Tennessee Williams


Playwright, Screenwriter

About

Also Known As
Thomas Lanier Williams
Birth Place
Columbus, Mississippi, USA
Born
March 26, 1911
Died
February 25, 1983

Biography

Playwright Tennessee Williams explored the conflict between the past and present culture of the South, as well as the psychological turmoil of his upbringing, in such legendary stage plays as "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Born Thomas Lanier Williams III on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, he was the second of three children by shoe...

Photos & Videos

Suddenly, Last Summer - Movie Poster
Night of the Iguana - Sue Lyon Behind-the-Scenes Photos

Family & Companions

Frank Merlo
Companion
Died in 1963.

Bibliography

"The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams: Volume I: 1920-1945"
Albert Devlin and Nancy Tischler (editors), Oberon Books (2001)
"The Notebooks of Trigorin: A Free Adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Sea Gull"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1997)
"Tom: The Unknown Tenessee Williams"
Lyle Leverich, Crown (1995)
"Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982"
Alfred A. Knopf (1990)

Notes

"[I hope] that you will not let the entire season pass without seeing something besides 'Death of a Salesman'. Do you know I got five complete sets of notices of that play, sent me by various well-meaning friends in New York? More than I ever got for any play of my own, including the 'Menagerie' in London ..." --Williams to his friend Maria St. Just, March 5, 1949, in "Five O'Clock Angel", St. Just's collection of letters from Williams.

"I don't feel inclined to write any more about the so-called (s)outhern belle," --Williams to a reporter in London interview, August 1, 1962.

Biography

Playwright Tennessee Williams explored the conflict between the past and present culture of the South, as well as the psychological turmoil of his upbringing, in such legendary stage plays as "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Born Thomas Lanier Williams III on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, he was the second of three children by shoe salesman Cornelius Coffin Williams and Edwina Dakin. By all accounts, Williams' childhood was fraught with emotional turmoil: his father was prone to alcoholism and anger, and regarded his son's frail condition - caused by a yearlong bout of diptheria - with disappointment. His mother, who was the daughter of an Episcopal priest, did not approve of her husband's proclivities, and focused her attention on her son, often to an overbearing degree. School was also a source of anxiety for Williams, who was bullied for his small frame and perceived weakness; when his father took a job with the International Shoe Company in St. Louis, Missouri, Williams attended Soldan High School and later, University City High School, where his initial experiments with writing began to draw notice. By his mid-teens, he had published stories in national magazines, and his first known play, "Beauty is the Word," won honorable mention in a drama contest at the University of Missouri at Columbia. But Williams' tenure there as a journalism major was short-lived; his father forced him to quit school and take a job at his company's shoe factory, which Williams loathed. As a result, he pored his energies into his writing, which left him exhausted and eventually resulted in a nervous breakdown. After recuperating, Williams left home - which had grown more tumultuous due to his parents' separation and the fragile mental condition of his sister, Rose, with whom Williams was close - and enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and later, the University of Iowa, from which he graduated with a degree in English in 1938. Though a handful of plays had been penned and produced by amateur groups in St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee - including "The Fugitive Kind" - Williams found this post-collegiate period a financial and creative challenge until his agent, Audrey Wood, secured a $1,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to help him complete his latest work, "Battle of Angels." The funds allowed him to move to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1939; there, he adopted the moniker "Tennessee" - a nod to his father's home - and write for the Works Progress Administration while absorbing the culture of the city's French Quarter, which would serve as the setting for several of his plays, including "Streetcar." "Angels" made its professional debut in 1940, but was a critical failure, prompting Williams to look for odd jobs - including a brief stint as a writer for MGM - until 1945, when his play "The Glass Menagerie" was produced in Chicago. A "memory play" that drew on the fragility of his sister, Rose, and his mother's overbearing nature for its characters, "Menagerie" was a huge success in both Chicago and New York, where it captured the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. The next decade saw Williams ascend as one of American theater's most dazzling playwrights, with a string of successes that included "Streetcar" in 1947, which earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; "Summer and Smoke" (1948), "The Rose Tattoo" (1951) which won the Tony for Best Play; the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony-nominated "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1955) and "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1959), each exploring the slow passage of perceived Southern gentility, as filtered through complex family relationships that echoed his own. He also penned or collaborated on the screenplays for "Streetcar" (1951), which helped to mint Marlon Brando as a star, and "The Rose Tattoo" (1955), and caused a scandal with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Baby Doll" (1956), about the lascivious pursuit of a nubile teenager. But after his final Tony nomination for "Night of the Iguana" in 1961, Williams' extraordinary run of stage successes petered out; critics excoriated his later works, including "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1962), which had suffered due to his growing alcoholism. His personal life was also in a shambles: Williams, who had been involved in several gay affairs since the late '30s, had enjoyed a 14-year relationship with actor Frank Merlo until their breakup in 1963 and his death the same year from lung cancer. With his passing, Williams fell into a deep depression that required multiple hospitalizations, where he was treated with amphetamines and prescription drugs that resulted in addiction. He resumed his writing career, but found it difficult to adapt to changing tastes and styles of theater and complained to friends and biographers that the critics had turned against him. His final years were marked by a combative relationship with aspiring writer Robert Carroll, which ended in 1979; four years later, on February 25, 1983, Williams was found dead at the age of 71 in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York, having suffocated after accidentally swallowing the cap from a bottle of eye solution. He was buried -against the wishes of his will - near his mother in St. Louis, and his literary rights were left to the University of the South in Tennessee. In the decades following his death, Williams' body of work was feted by numerous festivals, a postage stamp in 1994 and induction into the Poets' Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, as well as countless productions of his plays by professional and amateur theater groups around the world each year.

