Tennessee and Rose Williams

Tennessee WilliamsOn this day in 1911, the great playwright Tennessee Williams was born. He is most known for A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. What has always bugged me is how Hollywood just loved Williams. But they glossed over the homosexual themes there. That was true of both Cat and The Night of the Iguana, which don’t make any real sense unless you divine it. Of course, the plays kind of had the same problem. I do tend to think that Williams would have written better plays had he not been writing during such a tender time.

But to me, Williams will always mean just one thing: The Glass Menagerie, his breakthrough play. I rather liked the play when I was young; I think I was 13 when I first read it. But I didn’t really get it. So about a year ago, I read it again. Now, of course, the play makes far more sense to me. And I feel like I understand all the characters. They are all so wonderful, most especially because of their flaws. And like real people, what’s good about them is also what’s bad about them.

Here is what is probably the best filmed version of the play. It has an amazing cast: Katharine Hepburn, Sam Waterston, Joanna Miles, and Michael Moriarty. It is directed without too much reverence by Anthony Harvey, who directed one of my favorite films, They Might Be Giants. It is very close to the play:

What I didn’t know about the play was that it was quite autobiographical. That’s most especially true of the mentally fragile sister Laura, who is the heart of the play. She was based upon Williams’ older sister Rose. In fact, the “gentleman caller” in the play has nicknamed Laura “Blue Roses.” Rose apparently suffered from schizophrenia. She and Williams were very close growing up. But while Williams was working in New York, Rose was given a lobotomy. As was always the case with those, the only question was just how much harm they would do. In Rose’s case, she was left incapacitated for the rest of her life.

Williams was devastated and it is speculated that his heavy use of drugs and alcohol were related to this. In addition to taking care of her over the yeas, he left the bulk of his estate for her care. Even in her state, she outlived him by 13 years. It’s extremely sad, but I prefer to think of her like this:

I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, like bits of a shattered rainbow. Then all at once my sister touches me on the shoulder. I turn around and look into her eyes… Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be!

Happy birthday Tennessee Williams!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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