Tennessee Williams



  • (Thomas Lanier Williams; 1911 - 83) US playwright, whosecontroversial plays dealt with themes of repressed sexuality and familyconflict. Williams was the most popular playwright in America between1945 and 1960, winning the Pulitzer Prize twice and the New York DramaCritics' circle Award four times. Amongst serious playwrights, onlyEugene O'Neill equalled his achievements on the Broadway stage; severalof Williams's plays were also made into successful films.

    Williams, the son of a shoe salesman, grew up in some povertyin Mississippi and Missouri. Many of his early frustrations, whichare reflected in his plays, arose from the prudery of his mother andthe coarseness of his womanizing father, who, as his son's homosexualitybecame apparent, invariably referred to him as 'Miss Nancy'.The playwright revealed his homosexuality in his Memoirs (1975),having previously explored the subject in Cat on A Hot Tin Roofand Suddenly, Last Summer.

    Williams tried his hand at fiction and poetry before turningto drama in the late 1930s, winning a Theatre Guild prize for thefour one-act plays entitled American Blues in 1939. Recognitionas a major playwright came with The Glass Menagerie, a tenderwork inspired by the tragic life of his sister, a schizophrenic. His next play, the brutal A Streetcar Named Desire, opened in 1947, winning the Pulitzer Prize and making a star of Marlon Brando. It was followed a year later by Summer and Smoke. In 1949, these three plays were runningsimultaneously in London.

    His later works included The Rose Tattoo (1951),Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), whichwon another Pulitzer Prize, Orpheus Descending (1957), Suddenly,Last Summer (1958), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), whichopened with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page in the leads. By the late1950s, Williams was being accused of repeating himself, and afterPeriod of Adjustment (1960) and The Night of the Iguana(1961), his plays were received unenthusiastically.

    During his later years, Williams became increasingly dependent on drugsand alcohol, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1969. He died from choking onthe cap of a bottle of eyedrops, which he held in his mouth while applying the dropper. The critic Eric Bentley concluded that Williams's problem was "an ambiguity of aim: he seems to want to kick the world in the pants and yet be the world's sweetheart..."