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. In 1980 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi, in the home of his maternal grandfather, the local Episcopal priest. He was of Welsh descent. His father, Cornelius Williams, a hard drinking traveling salesman, favored Tennessee's younger brother Dakin, perhaps because of Tennessee's weakness and effeminacy as a child. His mother, Edwina, was a borderline hysteric. Tennessee Williams would find inspiration in his problematic family for much of his writing.
In 1918, when Williams was seven, the family moved to the University City neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he first attended Soldan High School, used in his work The Glass Menagerie and later University City High School. In 1927, at age 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. In the late 1930s, Williams transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for a year, and finally earned a degree in 1938 from the University of Iowa, where he wrote Spring Storm. By then, Williams had written Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!. This work was first produced in 1935 by a community theater in Memphis, Tennessee. He later studied at The New School in New York City.
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 Carre. 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.
Tennessee Williams was an American playwright, author of many stage classics. On a 1945 visit to Taos, New Mexico, Williams met Pancho Rodríguez y González. They lived and traveled together until late 1947 when Williams ended the affair. Rodríguez and Williams remained friends, however, and were in contact as late as the 1970s. Williams met Frank Merlo, a navy veteran, and former lover of the lyricist John Latouche, in Provincetown during the summer of 1947 where they spent a night together in the dunes. In the early autumn of 1948 Williams accidentally ran into Merlo in New York City, and by October they were living together. Merlo began the process of weaning the playwright off a toxic dependence on drugs and casual sex. They remained together until Merlo died of lung cancer in 1963.
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 incapacitated Rose for the rest of her life. 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.
Williams worked extremely briefly in the renowned Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan, lasting less than a day.
Williams' relationship with Frank Merlo 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.
Williams died on February 25, 1983.
Williams' body was taken to Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel and Williams' funeral took place on March 3, 1983 at Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in New York City. At his brother Dakin's insistence, Williams' body was interred in the Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri, a city he detested. Williams had long told his friends he wanted to be buried at sea at approximately the same place as Hart Crane, a poet he considered to be one of his most significant influences.
Williams left his literary rights to The University of the South in honor of his grandfather, Walter Dakin, an alumnus of the university, which is located in Sewanee, Tennessee. The funds support a creative writing program. When his sister Rose died in 1996 after many years in a mental institution, she bequeathed $7 million from her part of the Williams estate to The University of the South as well.
In 1989, the University City Loop (in a suburb of St. Louis) inducted Tennessee Williams into its St. Louis Walk of Fame.
Burial: Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Saint Louis, St. Louis City, Missouri, USA
Tennessee Williams loved to cruise Times Square with Donald Windham in the forties. Williams recalled making "very abrupt and cadid overtures, phrased so blunty that it's a wonder they didn't slaughter me on the spot." First the soldiers stared in astonishment; then they usually burst into laughter. Finally, after a brief conference, "as often as not, they would accept" the playwright's invitation.
At a series of government-sponsored seminars at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan in 1941, psychiatrists expanded on their theory of homosexuality as a mental illness. Homosexuality was discussed as "an aspect of three personality disorders: psychopaths who were sexual perverts, paranoid personalities who suffered from homosexual panic, and schizoid personalities" who displayed gay symptoms. In 1942, army mobilization regulations were expanded to include a paragraph entitled "Sexual Perversion." It was written by Lawrence Kubie, a Manhattan psychiatrist who was famous for his treatment of show business patients tormented by doubts about their sexual orientation - from Clifton Webb to Tennessee Williams and Moss Hart.
"Kubie ruined Tennessee," said Arthur Laurents. "He really did. Becuase Frankie Merlo was a wonderful man who held Tennessee together, and Kubie broke them up." The Merlo got lung cancer, and Williams returned to him. "But a little late," said Laurents. "Frankie was a very nice man." --The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America by Charles Kaiser
Donald Windham & Tennessee Williams, 1943, by George Platt Lynes
Tennessee Williams, 1950, by George Platt Lynes
Tennessee Williams by PaJaMa
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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