Saturday, March 26, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday!

Today we celebrate the 100th birthday of Thomas Lanier Williams - you probably know him as Tennessee Williams though. He was born on this day 100 years ago in Columbus, Mississippi.

A brilliant writer who had a troubled adolescence, many of these earlier experiences informed his works. His father was abusive. His mother was often hysterical and overprotective. His older sister, Rose, was mentally ill, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and when she made claims that her father made sexual advances toward her, was lobotomized.

You can see echoes of Rose in The Glass Menagerie, his breakout play. Set in St. Louis (where the Williams family lived while Tennessee was in high school and college), it tells the tale of the Wingfield family, specifically the attempted set-up of fragile daughter, Laura, by her fading Southern belle mother Amanda. Tennessee has called the play a semi-autobiographical tale of himself, his mother, and his sister. The play was a success and moved to Broadway in 1945 where it won the NYC Critics Circle Award.

Williams then moved on to his second play, and arguably his greatest work - A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee won his second NYC Critics Circle Award and his first Pulitzer. The show was such a success that it, along with most of the cast, were transferred to a film version. It features the now famous and widely acknowledged master performance by Marlon Brando. It's also easy to argue that the fragile Blanche is another echo of his sister Rose and Brando's bullying abusive Stanley is an echo of Williams' father.

With Streetcar, Williams made himself financially secure, and established himself as one of the great American writers. He met and fell in love with Frank Merlo, who he remained with until Frank's early demise from lung cancer in 1961. Williams had battled depression for most of his life and the loss of his partner combined with an addiction to drugs sent him into a downward spiral. Tennessee passed away in 1983 after choking on the lid of an eyedrop bottle. He is buried in St. Louis.

His legacy, however, lives on in his writing. He continues to be one of the most produced playwrights in America and is certainly one of the greatest. Dragon will produce A Streetcar Named Desire this summer in his honor.

Some quotes from Tennessee Williams.


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