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Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Williams’

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire
Written by Tennessee Williams

New York actress Tory Flack in front of the house Grant Wood used for his painting "American Gothic." Eldon, Iowa (2009)

New York actress Tory Flack in front of the house Grant Wood used for his painting “American Gothic.” Eldon, Iowa (2009)

Yesterday we went global big, today we’re going local small. Well, at least small scale in the big city. In one of the many posts I did on playwright Tennessee Williams this month I mentioned that his worked continues to gain in popularity since his death in 1983. So I wanted to tell you about an opportunity you have to support Bedlam Ensemble in their Kickstarter campaign for The Tennessee Williams Project.

They have three days remaining to raise an additional $1,000 to meet their goal and I’d love to have a few Screenwriting from Iowa angels help push them toward their goal of presenting “A unique twist on the one-act plays of Tennessee Williams” directed by Daniella Caggiano.

Bedlam Ensemble didn’t contact me, but I do have a connection with them. About five years ago I worked with one of the Bedlam actors, Tory Flack. First on a video project I produced for an economic development group and then on a short film I wrote and directed. Tory graduated with a theater degree from the University of Iowa—the same college where Tennessee Williams himself earned his college degree.

I took the above photo of Tory in front of the house in Eldon, Iowa Grant Wood used in his painting “American Gothic”—one of the most recognizable paintings in the history of art. It was zero degrees when I took that photo. Consider giving to The Tennessee Williams Project just because Tory not only gave her lines when it was zero degrees—but could smile as well. Here’s an updated photo of Tory by Chicago photographer Johnny Knight. (Throw Johnny a little kindness if you need some photography work done in Chicago, and consider Tory for that film you’re casting.)

1093791_10201755872881331_639476731_o

Tory’s a very talented actress and I’m glad she’s found her way to New York where her acting gigs include the Brooklyn Shakespeare Festival. So while I’m not familiar with the Bedlam Ensemble, my hunch is Tory has connected with some like-minded actors. I saw the Bedlam Kickstarter campaign on a  Facebook post last night. Bedlam Ensemble is in its fourth season and according to their Kickstarter page:

“We chose to present the one act plays of Tennessee Williams because of their beautifully poetic language, striking characters, and the great potential for ensemble work. However, these wonderful plays are not in the public canon, which means we have to pay for the right to perform them. Your support will help us pay for those rights, as well as the cost of renting The Gene Frankel Theatre—an appropriate venue since Gene Frankel in fact knew Tennessee Williams. We also need to cover the expense of putting together the lights, costumes,set, and sound design that bring the world of the play to life; and the funds for advertising our show to the world so we can get the word out and have the best possible audience.”

Lastly, I heard an interview with Tennessee Williams last week (probably from the ’60s or ’70s) where he talked about the importance of smaller regional theaters around the country as being very important for the development of writers. So seek out and support groups like Bedlam Ensemble. And if you have some plays, contact Bedlam’s literary manager Daniella Caggiano (dcaggiano@gm.slc.edu) about submitting your script.

P.S. Performance is scehduled for January 15th-26th 2014 at the Gene Frankel Theatre in NYC.

Related posts:
Postcard #65 (Tennessee Williams) Tennessee is buried in St. Louis.
Postcard #66 (Sewanee) Where Williams’ willed his literary works.
The Catastrophe of Success (Part 1)
The Catastrophe of Success (Part 2)
Don’t Quit Your Day Jon (2.0) One of the great characters in theater came from a job Williams hated.
Postcard #64 (Columbus, MS) Where Tennessee Williams was born.

Scott W. Smith

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“How weak is man? How often do we stray from the straight and narrow?”
Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton in the movie version)
The Night of the Iguana written by Tennessee Williams

suwanne“Have you seen the cross?” I had no idea what the lady was talking about. On Monday I made a quick stop off I-24 in Sewanee, Tennessee to take a couple of photos at The University of the South campus.  I read recently that the school was willed the literary rights to the works of Tennessee Williams and I was intrigued.