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Beautiful Darling (2009)

Writer (Feature Film)

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2009)
Screenplay
Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003)
Source Material (From Novel: "The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone")
A Streetcar Named Desire (1995)
Play As Source Material
Orpheus Descending (1990)
Play As Source Material
Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth (1989)
Play As Source Material
The Glass Menagerie (1987)
Play As Source Material ("The Glass Menagerie")
Noir et blanc (1986)
From Story ("Desire And The Black Masseur")
A Streetcar Named Desire (1984)
Play As Source Material
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976)
Play As Source Material
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1976)
Screenwriter
The Migrants (1974)
From Story
The Glass Menagerie (1973)
Screenplay
The Glass Menagerie (1973)
Play As Source Material
Boom! (1968)
Screenwriter
The Glass Menagerie (1966)
Play As Source Material
The Glass Menagerie (1966)
Screenwriter
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Screenwriter
Baby Doll (1956)
Original Screenplay
The Rose Tattoo (1955)
Screenwriter
A Streetcar Named Desire (1952)
Screenwriter
The Glass Menagerie (1950)
Adapted for the Screenplay

Music (Feature Film)

The Fugitive Kind (1960)
Composer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

A Streetcar Named Desire (1984)
Other

Writer (Special)

A Streetcar Named Desire From the San Francisco Opera (1998)
Play As Source Material
Suddenly Last Summer (1993)
Play As Source Material
27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1990)
Play As Source Material
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1984)
Play As Source Material
Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1976)
Play As Source Material ("Eccentricities Of A Nightingale")

Music (Special)

Thomas Hampson: I Hear America Singing (1997)
Theme Lyrics

Special Thanks (Special)

A Streetcar Named Desire From the San Francisco Opera (1998)
Play As Source Material
Suddenly Last Summer (1993)
Play As Source Material
27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1990)
Play As Source Material
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1984)
Play As Source Material
Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1976)
Play As Source Material ("Eccentricities Of A Nightingale")

Life Events

1917

Suffered from diphtheria and a kidney infection at the age of six (date approximate)

1918

Moved with family to St Louis, Missouri

1928

At 16, won third prize and received $5 for an essay, "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?", in <i>Smart Set</i>

1929

Published "The Vengeance of Nitocris" in <i>Weird Tales</i>

1931

Quit college at behest of father to begin work in the warehouse at the International Shoe Company in St Louis

