Tennessee Williams: 20th century Playwright (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983)
Origins & family:
• Tennessee Williams, real name Thomas Lanier Williams III, was born in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1911, in the home of his maternal grandfather who was the local episcopal rector. At age three his family had moved to Mississippi, and then aged 7 they moved to St. Louis, Missouri.
• His father, Cornelius Williams, was a travelling salesman and grew increasingly abusive as Tennessee and his siblings grew older. His father also favoured Tennessee’s brother over him. His mother, Edwina Williams, was a typical ‘Southern Belle’ who tended to be ‘snobby’ towards those who, she felt, were below ...view middle of the document...
Later that year in 1936 Tennessee enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, where he wrote the play ‘Me, Vashya’ (1937).
• By 1938 he moved to University of Iowa graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. Tennessee later studied Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York City.
His personal struggles:
• He started life as a sickly child his mother was a loving but smothering woman, due to her ‘southern belle’ qualities.
• His sister, Rose, was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman and throughout his life Tennessee remained close to her. Tragically she became institutionalized for the rest of her life but as soon as Tennessee was financially able to, he had her moved to a private institution just outside the city of New York. Rose’s tragic life is thought to have been one of the main contributors of Tennessee’s alcoholism and dependence on combinations of amphetamines and barbiturates.
• By the late 30’s he had accepted he was homosexual, at this time homosexuals suffered serve oppression from the rest of the community. When he moved to New York he had joined a gay social circle which included writer Donald Windham and his partner at the time Fred Melton.
• Summer 1940, Tennessee’s partner at the time, Kip Kiernan, left Tennessee to marry a woman and Tennessee became distraught and Kip’s death, at the young age of 26, delivered another heavy blow for Tennessee.
• Spring 1949 Tennessee fell in love with Frank Merlo and this relationship lasted 14 years until infidelities and drug abuse intervened into both of their lives.
• Merlo cared for Tennessee and provided happiness and reassurance during Tennessee’s phases of depression, they both feared Tennessee would fall into insanity just like his sister.
• Tennessee’s happiest times were with Merlo but sadly the relationship ended. Shortly after the break up, Merlo discovered he had inoperable lung cancer and Tennessee returned to Merlo’s side and took care of him until his death on 20th September 1963.
• In the years following Merlo’s death, Tennessee plunged into a period of catatonic depression, just like Merlo and he feared. His drug abused increased which tragically resulted in several hospitalizations and commitments to mental health facilities.
• His doctor at the time ‘Dr Feelgood’ used increasing amount of amphetamines to help his depression and with these combined with sedatives caused Tennessee to become almost incoherent which was bad for his credibility as a playwright and a public personality.
• Towards the end of his life he was not able to overcome his dependence on prescription drugs or regain his previous success
• February 25th 1983, Tennessee was found dead in the Elysee Hotel, New York at the age of 71, due to a drug and alcohol overdose.
• Throughout Tennessee’s writings he mentioned some of the poets and writers who had influenced him from a young age: William Shakespeare (Hamlet, Macbeth), Thomas Wolfe (Of Time...