I was trying to get a photo of the large Gothic chapel on campus but the setting sun was too low for me a shot I liked. That’s when the lady asked me if I had seen the cross. She seemed to think it was something I should see, so I followed her instructions and five minutes later I pulled up to the cross which is 60 feet tall.  Now the setting sun was working in my favor and I got the above shot. (The Sewanee War Memorial Cross was constructed in 1922.)

So why did Tennessee Williams leave has literary rights to a school which sits atop the Cumberland Plateau between Nashville and Chattanooga, and that was founded in 1860 by Episcopal priests?

It’s because that’s where his grandfather, an Episcopal priest, graduated from the School of Theology. I’ve read that Tennessee Williams is only second to Shakespeare in frequency of plays produced today so that literary estate must be doing quite well. Check out the link The Tennessee Williams Legacy on the school’s website.

“I was born a Catholic, really. I’m a Catholic by nature. My grandfather was an English Catholic (Anglican), very, very high church. He was higher church than the Pope. However, my ‘conversion’ to the Catholic church was rather a joke because it occurred while I was taking Dr. Jacobson’s miracle shots. I couldn’t learn anything about the tenets of the Roman Catholic church, which are ridiculous anyway. I just loved the beauty of the ritual in the Mass. But [my brother] Dakin found a Jesuit father who was very lovely and all, and he said, ‘Mr. Williams is not in a condition to learn anything. I’ll give him extreme unction and just pronounce him a Catholic.’

I was held up in the Roman Catholic church, with people supporting me on both sides, and I was declared a Catholic. What do you think of that? Does that make me a Catholic? No, I was whatever I was before.

And yet my work is full of Christian symbols. Deeply, deeply Christian. But it’s the image of Christ, His beauty and purity, and His teachings, yes . . . but I’ve never subscribed to the idea that life as we know it, what we’re living now, is resumed after our death. No. I think we’re absorbed back into, what do they call it? The eternal flux? The eternal shit, that’s what I was thinking.”
Tennessee Williams
Interviewed by Dotson Rader for the Paris Review

Williams’ play (and the movie that followed) The Night of the Iguana is about a defrocked Episcopal priest.

P.S. A little Night of the Iguana trivia; The cross that Richard Burton wore in the movie belonged to Williams’ grandfather and is on now on display at the former house that Williams lived in in Columbus, Mississippi where his grandfather used to minister. It was donated by Williams’ nieces.

P.P.S.
At the base of the Sewanee cross it reads:

WWI
To the sons of Sewanee who answered their country’s call to service win the World War 1917-1918
.

WWII
To those from the University, the Military Academy, Sewanee, and all Franklin County in World War II. 1941-1945.

Related post: Postcard #64 (Columbus, MS)

Scott W. Smith

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“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks! The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”
Don Quixote character in Camino Real 
Play written by Tennessee Williams
(The first part is engraved on Williams’ headstone.)

Tennessee Williams Gravesite

It just so happens that in the midst of this run of posts on the life and work of Tennessee Williams I drove through St. Louis, Missouri yesterday and basically had enough time to stop and take the above photo at Calvary Cemetery north of I-70.

I knew of Williams’ connection to St. Louis, but did not realize he was buried there until doing research on these recent set of posts. Danny Manus in his Script article posted yesterday, Notes from the Margins: Every Article on Screenwriting You Never Have to Read Again, may be correct when he stated that 90% of screenwriting blogs are “regurgitated bullshit,” so the way I try to set myself apart from the hundreds of screenwriting and writing blogs is to take you to places like Columbus, Mississippi where Williams was born and Calvary Cemetery where he was laid to rest.

The stake I put in the ground on January 22, 2008 (with the post Life Beyond Hollywood) was that this blog would be come from the angle of a Hollywood outsider. Of course, along the 1,684 posts I’ve quoted more than 400 Hollywood insiders, but I’ve always been concerned with writers’ origins and a sense of place. You can’t separate Chekhov from Russia, Ibsen from Norway , or Shakespeare from England. And you can’t separate Tennessee from Mississippi, or New Orleans, or St. Louis.