1935

First play, "Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay", produced in Memphis

1937

His one-act plays "Candles to the Sun" and "The Fugitive Kind" produced by Mummers of St Louis

1939

Won a special award and $100 from the Group Theater (failed to win first prize) for "American Blues" (four one-act plays published in 1948), entry brought him to the attention of legendary literary agent Audrey Wood who would represent him until 1971; also received a $1000 Rockefeller grant

1940

First New York production, a student presentation of "The Long Goodbye" at the New Theatre School

1940

"Battle of Angels" produced in Boston; closed after a two-week tryout and excited more interest among the city's censors than in audiences; later revised as "Orpheus Descending", a 1957 Broadway failure; also revived as "Battle of Angels" Off-Broadway during 1974-1975 season

1943

Spent some months working as a cinema usher, during which he saw "Casablanca" over and over

1944

"The Glass Menagerie" enjoyed a successful run in Chicago; with no advance sale, the show had nearly closed, but agent Wood convinced the producers to remain open, citing good reviews

1945

First Broadway production, "The Glass Menagerie" (starring Laurette Taylor as Amanda in a fabled comeback from alcoholic oblivion), vaulted him to the front ranks of American playwrights; also had a second play on Broadway that year, the rather tepidly-received "You Touched Me", co-written with Donald Windham (based on a D.H. Lawrence story) and starring an inaudible Montgomery Clift

1947

Second Broadway success, "A Streetcar Named Desire", directed by Elia Kazan; earned first Pulitzer Prize in 1948; coaxed Kazan into accepting Marlon Brando for the role of Stanley after the young actor read for him at his Provincetown home in August (and repaired the plumbing as well)

1948

Returned to Broadway with "Summer and Smoke"; show flopped but was a hit Off-Broadway four years later; revised as "Eccentricities of a Nightingale" in 1965

1950

Screenwriting debut with "The Glass Menagerie"

1950

First published work of fiction, the novel "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone", adapted for the screen by Gavin Lambert in 1961

1951

Earned Tony Award for "The Rose Tattoo", which made an overnight star of Maureen Stapleton and was later adapted to the screen by Williams in 1955, starring his original choice for the lead role, Anna Magnani

1951

Received Oscar nomination for screenplay of "A Streetcar Named Desire", helmed by Kazan

1952

Revival of "Summer and Smoke" by director Jose Quintero and starring Geraldine Page put Off-Broadway on the map

1953

"Camino Real" closed after less than two months on Broadway, despite gathering an ardent core of admirers; Walter Kerr called it "the worst play yet by the best playwright of his generation"; containing arguably Williams' most gorgeous poetry for the American stage, original director Kazan called it "a love letter to the people Williams loved most, the romantics, those innocents who become victims in our business civilization"; revived Off-Broadway by Quintero in 1960, it failed again

1955

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (directed by Kazan) opened on Broadway; would earn him a 1956 Tony nomination and a second Pulitzer

1956

Garnered a second Oscar nod for the screenplay of "Baby Doll", called by <i>Time</i> magazine "just possibly the dirtiest American picture ever legally exhibited"; the Catholic Legion of Decency condemned the film stating that it "dwells upon carnal suggestiveness"; adapted from Williams' one-act "27 Wagons Full of Cotton"

1956

Published first collection of poetry, "In the Winter of Cities"

1960

Wrote the screenplay for "The Fugitive Kind", based on his play "Orpheus Descending"; also credited for the lyrics of the song "Blanket Roll Blues"

1962

Received Tony nomination for "The Night of the Iguana", which debuted on Broadway in 1961

1969

Converted to Roman Catholicism

1972

Last stage success, the Off-Broadway premiere of "Small Craft Warnings", called by <i>Variety</i>: "Easily the best drama Off-Broadway this season"; made his stage acting debut when he took over one of the roles after the production had opened

1975

Published autobiography, "Memoirs"; though frank in discussing his homosexuality, book was disappointing in its lack of comment on his dramaturgy

1980

Last Broadway production, "Clothes for a Summer Hotel", about F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

