Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Highest Rated: 97% A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Lowest Rated: 27% The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond (2008)

Birthday: Mar 26, 1911

Birthplace: Columbus, Mississippi, USA

Playwright Tennessee Williams explored the conflict between the past and present culture of the South, as well as the psychological turmoil of his upbringing, in such legendary stage plays as "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Born Thomas Lanier Williams III on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, he was the second of three children by shoe salesman Cornelius Coffin Williams and Edwina Dakin. By all accounts, Williams' childhood was fraught with emotional turmoil: his father was prone to alcoholism and anger, and regarded his son's frail condition - caused by a yearlong bout of diptheria - with disappointment. His mother, who was the daughter of an Episcopal priest, did not approve of her husband's proclivities, and focused her attention on her son, often to an overbearing degree. School was also a source of anxiety for Williams, who was bullied for his small frame and perceived weakness; when his father took a job with the International Shoe Company in St. Louis, Missouri, Williams attended Soldan High School and later, University City High School, where his initial experiments with writing began to draw notice. By his mid-teens, he had published stories in national magazines, and his first known play, "Beauty is the Word," won honorable mention in a drama contest at the University of Missouri at Columbia. But Williams' tenure there as a journalism major was short-lived; his father forced him to quit school and take a job at his company's shoe factory, which Williams loathed. As a result, he pored his energies into his writing, which left him exhausted and eventually resulted in a nervous breakdown. After recuperating, Williams left home - which had grown more tumultuous due to his parents' separation and the fragile mental condition of his sister, Rose, with whom Williams was close - and enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and later, the University of Iowa, from which he graduated with a degree in English in 1938. Though a handful of plays had been penned and produced by amateur groups in St. Louis and Memphis, Tennessee - including "The Fugitive Kind" - Williams found this post-collegiate period a financial and creative challenge until his agent, Audrey Wood, secured a $1,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to help him complete his latest work, "Battle of Angels." The funds allowed him to move to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1939; there, he adopted the moniker "Tennessee" - a nod to his father's home - and write for the Works Progress Administration while absorbing the culture of the city's French Quarter, which would serve as the setting for several of his plays, including "Streetcar." "Angels" made its professional debut in 1940, but was a critical failure, prompting Williams to look for odd jobs - including a brief stint as a writer for MGM - until 1945, when his play "The Glass Menagerie" was produced in Chicago. A "memory play" that drew on the fragility of his sister, Rose, and his mother's overbearing nature for its characters, "Menagerie" was a huge success in both Chicago and New York, where it captured the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. The next decade saw Williams ascend as one of American theater's most dazzling playwrights, with a string of successes that included "Streetcar" in 1947, which earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; "Summer and Smoke" (1948); "The Rose Tattoo" (1951) which won the Tony for Best Play; the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Tony-nominated "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1955) and "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1959), each exploring the slow passage of perceived Southern gentility, as filtered through complex family relationships that echoed his own. He also penned or collaborated on the screenplays for "Streetcar" (1951), which helped to mint Marlon Brando as a star, and "The Rose Tattoo" (1955), and caused a scandal with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Baby Doll" (1956), about the lascivious pursuit of a nubile teenager. But after his final Tony nomination for "Night of the Iguana" in 1961, Williams' extraordinary run of stage successes petered out; critics excoriated his later works, including "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" (1962), which had suffered due to his growing alcoholism. His personal life was also in a shambles: Williams, who had been involved in several gay affairs since the late '30s, had enjoyed a 14-year relationship with actor Frank Merlo until their breakup in 1963 and his death the same year from lung cancer. With his passing, Williams fell into a deep depression that required multiple hospitalizations, where he was treated with amphetamines and prescription drugs that resulted in addiction. He resumed his writing career, but found it difficult to adapt to changing tastes and styles of theater and complained to friends and biographers that the critics had turned against him. His final years were marked by a combative relationship with aspiring writer Robert Carroll, which ended in 1979; four years later, on February 25, 1983, Williams was found dead at the age of 71 in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York, having suffocated after accidentally swallowing the cap from a bottle of eye solution. He was buried -against the wishes of his will - near his mother in St. Louis, and his literary rights were left to the University of the South in Tennessee. In the decades following his death, Williams' body of work was feted by numerous festivals, a postage stamp in 1994 and induction into the Poets' Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, as well as countless productions of his plays by professional and amateur theater groups around the world each year.



27% 40% The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond Screenwriter $119.4K 2008
74% 72% Sweet Bird of Youth Writer - 1962
No Score Yet 56% Summer and Smoke Writer - 1961
50% 63% The Fugitive Kind Writer,
- 1960
68% 83% Suddenly, Last Summer Writer - 1959
63% 72% The Rose Tattoo Writer,
- 1955
97% 90% A Streetcar Named Desire Writer,
- 1951