(born March 26, 1911 – February
25, 1983), né Thomas Lanier Williams
, was an
American playwright who received many of the top theatrical awards
for his works of drama. He moved to New Orleans in 1939 and changed
his name to "Tennessee", the state of his father's birth.
He won the Pulitzer Prize for
Streetcar Named Desire
in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
in 1955. In
addition, The Glass
(1945) and The Night of the Iguana
received New York Drama
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
Childhood and education
Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi, in the home of his
maternal grandfather, the local Episcopal
priest. He was of Welsh descent. The father often favored
Tennessee's brother Dakin, perhaps because of Tennessee's illness
and extended weakness and convalescence as a child. Tennessee's
mother Edwina Dakin Williams had aspirations as a genteel southern
lady and was smothering. She may have had a mood disorder.
Tennessee Williams would find inspiration in his problematic family
for much of his writing.
when Williams was seven, the family moved again, this time to
Missouri, where he first attened Soldan High School, used in
his work The Glass Menagerie and
later University City High
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
early 1930s Williams attended the University of Missouri, where he joined Alpha
Tau Omega fraternity. In the late 1930s, Williams transferred to
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."
Williams had written Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!
. This work
was first produced in 1935 by a community theater at 1780 Glenview
in Memphis. He later studied at The New School in New York City.
lived for a time in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He moved there in 1939 to write for the
. He first lived at
722 Toulouse Street, the setting of his 1977 play Vieux Carré
. The building is part of
The Historic New Orleans Collection
. He began
writing A Streetcar
(1947) while living at 632 St. Peter Street.
finished it later in Key West, Florida, where he moved in the 1940s.
While in New
Orleans, Williams met and fell in love with Frank Merlo, a second
generation Sicilian American who had served in the U.S. Navy in
World War II.
Tennessee was close to his sister Rose, a slim beauty who was
diagnosed with schizophrenia
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
Williams never forgave his parents. Her surgery may have
contributed to his alcoholism
dependence on various combinations of amphetamines
often prescribed by Dr. Max 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.
died on February 24, 1983, after he choked on
an eyedrop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York.
He would routinely place the
cap in his mouth, lean back, and place his eyedrops in each eye.
The police report, however, suggested his use of drugs and alcohol
contributed to his death. Toxic drugs including barbiturates were
found in the room, and Williams' gag response may have been
diminished by the effects of drugs and alcohol.
Williams' funeral took place on March 3, 1983 at St. Malachy's
Roman Catholic Church in New York City. Williams' body was
interred in the Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri.
Williams had long told his friends he
wanted to be buried at sea at approximately the same place as the
poet Hart Crane
, as he considered Crane
to be one of his most significant influences.
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 after many years in a mental
institution, she bequeathed $7 million dollars 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
The "mad heroine" theme that appeared in many of his plays seemed
clearly influenced by the life of Williams' sister Rose.
Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his
family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie
to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character
of Blanche DuBois
in A Streetcar
is also based on her.
Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie
generally seen to represent Williams' mother, Edwina. Characters
such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie
in Suddenly, Last Summer
were understood to represent
Williams himself. In addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a
in Suddenly, Last Summer
The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to A Streetcar Named
in 1948 and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
These two plays were later filmed, with great success, by noted
directors Elia Kazan
whom Williams developed a very close artistic relationship, and
(Cat). Both plays
included references to elements of Williams' life such as
homosexuality, mental instability, and alcoholism. Although The
by Clifford Odets was the preferred choice of
the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1955 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
was at first considered the weakest of the five shortlisted
nominees, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., chairman of the Board, had seen
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
and thought it worthy of the drama
prize. The Board went along with him after considerable
Williams wrote The
Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer
when he was 29
and worked on it through his life. It seemed an autobiographical depiction
of an early romance in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
This play was produced for the first time
on October 1, 2006 in Provincetown by the Shakespeare on the Cape
company, as part of the First Annual Provincetown Tennessee
The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer
several works published by New
in the spring of 2008, edited and introduced by
Williams scholar Annette J. Saddik. This collection of experimental
plays was titled The Traveling Companion
and Other Plays
Williams' last play A
House Not Meant to Stand
is a gothic comedy published in
2008 by New Directions
foreword by Gregory Mosher and an introduction by Thomas Keith.
Williams called his last play a "Southern gothic spook
Other works by Williams include Camino
and Sweet Bird of
Plays by Tennessee Williams
Short stories by Tennessee Williams
One-act collections by Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams wrote over 70 one-act plays during his lifetime.
The one-acts explored many of the same themes that dominated his
longer works. Williams' major collections are published by New Directions
in New York City.
- Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams,
Plays 1937-1955 (Library of
America, 2000) ISBN 978-1-88301186-4.
- Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams,
Plays 1957-1980 (Library of
America, 2000) ISBN 978-1-88301187-1.
A book is coming out soon by a former assistant, Scott. John Uecker
is also has directed Williams' plays
in addition to creating an edit of In Masks Outrageous and
File:Tennessee Williams NYWTS.jpg
- Gross, Robert F., ed. Tennessee Williams: A Casebook.
Routledge (2002). ISBN 0-8153-3174-6.
- Leverich, Lyle. Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams.
W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (1997). ISBN
- Saddik, Annette. The Politics of Reputation: The Critical
Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays (London:
Associated University Presses, 1999).
- Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of
Tennessee Williams. Da Capo Press (Reprint, 1997). ISBN
- Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. Doubleday (1975). ISBN
- Williams, Dakin. His Brother's Keeper: The Life and Murder
of Tennessee Williams.
- Sewanee, The
University of the South