In fact— from the perspective of this blog—if there is a bookend to screenwriter Diablo Cody (who was the inspiration behind starting this blog just a few days after seeing Juno) it is Tennessee Williams. Like Cody, Williams graduated from the University of Iowa. Both achieved awards at the highest level for their dramatic writing (Williams a Tony and a couple of Pulitzer Prizes, and Cody an Oscar). Other commonalities between the two writers are a struggle with depression, an enjoyment of alcohol, and a mixing of the sacred and the profane.

I’m not saying that Cody is on the same plain as the hallowed Williams, just that they make a nice bookend to what this blog is about in hopes that it will help inspire you in your writing. (And to be fair to Cody, when Williams was 35-years old as Cody is now, he was known for just one major play.) As I was driving 25 hours over the last two days I also connected Williams with writers Ernest Hemingway and Pat Conroy, in that part of what shaped them as writers was a love for books at an early age as well as interesting (read highly dysfunctional) dynamics between their fathers and/or mothers.

Circling back to Williams’ gravesite, in one interview I saw he said he wanted to be buried at sea—as close to his poet hero Hart Crane as possible. Yet there he is in a Catholic Cemetary with his mother and sister buried on each side of him. Williams’ sister Rose may be the single person in his life that influenced him the most. She is the basis for Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Perhaps the most powerful over-arching theme in Williams work is the fragileness of human life. A theme by the way, which will always have an audience.

“Oh Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger—anything that can blow your candles out! For nowadays the world is lit by lighting! Blow out your candles, Laura, and so goodbye….”
Tom in The Glass Menagerie
Written by Tennessee Williams

DSC_4961

P.S. I know Angelina Jolie has a tattoo on her left that are slightly modified words from Tennessee Williams; “A prayer for the wild at heart kept in cages.”
 I don’t have any tattoos, but if I got one right now I think I’d go with, “The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

Related Posts:
The Juno—Iowa Connection
Postcard #55 (Iowa Writers’ Workshop Library) Neither Cody or Williams did any graduate work at Iowa, but the school has a deep tradition of producing writers.)
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize

Scott W. Smith 

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“Security is kind of a death, I think, and it can come in a storm of royalty checks beside a kidney-shaped pool in Beverly Hills or anywhere at all that is removed from the conditions that made you an artist, if that’s what you are or were or intend to be. Ask anyone who has experienced the kind of success I am talking about—What good is it? Perhaps to get an honest answer you will have to give him a shot of truth serum but the word he will finally groan is unprintable in genteel publications.”
Tennessee Williams
The Catastrophe of Success

Between 1944 and 1961 Tennessee Williams had a run of plays on Broadway that included The Glass Menagerie,  A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattoo, Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, and Night of the Iguana. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, a Tony Award and many of his plays were made into films.

But the Williams’ plays first produced from 1962 though his death in 1983 are little remembered or performed today. The limited runs and poor reviews of plays from his last two decades weighed heavy on Williams.

“[Tennessee Williams] feigned disinterest in reviews, but he was deeply disturbed by them. Unfavorable ones could devastate him. Favorable ones might corrupt him. The most successful serious playwright of his time, he did not write for success but, as one friend said, as a ‘biological necessity.’”
Mel Gussow
NY Times 1983, Tennessee Williams Is Dead

Some have claimed that critics lead to the destructive path Williams took, and others argue that his drinking/alcoholism, cigarettes, and drug use led to the decline of his writing. Still others point to Tennessee mourning the death in 1963 of his one-time gay partner of 14 years leading to his debilitating depression.

