer to Williams in their song "City Middle" on their album Alligator, in the following excerpt:
- "I think I'm like Tennessee Williams
- I wait for the click
- I wait, but it doesn't kick in"
- Contemporary rock band The Strokes presumably refer to Williams in the opening song to their 2003 album Room on Fire:
- "Oh, Tennessee, what did you write?
- I come together in the middle of the night."
- Country music singer Don Williams referred to Williams in his 1980 hit, "Good Ole Boys Like Me," penned by Bob McDill:
- "I can still hear the soft Southern winds in the live oak trees
- And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me
- Hank and Tennessee
- I guess we're all gonna be what we're gonna be"
- The eighth episode of the HBO drama series The Sopranos is entitled "The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti." The title refers to the character Christopher Moltisanti's struggles with his aspirations as a screenwriter. At one point during the episode, Christopher's girlfriend Adriana La Cerva refers to him as "my Tennessee William[sic]."
- In an episode of Canadian sitcom Corner Gas, "Bean There", Wanda suggests that she's a better team player than Hank, who "chokes like Tennessee Williams on a bottle cap."
- Elton John refers to Williams on his 1995 album 'Made In England' with a lyric in the song 'Lies', and again on his autobiographical 2006 album, 'The Captain and The Kid' with a lyric in the song 'Old '67':
- "I could be great like Tennessee Williams
- If I could only hear something that sounds like the truth"
- "Laughin' about how the two of us sound
- Like a Tennessee Williams play"
- In an episode of The Simpsons, Marge stars as Blanche Dubois in a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire.
- In the season finale of "One Tree Hill" season 2, Lucas Scott quotes Tennessee Williams as the episode ends.
- ↑ "The Kindess of Strangers", Spoto
- ↑ Jeste ND, Palmer BW, Jeste DV. Tennessee Williams. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2004 Jul-Aug;12(4):370-5. PMID: 15249274 
- ↑ Suzanne Daley (27.2.1983). Williams Choked on a Bottle Cap. The New York Times (engl.; abgerufen 27. Mai 2007)
- ↑ Vidal, Gore. Palimpsest. Random House, New York (1995).
- Gross, Robert F., ed. Tennessee Williams: A Casebook. Routledge (2002). ISBN 0-8153-3174-6.
- Leverich, Lyle. Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (1997). ISBN 0-393-31663-7.
- Saddik, Annette. The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays (London: Associated University Presses, 1999).
- Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. Da Capo Press (Reprint, 1997). ISBN 0-306-80805-6.
- Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. Doubleday (1975). ISBN 0-385-00573-3.
- Williams, Dakin. His Brother's Keeper: The Life and Murder of Tennessee Williams.
- Sewanee, The University of the South
- New Directions Publishing Corporation
- Dramatists Play Service, Inc.
- Tennessee Williams Quotations - an interactive quotes database which comprises a lot of quotes from Tennessee Williams.
- Monologues by Tennessee Williams at Monologue Search
- A Streetcar Named Desire: Study Guide
- Biography, summaries, and quotes from important works like Glass Menagerie and Streetcar
- Portrait of Tennessee Williams by Margaret Holland Sargent
- Booksfactory article.
- A photograph of Tennessee Williams by Yousuf Karsh on the website of the National Gallery of Australia.
- Williams' Entry on the St. Louis Walk of Fame
- 1985 audio interview with Dotson Raider, friend and biographer of Tennessee Williams. Interview by Don Swaim of CBS Radio - RealAudio
- Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
- Tennessee Williams biography
- Berkeley Repertory Theatre: Suddenly Last Summer
- Interpreting Tennessee Williams - Working in the Theatre Seminar video at American Theatre Wing.org, April 2005
- American Experience on PBS. Tennessee Williams is featured in this documentary about New Orleans first aired February 12, 2007.
- Tennessee Williams Annual Review Journal published both electronically and in print by The Historic New Orleans Collection
- Tennessee and The Roman Muse: Tennessee Williams, his Time in Rome and his Friendship with Anna Magnani
- FamilySearch: Samuel Taylor Geer's Pedigree Resource File - Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams
- Tennessee Williams Collection (MUM00482) owned by the University of Mississippi Department of Archives and Special Collections.
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