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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Don't Know Much About Tennessee...

Williams, that is. I was browsing the Internet yesterday and ran across an article that stated Tennessee Williams had died by choking on a bottle cap. What an ignominious way to go! Could it be true? (It is.) Reading this, I realized that I know absolutely nothing about Tennessee Williams. With the centennial anniversary of his birth approaching, I decided a few nuggets were in order. I mean, really. A true genius who rails against the slow crumbling of and defection from a classical art form? I'm already deep in intellectual lust with him:

"Literature has taken a backseat to television, don't you think? It really has. We don't have a culture anymore that supports the creation of writers or supports them very well. I mean serious artists." (Radar)
  • Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, MS on March 26, 1911 (Pencak).
  • Tennessee's great-great-great-grandfather was named Preserved Fish Dakin (Leverich 18). I think Tom faired pretty well, don't you?
  • His father made him drop out off college during his junior year because he failed a class three times.(Leverich 111, 128) The subject? R.O.T.C. Dear old Dad then found him work in a shoe factory.
  • He finally received his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Iowa in 1938 (Pencak).
  • Williams held jobs as a waiter, an elevator operator, and a teletype operator while trying to make ends meet as a struggling playwright (Radar).
  • His sister Rose, a schizophrenic, was lobotomized in 1943. Williams took care of her until his death (Pencak).
  • Frank Merlo, who he met in 1947, was his life partner until Merlo died in 1961 of lung cancer (Pencak).
  • Williams never married. In a 1965 article, it says that "The great love of his life was a girl he knew in St. Louis, who married someone else and died early" ("Tennessee Williams Richer in 20 Years"). Hmm... Sounds like a publicist's story to me.
  • Won Pulitzers for Streetcar Named Desire, 1947, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1955 (Encyclopedia of World Biography).
  • In February 1979, he was "attacked by a gang of toughs as he strolled home from a discotheque." Apparently, Williams and NY author Dotson Radar were belting out "I Come to the Garden Alone" when they met the youths. Williams told them, "We're itinerant choristers, trying to make an honest living." The gang wasn't impressed and roughed them up a bit. Williams' reply? "Obviously they were New York drama critics" ("Special Squad to Clean up Key West").
I'm enthralled. While searching for nuggets, I ran across his sister Rose's obituary which is heartbreakingly fascinating and well worth a read. I also found another inspiring quote:

Williams was once asked what he thought of the Moral Majority and other groups campaigning for a limit on freedom of expression. Tennessee replied, "Art has to be free to deal with all aspects of human existence, regardless of how brutal or shocking. I don't set out to shock. I set out to tell the truth, and sometimes the truth is shocking." (Radar)

And there you have it, a mound of nuggety goodness, Tennessee (Williams) style.

Leverich, Lyle, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1995. Print.
Pencak, William. "Tennessee Williams." Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America. Ed. Marc Stein. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.
Radar, Dotson. "Tennessee Williams." Parade 17 May 1981: 16. Print.
"Special Squad to Clean up Key West." The Clarion-Ledger 5 Feb. 1979: A. Print.
"Tennesse Williams Richer in 20 Years." The Clarion-Ledger 13 June 1965: F-7. Print.
"Williams, Tennessee (1914-1983)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.

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