But whatever the reason his popularity declined and  in 1969 his brother intervened and had Tennessee committed into a psychiatric hospital for a few months. Though it strained their relationship, it probably saved Tennessee’s life. Tennessee continued to write the rest of his life, but other than his play Small Craft Warning in 1972 he struggled to find an audience. In 1977 he was quoted in the NY Times saying he was, “widely regarded as the ghost of a writer.” He did experience an upsurge toward the end of his life as is major plays were performed in revival and as a new and young audience discovered his work. (And that continues to this day.)

Like the cause of his decline, Tennessee’s death involves a little speculation; the NY Times first said officials claimed the 71-year-old playwright died of natural causes, the original medical examiner’s report said Williams’ choked to death on a medicine bottle cap, others say the drug and alcohol that Williams consumed over his later decades was a form of suicide, and his brother claimed that Tennessee was killed by someone because he wouldn’t change his will.

Whatever the reason, Williams was found dead on February 25, 1983.

But if you step back from his life and career, and just look at the 10 or 15 year period where he wrote some of the most amazing plays in the history of American theater you have to marvel at the output. Fueled by family demons, a poet’s heart, and strong coffee, Williams and his passion to write came along at just the right time to shine. Just as attendance in American movies was declining and television was still in its infancy, American theater was serious business.  (Remember Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman premiered on Broadway in 1949 and ran for 742 performances.)

So let’s go back to November 30, 1947 and look at  The Catastrophe of Success. The essay Williams wrote toward the start of his career after The Glass Menagerie shot him into the spotlight, but just four days before A Streetcar Named Desire opened on Broadway. This is how he concluded his essay:

“Then what is good? The obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction, that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that’s dynamic and expressive—that’s what’s good for you if you’re at all serious in your aims. William Saroyan wrote a great play on this theme, that purity of heart is the one success worth having. ‘In the time of your life—live!’ That time is short and doesn’t return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.”
Tennessee Williams

Related posts:
“The Catastrophe of Success” (Part 2)
Tennessee Williams’ Start
Writing Quote #45 (Tennessee Williams)

Scott W. Smith

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“With fourteen plays and a novella adapted for the screen, no other dramatist has equaled Tennessee Williams’ record for having plays produced in Hollywood.”
Naomi Greenberg-Slovin
How Hollywood Got Shocked by Tennessee Williams

“I am widely regarded as the ghost of a writer, a ghost still visible, excessively solid of flesh and perhaps too ambulatory, but a writer remembered mostly for works which were staged between 1944 and 1961.”
Tennessee Williams
The New York Times, 
May 8, 1977

When the playwright Tennessee Williams found Broadway success with the The Glass Menagerie in 1944 and  A Streetcar Named Desire three years later he found himself at the pinnacle of success that few writers experience. Wouldn’t you love to go back to 1947 just for a moment and ask Mr. Williams what it was like to go through more a decade as a struggling writer to the top of the mountain? Well thanks to the Internet and Williams being a wordsmith we can discover what was going through his mind.

Four days before the opening of A Streetcar Named Desire (a play for which he would later be awarded the Pulitzer Prize) an essay he wrote was published in the New York Times called A Streetcar Named Success.  He would later retitle the essay A Catastrophe of Success and have it published at the end of the New Direction version of The Glass Menagerie.

I first read that essay as part of an acting workshop in my early twenties which I think is an ideal time to encounter Williams’ thoughts. I hope you do take the world by storm with your writings. And if you do, at least Williams will have given you a warning.

“I was snatched out of virtual oblivion and thrust into sudden prominence, and from the precarious tenancy of furnished rooms about the country I was removed to a suite in a first-class Manhattan hotel. My experience was not unique. Success has often come that abruptly into the lives of Americans. The Cinderella story is our favorite national myth, the cornerstone of the film industry if not the Democracy itself. I have seen it enacted on the screen so often that I was now inclined to yawn at it, not with disbelief but with an attitude of Who Cares!”
Tennessee Williams

Williams did not become a writer to become rich and famous, but that’s what happened. He appeared to be uncomfortable with the trappings. Of the way people treated him, and how he treated people.

