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Tennessee Williams Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (2) | Trivia (23) | Personal Quotes (7) | Salary (1)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 26 March 1911Columbus, Mississippi, USA
Date of Death 25 February 1983New York City, New York, USA  (after choking on a bottle cap)
Birth NameThomas Lanier Williams

Mini Bio (2)

Tennessee Williams met long-term partner Frank Merlo in the summer of 1948 (Merlo died of lung cancer in the fall of 1963). Though separated briefly in 1961 and again in 1962, the two were partners for 15 years. Merlo acted as his personal manager/secretary.

Williams spent much of his most prolific years in Rome, Italy, and his enduring friendship with Italian stage and screen legend Anna Magnani lasted 24 years and inspired both "The Rose Tattoo" and "Orpheus Descending". Magnani realized the lead parts of these two plays, which were written for her, in their film versions. The turbulent and inspirational friendship shared between Williams and Magnani is the subject of the internationally acclaimed play "Roman Nights" by Franco D'Alessandro.

Aside from his published "Memoirs", the only authorized biographical book on Williams is by Bruce Smith, entitled "Costly Performances - Tennessee Williams; The Last Stage." This book deals with the last four years of Williams' life (1979-1983).

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Franco D'Alessandro

Tennesse Williams won two Pulitzer Prizes, for "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947) and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1955). His other major plays include "Summer and Smoke" (1948), "The Rose Tattoo" (1951), "Camino Real" (1953), "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1959), and "The Night of the Iguana" (1961). In addition to his two Pulitzers, Williams was nominated four times for the Tony Award for Best Play, wining once, for "The Rose Tattoo." (His last Best Play Tony Award nomination came 16 years after his death, for "Not About Nightingales.")

He was born Thomas Lanier Williams, III in Columbus, Mississippi on March 26, 1911, to Cornelius Williams, a traveling salesman who denigrated his sensitive son, who was homosexual, as "Miss Nancy," and the former Edwina Dakin, who like many of her son's heroines thought of herself as a Southern belle. He first began to write while afflicted with paralysis as a child, which affected him between the ages of five and seven, turning him into an invalid for two years. At the age of 13, his mother -- who encouraged his writing -- gave him a typewriter.

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.

When young Tom Williams was 17, the family moved to St. Louis, where it existed in reduced circumstances during the Great Depression. It was a "setting" that would influence his first masterpiece, "The Glass Menagerie." He went to the University of Missouri-Columbia for his higher education, where his fraternity brothers gave Ham the nickname "Tennessee" due to his deep southern accent. Later, he transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri but did not take his degree until he was 28 years old, from the University of Iowa, where he matriculated in the school's writing program. Before attending Iowa, Williams led an itinerant life, including some time as a hobo wandering California and Mexico.

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 tragic poet Hart Crane was one of his early influences, but as a playwright, it was Henrik Ibsen who had the greatest impact on him. Williams learned the Scandinavian literary dialect used by Ibsen to better understand his plays.

Tennessee was close to his sister Rose, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia after accusing her father of making sexual advances towards her. Rose was institutionalized, eventually spending most of her life in mental institutions. Cornelius and Edwina Williams permitted Rose to received a prefrontal lobotomy, which was performed in 1937 and which incapacitated her. Tennessee Williams was haunted by his sister's tragedy for the rest of his life, and never forgave his parents for authorizing the operation.

Tennessee Williams suffered from depression, and feared going mad. He was briefly institutionalized in 1969 after a severe nervous breakdown, and never forgave his younger brother Dakin for allowing him to be put into a madhouse, which was a nightmare, according to his 1975 memoir. Part of Williams' problem, aside from his alcoholism, was that in the 1960s, he had become addicted to prescription drugs.

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.

