Log In

Tennessee Williams Edit Profile

also known as Thomas Lanier Williams III

essayist , playwright , writer

Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams III was an American playwright, author of many stage classics. He is best known for his plays A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Orpheus Descending, and Sweet Bird of Youth.

Background

Thomas Lanier Williams III was born in Columbus, Mississippi, the second child of Edwina and Cornelius Coffin (C.C.) Williams.

Education

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, his short story "The Vengeance of Nitocris" was published in the magazine Weird Tales.

He enrolled in journalism classes. While the university's School of Journalism was regarded one of the world's best, Williams found his classes boring. He was soon entering his poetry, essays, stories, and plays in writing contests, hoping to earn extra income.

At Mizzou, Williams joined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, but he did not seem to have fit in well with his fraternity brothers. According to Hale, the "brothers found him shy and socially backward, a loner who spent most of his time at the typewriter." After he failed military training in his junior year, his father pulled him out of school and put him to work at the International Shoe factory .

Career

The young Tom Williams wrote his first play "Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! When he was a teenager, in 1935. He became a published writer at the age of 16, winning third prize (and $5) for his essay "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?" in a contest run by the magazine "Smart Set." The magazine "Weird Tales" published his short story "The Vengeance of Nitocris" in 1928.

He moved to New Orleans in 1939, he renamed himself "Tennessee," ostensibly in homage to the state of his father's birth. In New Orleans, Williams lived in the French Quarter, where he labored for the Works Progress Administration's writers program. His first play, "A Battle of Angels," failed in Boston during tryouts in 1940. (He later reworked it as "Orpheus Descending" which debuted on Broadway in 1957). Though the play failed, it made Williams known, and he worked as a contract writer, briefly, for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he sketched out the play that would become "Menagerie," his first great success.

The failure of "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More" signaled the end of Williams greatness as a dramatist and his dominance of Broadway theater. The original January 1963 Broadway production of "Milk Train," starring Hermione Baddeley, closed after 16 performances. Almost exactly a year later, a production directed by Tony Richardson, red hot after directing the movie Tom Jones (1963), and featuring Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter, closed after five performances.



Williams never recovered. His next original Broadway production, "Slapstick Tragedy" (an omnibus of two short plays) closed after seven performances in 1966. "The Seven Descents of Myrtle," another original, lasted but 29 performances in 1968. "Outcry" lasted but 12 performances in 1973, while the dual bill of "A Memory of Two Mondays" and "27 Wagons Full of Cotton" (the movie Baby Doll (1956) is based on the latter play) lasted 63 performances in 1976, but "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale" closed after 24 performances, and "Vieux Carré" didn't last a week, closing after six performances in 1977. The last Broadway original produced during Williams' lifetime, "Clothes for a Summer Hotel," lasted just 14 performances in 1980.



Two Broadway originals have been produced posthumously, "Garden District" that consisted of "Something Unspoken" and "Suddenly, Last Summer" which ran for 31 performances in 1995, and the early play "Not About Nightingales," which ran for 125 performances in 1999 and was nominated for a Best Play Tony.

Achievements

  • Williams received virtually all of the top theatrical awards for his works of drama, including several New York Drama Critics' Circle awards, a Tony Award for best play for The Rose Tattoo (1951) and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire (1948) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). In 1980 he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter and is today acknowledged as one of the most accomplished playwrights in the history of English speaking theater.

Works

  • apprentice play

    • Candles to the Sun

    • Spring Storm

    • Me Vaysha

    • Fugitive Kind

    • Not About Nightingales

    • I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix

    • Orpheus Descending

    • You Touched Me

    • Stairs to the Roof

  • novel

    • The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone

    • Moise and the World of Reason

  • play

    • The Glass Menagerie

    • A Streetcar Named Desire

    • Summer and Smoke

    • The Rose Tattoo

    • Camino Real

    • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

    • Orpheus Descending

    • Suddenly, Last Summer

    • Sweet Bird of Youth

    • Period of Adjustment

    • The Night of the Iguana

    • The Eccentricities of a Nightingale

    • The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore

    • The Mutilated

    • The Seven Descents of Myrtle

    • In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel

    • Will Mr. Merriweather Return from Memphis?

    • Small Craft Warnings

    • The Two-Character Play

    • Out Cry

    • The Red Devil Battery Sign

    • This Is (An Entertainment)

    • Vieux Carré

    • A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

    • Clothes for a Summer Hotel

    • The Notebook of Trigorin

    • Something Cloudy, Something Clear

    • A House Not Meant to Stand

    • In Masks Outrageous and Austere

  • poetry

    • In the Winter of Cities

    • Androgyne, Mon Amour

  • short stories

    • The Vengeance of Nitocris

    • The Field of Blue Children

    • The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin

    • Hard Candy: A Book of Stories

    • Three Players of a Summer Game and Other Stories

    • Three Players of a Summer Game and Other Stories

    • The Knightly Quest: a Novella and Four Short Stories

    • One Arm and Other Stories

    • Eight Mortal Ladies Possessed: a Book of Stories

    • Tent Worms

    • It Happened the day the Sun Rose, and Other Stories

Politics

Williams was among the first to protest at the withdrawal of Miller's passport by the US state department. Williams remained an implicitly political writer up to and including Orpheus Descending, first performed in 1957.

Interests

  • Writers

    Hart Crane, Anton Chekhov, D. H. Lawrence, August Strindberg, William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Emily Dickinson William Inge, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway.

Connections

father:
Cornelius Coffin Williams

mother:
Edwina Williams

grandfather:
Walter Dakin

Grandmother:
Rose O. Dakin

sister:
Rose Williams

Brother:
Dakin Williams