“A well of cynicism rose in me. Conversations all sounded as if they had been recorded years ago and were being played back on a turn table. Sincerity and kindliness seemed to have gone out of my friends voices. I suspected them of hypocrisy. I stopped calling them, stopped seeing them. I was impatient of what I too to be inane flattery. I got so sick of hearing people say, ‘I loved your play!’ that I could not say thank you any more.”
Tennessee Williams

I’ve read that Olympic athletes after winning a gold medal that they have trained their entire life sometimes fall into a state of depression. Jon Krakauer touches on this theme in his book Into Thin Air writing about mountain climbers after they reach Mt. Everest. Williams was famous for writing every day—sometimes in eight hour stretches. I imagine along with his new-found fame there was much mental and physical exhaustion that he was experiencing (along with a family history of depression).

His cure? After having eye surgery, he “checked out of the handsome suite at the first class hotel, packed my papers and a few incidental belongings and left for Mexico, an elemental country where you can quickly forget the false dignities and conceits imposed by success.” And in Mexico he began work on a new play called The Poker Night.

When that play was completed it was called A Streetcar Named Desire and would star a new actor named Marlon Brando in the Broadway play and the Hollywood film.  It’s hard to fathom that one writer could write The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire back to back. Much less a writer in his 30s who was relatively unknown before that.

Streetcar would put Williams even further into the spotlight and for the next 15 years he would continue to meet the high expectations of audiences and critics. But around age 50 the catastrophe of success would wraps its claws around Williams and not release him until it consumed his life. We’ll look at the final act of his life in part 2.

Scott W. Smith 

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“My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life. I try to work every day, because you have no refuge but writing. When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.”
Tennessee Williams

I found the above quote this week and knew it was the missing piece to a post I wrote a few years ago on emotional autobiography;

“Tennessee Williams observed, even works of demonstrable fiction or fantasy remain emotionally autobiographical.”
David Bayles & Ted Orland
Art & Fear

“Principle  1: Whenever writers sit down before blank paper or glowing green (or amber) phosphor, their personal story is all they can write.”
Richard Walter
The Whole Picture

In Richard Walter’s book The Whole Picture he has a section called “Identity: The Only Choice” where he makes this profound statement:

“We spend much of our lives trying to reconcile these two halves of our spirit and soul—call it identity—as we struggle to figure out just what and who it is we genuinely are. The reason we go to the movies is precisely to explore these perpetually unanswerable questions regarding our identity.  It’s the same reason we go to church, temple, mosque, ashram or meetinghouse: we seek to answers to the wonderful and dreadful puzzle of our existence.”

Look at the movies that you and your friends watch over and over again and ask how much identity plays a part of liking the movie. Beloved movies that I find fit this category well are The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Pretty Women, Erin Brockovich, Braveheart, Rocky, Titanic, Dead Poets Society, The Matrix,  An Officer and a Gentleman. On the Waterfront, Good Will Hunting, Thema and LouiseToy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles (Pixar, Pixar, Pixar) and, of course, Field of Dreams. (Just to name a few.)

“If we look at some of the Academy Award winners of the 80s and 90s, we can see an identity theme shimmering through many philosophical, theological, and/or psychological ideas.
Linda Seger
Advanced Screenwriting

And certainly the more recent Academy winning best film, The King’s Speech, is heavy on identity. On one level you could identify if you were a stutter, but other levels of identity for audiences are if you have any physical trait that is holding you back from performing your best in life. Some could identify being the parent of a child with a handicap. Others could identify with being a gifted teacher whose teaching may be effective, but rather unorthodox and not respected by those in power.

There is no doubt that the screenwriter of The King’s Speech identified first hand with the material he was writing. And as we learn from now Oscar-winner David Siedler, sometimes writers aren’t always aware at first the themes which they evoke.

