Playwright Biography: Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams

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Thomas Lanier ”Tennessee” Williams was born on March 26th, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi to Cornelius and Edwina Dakin Williams. He grew up with an aggressive mother and a father whom favored his younger brother, Dakin. His older sister, named Rose, was emotionally disturbed and destined to spend most of her life in mental institutions. The family lived for several years in Clarksdale, Mississippi, before moving to St.Louis in 1918. Williams was raised almost entirely by his mother as his father traveled often, and she was very overprotective of her son. As a boy, Williams would make up and tell stories, many of them scary. At the age of 16, he encountered his first brush with the publishing world when he won the third prize and received $5 for an essay, ”Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?,” in Smart Set. The year after, he published ”The Vengeance of Nitocris” in Wierd Tales.

In the fall of 1929, he entered the University of Missouri to study journalism. When his father realized that Williams’ childhood sweetheart Hazel Kramer, had also entered there, he threat Williams to withdraw him. The romance between Williams and Kramer soon ended and Williams got deeply depressed and dropped out of school. He took the request by his father, and worked as a clerk in the warehouse of the same shoe company as his father. He was an employee there for ten months and in order to retreat himself from the frustrations, he wrote in his room after work during nighttime. Although writing poetry, plays and stories helped him survive for awhile, his strain soon resulted in a nervous breakdown. He was then sent to his grandparents home in Memphis to recuperate, and during these years he continued to write. It was there he joined a local theater group. Amateur productions of his early plays were put on in Memphis and St.Louis, such as ”Candles to the Sun” and ”The Fugitive Kind”, which were produced by Mummers of St.Louis in 1937.
When he returned to St.Louis, he began socializing with a group of poets at Washington University. He then decided to return back to college in 1937, this time at the University of Iowa, and graduated in 1938. He then moved to New Orleans and changed his name to Tennessee. During World War II, he found fame when he won the Group Theater prize of $100 for American Blues and received a $1,000 Rockfeller grant in 1939. In 1940, his first full-length and professionally produced play “Battle of Angels” failed miserably. He continued to struggle and by 1945, he achieved the turning point of his life and career. His “The Glass Menagerie” play, produced in Chicago was a great success, and it later reached Broadway. This play won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award as the best play of the season.

Over the next eight years he found home for “A Streetcar Named Desire”, “Summer and Smoke”, “A Rose Tattoo”, and “Camino Real” on Broadway. “A Streetcar Named Desire” won Williams the Pulitzer Prize in 1948, and afterwards Williams reached a larger worldwide public in 1950 when “The Glass Menagerie” and again in 1951 when “A Streetcar Named Desire” were made into motion pictures. Around this time, Williams met Frank Merlo. The two fell in love, and the young man became Williams’ romantic partner until Merlo’s sudden death in 1961. Williams again, suffered from depression.

Over the next thirty years, he divided his time between homes in Key West, New Orleans and New York. His reputation continued to grow and many more of his works was produced on Boradway and made into films. These included; “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, “Orpheus Descending”, and “Night of the Iguana”. In 1955, he earned a second Pulitzer Prize for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. In 1981, his “Something Cloudy, Something Clear” was produced Off Off Broadway at the Jean Cocteau Theater, and the following year, his final play, “A House Not Meant to Stand” premiered at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Williams died on February 24th, 1983 at the Hotel Elysée in New York City, at the age of 71. His burial remains in the Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.


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  • Inactive member 2005-04-10

    du verkar vara bra på engelska

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