1981

Last NYC production, Off-Broadway's "Something Cloudy, Something Clear"

1983

Produced final play, "In Masks Outrageous and Austere"

1998

First performance of "Not About Nightingales" (directed by Trevor Nunn), a play written in 1938 and thus predating "The Glass Menagerie", at London's National Theatre; actress Vanessa Redgrave had discovered the manuscript; subsequently produced at Houston's Alley Theater and on Broadway; nominated for Best Play Tony Award

Photo Collections

Suddenly, Last Summer - Movie Poster
Here is the American One-Sheet Movie Poster from Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Night of the Iguana - Sue Lyon Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several location photos taken during production of John Huston's Night of the Iguana (1964), featuring Sue Lyon.

Videos

Movie Clip

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) - We Occupy the Same Cage The drunk and injured Brick (Paul Newman) rejects his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor) in director Richard Brooks' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958, from the Tennessee Williams play.
Summer And Smoke (1961) - It's A Civic Duty After a childhood prologue and credits, Mississippi spinster Alma (Geraldine Page) with her dotty mother (Una Merkel) and minister father (Malcolm Atterbury), sings a Spanish song (“La Golondria”) at holiday festivities while her dashing neighbor Johnny (Laurence Harvey) arrives home, in Summer And Smoke, 1961, from a Tennessee Williams play.
Summer And Smoke (1961) - Hello, Cavalier! Minding her needy mother (Una Merkel), Mississippian Alma (Academy Award-nominated Geraldine Page) finds cause to visit her dashing if reckless neighbor Johnny (Laurence Harvey), a young doctor home for the summer, finally managing an invitation, in Summer And Smoke, 1961.
Summer And Smoke (1961) - Come Watch The Birdie Motivated partly by guilt for standing her up days earlier, fun-loving Mississippi doctor Johnny (Laurence Harvey) brings his neighbor, patient and life-long admirer Alma (Geraldine Page) to the casino (run by Thomas Gomez), where his paramour Rosa (Rita Moreno) dances, in Summer And Smoke, 1961, from the Tennessee Williams play.
Summer And Smoke (1961) - Unless Maybe I Trap You! Hard-partying young Mississippi doctor Johnny (Laurence Harvey) has skipped an engagement with his neighbor (Geraldine Page as Alma), for a night at the casino, for gambling, cock-fighting and the owner’s fiery daughter Rosa (Rita Moreno), in Tennessee Williams’ Summer And Smoke, 1961.
Fugitive Kind, The (1960) - I Think They Got Him Having schmoozed himself and his guitar out of court in a Mississippi town, Valentine “Snakeskin” Xavier seeks shelter at what turns out to be the home of the local sheriff, where his wife Vee (Maureen Stapleton, a close Brando friend) tells him about a breakout, early in The Fugitive Kind, 1960.
Fugitive Kind, The (1960) - You Afraid I'll Snitch? Joanne Woodward as wayward heiress Carol Cutrere blows into a tiny Mississippi downtown (in a new-ish Jaguar XK), having recognized Marlon Brando as drifter “Snakeskin”, Maureen Stapleton as his new friend Vee, helping him land a job in the general store, Emory Richardson as the odd “Uncle Blessing,”in The Fugitive Kind, 1960, from Tennessee Williams’ play, directed by Sidney Lumet.
Fugitive Kind, The (1960) - You're Also Known As Snakeskin? Marlon Brando is largely alone, in the opening before the credits, Sidney Lumet directing, the screenplay by Tennessee Williams (from his poorly reviewed play Orpheus Descending) with Meade Roberts, from The Fugitive Kind, 1960, also starring Anna Magnani, Geraldine Page and Joanne Woodward.
Fugitive Kind, The (1960) - She Made A Mistake About Me After an evening with unglued local heiress Carol, Marlon Brando as drifter-musician “Snakeskin” Xavier introduces himself to Anna Magnani (who got top billing in the Italian release) as “Lady” Torrance, wife of the ailing owner of the general store, looking for work, at least, in The Fugitive Kind, 1960, directed by Sidney Lumet from a Tennessee Williams play.
Streetcar Named Desire, A (1952) - Napoleonic Code Having ejected her sister, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) encourages her New Orleans brother-in-law Stanley (Marlon Brando) to continue with his inquiries about her affairs, Elia Kazan directing, Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, 1952.
Best Friends (1982) - Sounds Like Bad Tennessee Williams Clever gender-joke opening, Norman Jewison directing from the original screenplay by husband and wife Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson, Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn as not-married screenwriting couple Richard and Paula, in Best Friends, 1982.
Streetcar Named Desire, A (1952) - Which One Is He? Travel-weary Blanche (Vivien Leigh) finds younger sister Stella (Kim Hunter) at the bowling alley, where she points out husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) early in Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire, 1952.