“I wanted to write something about my hero George VI who had given me hope as a kid, because my parents had said, ‘listen to him, he stuttered far worse than you and yet he can give these stirring, magnificent wartime speeches that rally the world.’ I didn’t see it, the fact that I was actually writing about myself. Now, with a bit more maturity, now I can see it very clearly that I was writing my story through the King.”
David Siedler
BBC interview

Siedler wrote an emotional autobiography.  So when in The King’s Speech when King George VI says, “I have a right to be heard. I have a voice,” you know this is the former stutter Sielder’s speaking as well. And how many in the audience connect with that emotionally as well?

Richard Walter’s adds, “More than a quarter of a century of professional writing and decades spent teaching have convinced me that writers’ own personal stories are all they should write.” Walter’s former student and graduate in the MFA program at UCLA, Alexander Payne, did okay writing an emotional autobiography called Sideways for which he won an Oscar (with Jim Taylor) in 2005.

I like the phrase “Emotional Autobiography” because it describes what writers do when they tap into identity themes.

“Emotional autobiography is what is going to bring your story to life, and what will make your reader connect with your characters. I bring this idea back to Tim O’Brien’s brilliant The Things They Carried. I’ve never been a soldier, but I intrinsically identify with all of the emotions those characters are feeling. The author’s emotional autobiography replaces factual accuracy and becomes my own emotional history. And that is what we should all strive for when we take the seeds of our own experiences and transfer the spirit of what is meaningful from our lives to the page.”
Eric Wasserman
Writer and Assistant Professor at The University of Akron
Embracing Emotional Autobiography Over Factual Representation in Fiction

Related posts:
40 Days of Emotions
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Can You Identify?
Emotional Autobiography (“On the Waterfront”)
E.T. & Emotional Autobiography
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter 

Scott W. Smith

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“The idea for The Glass Menagerie came very slowly, much more slowly than Streetcar, for example. I think I worked on Menagerie longer than any other play. I didn’t think it’d ever be produced. I wasn’t writing it for that purpose. I wrote it first as a short story called ‘Portrait of a Girl in Glass,’ which is, I believe, one of my best stories. I guess Menagerie grew out of the intense emotions I felt seeing my sister’s mind begin to go.”
Tennessee Williams
The Paris Review interview 

Watching actors perform Tennessee Williams’ words on stage, TV, and in movies—or even on the Internet—may not make you a better writer, but I believe they can make you more human.  If you’re tired of, or need a break from special effect extravaganzas or high-concept schlock that, to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” get a copy of The Glass Menagerie and read it slowly.

When I was driving through Mississippi last month I picked up a used copy of the printed play The Glass Menagerie for under five dollars at Square Books in Oxford. The pages had fallen out of my old original copy of the book and there was something poetic about buying the play again by the Mississippi born Tennessee Williams in the town square where Mississippi born William Faulkner used to wander. (And for what it’s worth Faulkner wrote a book titled The Sound and the Fury.)

The Glass Menagerie, a four character play, premiered in Chicago in 1944 and it debuted on Broadway the following year where it won the  New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play of that year. Critics championed the play from the very beginning. Even today when critics question a revival performance it tends to be in casting choices and stage direction.  I recall one reviewer who once wrote something to the effect that poorly performed Williams was better than no Williams at all.

One of the greatest creative opportunities of my life was doing a three month acting workshop with Arthur Mendoza working on The Glass Menagerie. This was back in the ’80s in Los Angeles shortly after Williams died and just before the Paul Newman directed version was released in 1987.  Mendoza had studied with Stella Adler for ten years before turning to teaching himself, and embraced the view that it was worth it for the actor to study the playwright as well as the play. (Some acting teachers stress importance only on the written word.)

Believe it or not we only worked on the opening monologue of Tom. Three months of working on a long monologue which begins:

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

I didn’t know much about acting, writing—or life—back then, but I knew that both Tennessee Williams and The Glass Menagerie were special. Beyond Williams’ poetic style of writing is a primal story. A story of loss and broken dreams. It’s an emotional story full of external and internal conflict that touches on basic human relationships between mother and son,  father and son, mother and daughter, husband and wife, brother and sister—can you get any more universal? Mix in themes of love, hope, and dreams and it’s no surprise that the play still has life today.