Tennessee Williams died on February 25, 1983, after choking on the cap of a bottle of eye drops that became lodged in his throat. (Williams was plagued by eye problems much of his adult life.) He was 71 years old. That his plays continue to be revived successfully on Broadway and on stages all over the world more than a half-century after their debuts is testament to his greatness as a dramatist.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Trivia (23)

Playwright
When his body was discovered in his hotel room, a bottle cap was found lodged in his throat. The most likely cause of death was from choking while intoxicated.
Pictured on a 32¢ US commemorative postage stamp in the Literary Arts series, issued 13 October 1995.
"Clothes for a Summer Hotel" (1980) was based on American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda Sayre.
He won the New York Drama Critics' Circle award for "The Glass Menagerie." He also won two Pulitzer Prizes in Drama - for "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947) and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1954).
He was raised in St. Louis, MO. He earned his B.A. degree from the University of Iowa.
His tragedy "A Streetcar Named Desire" performed at the Royal National Theatre: Lyttelton, was nominated for a 2003 Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best Revival of 2002.
The character of Laura in the play "The Glass Menagerie" was based on his sister Rose. His distant cousin Rose Diane Lanier (aka Diane Ladd) is the mother of Laura Dern.
Biography/bibliography in: "Contemporary Authors". New Revision Series, Vol. 132, pp. 415-428. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2005.
Claimed he was often mistaken in public for Tennessee Ernie Ford. When his star started declining in the late 1960s, he said being mistaken for the country singer was a relief.
Won two Tony Awards in 1951 for "The Rose Tattoo:" as Best Author (Dramatic) and as author of the Best Play winner. He was also nominated three times as author of a Best Play nominee: in 1956 for "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," in 1962 for "The Night of the Iguana," and, posthumously, in 1999 for "Not About Nightingales."
Head of jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1976
Suffered from depression through his entire adult life.
His seventh cousin once removed is novelist and playwright Truman Capote.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume One, 1981-1985, pages 882-885. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1998.
Aside from his published "Memoirs", the only authorized biographical book on Williams is by Bruce Smith, entitled "Costly Performances - Tennessee Williams; The Last Stage." This book deals with the last four years of Williams' life (1979-1983).
He spent much of his most prolific years in Rome, Italy, and his enduring friendship with Italian stage and screen legend Anna Magnani lasted 24 years and inspired both "The Rose Tattoo" and "Orpheus Descending". Magnani realized the lead parts of these two plays, which were written for her, in their film versions. The turbulent and inspirational friendship shared between Williams and Magnani is the subject of the internationally acclaimed play "Roman Nights" by Franco D'Alessandro.
He met long-term partner Frank Merlo in the summer of 1948 (Merlo died of lung cancer in the fall of 1963). Though separated briefly in 1961 and again in 1962, the two were partners for 15 years. Merlo acted as his personal manager/secretary.
When he wrote "A Streetcar Named Desire" (his 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning play from which the movie was later adapted), he had Tallulah Bankhead firmly in mind for the role of Blanche DuBois. Bankhead eventually played the role of Blanche in an unsuccessful Broadway revival in 1956.
His plays, "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Suddenly Last Summer," were both nominated for the 1973 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Play Production and were both performed at the Ivanhoe Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.
Tennessee Williams won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play "A Streetcar Named Desire" and won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the play "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof".
Williams's first theatrical success, 'The Glass Menagerie', originated from a treatment entitled "The Gentleman Caller" that he submitted to producer Arthur Freed while working as a writer at MGM in 1941. Williams had Ethel Barrymore in mind for Amanda and Judy Garland penciled in for Laura. Freed liked the story, but MGM boss Louis B. Mayer thought it wouldn't translate well to film because it did not have a happy ending.
His play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Writers' Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, was nominated for a 2010 Joseph Jefferson Award for Production of a Play (Large).

Personal Quotes (7)

Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory.
[on Marlon Brando] He loves the light! See how the light shines through him? . . . I shouldn't be partial, but he is my favorite one.
A prayer for the wild at heart, kept in cages.
Eli Wallach has discovered the secret of pissing people off. He's happy.
Why pick on [Elia] Kazan just because he made a mistake sixteen years ago and joined the Communist Party when he didn't know what it was all about? If you keep it up, there won't be anybody out here but those who know how to make B-pictures.
[on alcoholic episodes in his later years] I was always falling down, and I would always say, 'I'm about to fall down', and almost nobody ever caught me.
[re his assignment to write screenplay for Lana Turner] I think that it is one of the funniest but most embarrassing things that ever happened to me, that I should be expected to produce a suitable vehicle for this actress. I feel like an obstetrician required to successfully deliver a mastodon from a beaver.

Salary (1)

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) $500,000

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