Trailer

Family

Walter Edwin Dakin
Grandfather
Episcopal priest. Williams was extremely close to his grandfather, whom he tried to nurse through a series of ever-worsening illnesses; Dakin's passing in 1955 left the playwright despondent and, in the opinion of many critics, led to a darkening of his work.
Edwina Dakin Williams
Mother
Daughter of a minister; model for character of Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie".
Cornelius Coffin Williams
Father
Shoe salesman. Came from a prestigious Tennessee family which included the state's first governor and first senator.
Rose Isabel Williams
Sister
Born in 1919; diagnosed as schizophrenic; institutionalized in 1943 following a prefrontal lobotomy; died on September 6, 1996 in Tarrytown, New York; model for Laura in "The Glass Menagerie".
Dakin Williams
Brother
Younger.

Companions

Frank Merlo
Companion
Died in 1963.

Bibliography

"The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams: Volume I: 1920-1945"
Albert Devlin and Nancy Tischler (editors), Oberon Books (2001)
"The Notebooks of Trigorin: A Free Adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Sea Gull"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1997)
"Tom: The Unknown Tenessee Williams"
Lyle Leverich, Crown (1995)
"Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982"
Alfred A. Knopf (1990)
"Costly Performances: Tennessee Williams: The Last Stage"
Bruce Smith, Paragon House (1990)
"Short Stories"
Tennessee Williams, Ballantine (1986)
"Tennessee, Cry of the Heart"
Doston Rader, Doubleday (1985)
"The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams"
Donald Spoto, Little, Brown (1985)
"It Happened the Day the Sun Rose"
Tennessee Williams, Sylvester and Orphanos (1981)
"Tennessee Williams' Letters to Donald Windham: 1940-1965"
Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1977)
"Androgyne, Mon Amour"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1977)
"Moise and the World of Reason"
Tennessee Williams, Simon & Schuster (1975)
"Memoirs"
Tennessee Williams, Doubleday (1975)
"Eight Moral Ladies Possessed"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1974)
"One Arm and Other Stories"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1967)
"The Knightly Quest"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1966)
"Three Players of a Summer Game"
Tennessee Williams, Secker & Warburg (1960)
"Hard Candy"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1959)
"In the Winter of Cities"
Tennessee Williams, New Directions (1956)
"The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone"
Tennessee Williams, J. Lechmann (1950)
"Tennessee Williams: Everyone Else Is an Audience"
Ronald Hayman, Yale University Press

Notes

"[I hope] that you will not let the entire season pass without seeing something besides 'Death of a Salesman'. Do you know I got five complete sets of notices of that play, sent me by various well-meaning friends in New York? More than I ever got for any play of my own, including the 'Menagerie' in London ..." --Williams to his friend Maria St. Just, March 5, 1949, in "Five O'Clock Angel", St. Just's collection of letters from Williams.

"I don't feel inclined to write any more about the so-called (s)outhern belle," --Williams to a reporter in London interview, August 1, 1962.

"I have never found the subject of homosexuality a satisfactory theme for a full-length play, despite the fact that it appears as frequently as it does in my short fiction." --Williams in The New York Times, March 4, 1973.

"If I had it all to do over again I'd only write for the movies." --Williams to a reporter at a film festival in August 1982, recalled in Gene Brown's "Show Time".