In fact, just two months ago The Glass Menagerie once again opened on Broadway (for a limited run through February) and the reviews have been outstanding.

“This production makes clear that ‘The Glass Menagerie’ belongs on the same exclusive shelf as ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night,’ ‘Death of a Salesman’ and Williams’s own ‘Streetcar Named Desire.’ It is not a lovely little memory play; it’s a great memory tragedy.”
Wounded by Broken Memories
NY Times, September 26, 2013

Below are some links to past productions of The Glass Menagerie, including the full 1973 version starring Katharine Hepburn.  Another thing that keeps The Glass Menagerie in circulation is there is never a lack of great actors who would like their shot at playing one of the four roles.

Scott W. Smith

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“The process by which the idea for a play comes to me has always been something I really couldn’t pinpoint. A play just seems to materialize; like an apparition, it gets clearer and clearer and clearer. It’s very vague at first, as in the case of Streetcar, which came after Menagerie. I simply had the vision of a woman in her late youth. She was sitting in a chair all alone by a window with the moonlight streaming in on her desolate face, and she’d been stood up by the man she planned to marry.”
Tennessee Williams ( Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie)
The Paris Review 1981 interview by Dotson Radar

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“The truth is your friend.”
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (Reversal of Fortune)

“Truth is not found in the sunshine, truth is found in the shadows.”
Novelist Paul Lieberman (Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles)
Interview with Jessy Williams

“When I write I don’t aim to shock people, and I’m surprised when I do. But I don’t think that anything that occurs in life should be omitted from art, though the artist should present it in a fashion that is artistic and not ugly. I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.”
Screenwriter and Tony & Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tennessee Williams
(A Streetcar Named Desire)
The Paris Review interview with Dotson Radar

BTW—I’m thinking that “I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking.—Tennessee Williams” would make for a fine sign above one’s writing desk/space. That’s my favorite quote to come across all year. And if you’re keeping score that’s the fourth straight day Tennessee (the state or the playwright) has been mentioned. Think I’ll see if I can keep that trend going all week.

Related Posts:
Hunting for Truth
Telling the Truth=Humor

Scott W. Smith

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On this repost Saturday I’m going to actually do a mash-up of two posts I wrote years ago. This was inspired after I visited the first boyhood home of Tennessee Williams in Columbus, Mississippi earlier this week and learned that when he was in his early 20s his shoe salesman father had Tennessee drop out of college and work a 9 to 5 job at the International Shoe Company factory in St. Louis. (The city used to be known for its “shoes, booze, and blues.”)

Tennessee hated the routine so much that it pushed him to write one story a week, writing at night and on weekends.

“Tom would go to his room with black coffee and cigarettes and I would hear the typewriter clicking away at night in the silent house. Some mornings when I walked in to wake him for work, I would find him sprawled fully dressed across the bed, too tired to remove his clothes.”
Edwina Williams (mother of Tennessee Williams who she called by his given name Tom)

Of course, I should mention that while working at the shoe factory drove him to write it was also said to drive him toward a nervous breakdown. But I doubt you can really blame his day job for his depression—or the drug and alcohol addiction that he battled for decades until he died—because those things for whatever reason seem to be pretty common traits in writers (and many artists in general) through the ages. One could even argue the greater the demons, the greater the writing. (Link to Top 15 Great Alcoholic Writers.)

But that’s another post for another day. It is worth pointing out that that day job Williams hated helped not only inspire him to write, but helped give him writing material.

Here’s my mash-up for the day. The first part is from the post Keeping Sane and Solvent (Part 3—Interview with Richard Walter, author of Essentials of Screenwriting);

SS: A while back I discovered that the Stanley Kowalski character from A Streetcar Named Desire was based on a person that Tennessee Williams had worked with in a factory.  Over and over again I seem to discover more proof, that as you say, “the day job is the writer’s friend.”

