Charming Gentleman: Tennessee Williams

“If the writing is honest

it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.”

~Tennessee Williams

Thomas Lanier Williams III (1911-1983) was born to a traveling salesman and a Southern belle in Columbus, Mississippi on March 26, 1911.  From the age of 5 to the age of 7, he became inflicted with paralysis.  Unable to move, his mother gave him a typewriter and encouraged Thomas to write.  At 16 years old, the young Tom Williams became a published writer with his essay, “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?”, which appeared in the magazine “Smart Set”.

When he was 17, Tom’s family moved to St. Louis, Missouri.  Mr. Williams attended the University of Missouri, Columbia where he earned the nickname Tennessee because of his deep southern accent.  Tennessee transferred to Washington University in St. Louis and then eventually to University of Iowa where he earned his degree at the age of 28.

Tennessee used his real life experiences to write his first Broadway hit, The Glass Menagerie.  Tennessee’s sister Rose suffered from schizophrenia and eventually received a lobotomy. His father referred to Tennessee as “Miss Nancy” as a cut to his open homosexuality. Tennessee’s mother felt trapped in her marriage and focused all of her attention on Tennessee and became overbearing. If you have seen any of his work, you will no doubt be able to see the connections between his life and play scripts. His next play, A Streetcar Named Desire, was an instant success and it secured his position as a revered playwright.  His plays continued to do well on Broadway and some eventually became big-screen successes.

Tennessee suffered from depression and was briefly institutionalized in 1969 for a nervous breakdown.  During his time in treatment, Mr. Williams became addicted to drugs and eventually became dependent on alcohol.

Tennessee Williams has four Drama Critic Circle Awards, a Tony Award, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On the other hand, Roman Catholic Cardinal Spellman blacklisted and condemned Tennessee claiming his scripts were, “revolting, deplorable, morally repellent, [and] offensive to Christian standards of decency.”

It is often said that Tennessee based his plays on his real-life experiences.  It is his openness and honesty with the harsh realities of life, translated into film which makes him one of the best playwrights  of all time.

“Enthusiasm is the most important thing in life.”

~Tennessee Williams

Below are stills from some of Tennessee Williams’ motion pictures.  Please click the image below for a larger version.

Information gathered using these sources: and 
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