Richard Walter: That’s a perfect example. Your day job keeps you in touch with the source of your writing which is the humanity around you.  The writer’s dream is that you’re so self-sufficient you can just be in a cabin in the woods or a cottage at the beach—well,  when I have too much time on my hand I’ll call for a ski report, even in August,  just to avoid what I’m supposed to be working on.

Your day job is your friend. The writer’s day job is the friend of the writer. It keeps him solvent  and sane, which are two closely related enterprises.

Screenwriter Nick Schenk based characters in his script Gran Torino on people he had worked with in various places in the Minneapolis area and had met in bars. Anyone else happen to notice that the Clint Eastwood character is also named Kowalski? Perhaps influenced by Tennessee Williams in more than one way.

And part two of the mash-up is from a 2010 post title Don’t Quit Your Day Job;

“I was a city health inspector in Boston. Do the necessary work to pay your bills and take care of your family, and you’ll get there. Talent has a way of workin’ itself out. Hollywood will find you. Eventually.”
Screenwriter James L. White (Ray)

Workin 9 to 5
What a way to make a livin’
Barely gettin by
It’s all takin’
And no givin’

9 to 5
Grammy-winning, number one song written by Dolly Parton

Before screenwriter Colin Higgins bought a house in Beverly Hills, he once had a job cleaning pools there. Higgins had a great run in the 70s & 80s writing Silver Streak, Foul Play, Nine to Five, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

But in the book Tales from the Script, UCLA professor Richard Walter tells the story of how Higgins once hoped to win a Goldwyn screenwriting competition so he could quit his day job and write full-time for a year. He ended up getting second in the competition so he had to keep his day job which in turned launched his career. Here’s how Walter’s tell the story;

“(Colin Higgins) went to work for a swimming pool cleaning company. And the very first pool that he’s cleaning is in the flats in Beverly Hills–great big, fancy house. As he’s vacuuming the pool, sitting under a beach umbrella at the pool is a guy who clearly owns the house and he’s reading a screenplay. They get to chatting , and Colin tells him about this script that won the Goldwyn prize. And this producer agrees to read it, and ends up producing it. It’s Harold and Maude. So you just have to stay open to the surprises.”

Now keep in mind that when Higgins was cleaning pools he had already served in the United States Merchant Marines, had an English degree from Stanford and an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. In fact, he wrote Harold and Maude as his thesis. So don’t think he was just a pool guy who BS’ed his way into a screenwriting career. But once again, another story to add to my “bump-in factor” file.

And, now back to November 9, 2013,  here’s a related bonus video from The Ellen Show a couple of days ago :
“Go work until you can get the kind of job you want to have.”
Ashton Kutcher

Update 11/10/13: Found this Paris Review interview where Williams talks about life before the success of The Glass Menagerie:

“Before the success of Menagerie I’d reached the very, very bottom. I would have died without the money. I couldn’t have gone on any further, baby, without money, when suddenly, providentially, The Glass Menagerie made it when I was thirty-four. I couldn’t have gone on with these hand-to-mouth jobs, these jobs for which I had no aptitude, like waiting on tables, running elevators, and even being a teletype operator. None of this stuff was anything I could have held for long. I started writing at twelve, as I said. By the time I was in my late teens I was writing every day, I guess, even after I was in the shoe business for three years. I wrecked my health, what there was of it. I drank black coffee so much, so I could stay up nearly all night and write, that it exhausted me physically and nervously. So if I suddenly hadn’t had this dispensation from Providence with Menagerie, I couldn’t have made it for another year, I don’t think.”
Tennessee Williams

Related post:
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)
Screenwriting Quote #10 (Nick Schenk)
Emotional Autobiography Includes the quote from Art & Fear, “Tennessee Williams observed, even works of demonstrable fiction or fantasy remain emotionally autobiographical.”
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Writers: Don’t Skip Jury Duty
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B=C)
What’s it Like Being a Struggling Writer in L.A.?

Scott W. Smith

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