A complete visual and interpretive exhibit honoring American playwright Tennessee Williams - presented by the Lancaster Literary Guild.
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T homas Lanier Williams was born on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi . His first home was St. Paul’s Rectory where his maternal grandparents, Rosina Otte Dakin and the Reverend Walter Edwin Dakin made their home. His grandfather was a popular Episcopalian minister. In a tribute to his grandfather titled “My Grandfather’s Letter” (circa 1937), Williams describes how one of his letters encouraged him: “You have talent and you should have time to develop it...Write with strength! His parents, Edwina Dakin Williams (1884-1980) and Cornelius Coffin Williams (1880-1957) had three children, Rose Isabel Williams (1909-1996), Thomas Lanier (1911-1983) and Walter Dakin (1919-2008). His father, Cornelius was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and was a descendent of the state’s first senator, John Williams, as well as the poet Sidney Lanier and the first Thomas Lanier Williams who was prominent in the government of Tennessee before it was declared a state. Thomas made the decision to change his name to Tennessee. We can conjecture that this decision was made to root him more firmly with the southern culture he enjoyed as a child and to bring a family tie with a father that was often absent while working for the International Shoe Company. His mother, Edwina was a strong and supportive force in her son’s life. She was born in Ohio but was raised in the South. She would be the model for Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. Her closeness to her parents, Walter and Rosina Dakin formed the family circle for her three children. She had an unhappy marriage which eventually ended in separation in 1947. W illiams was born sixteen months after his sister, Rose, the sibling he was so close to and who would feature so prominently in his fiction. This is an early photograph of the two at play. As children, Rose and Williams were very close. Since her midto-late teens, she had exhibited signs of severe depression and erratic behavior. Although Rose began seeing a psychiatrist in 1930, her behavior steadily declined. With the onset of her mental illness, her relationship with Williams deteriorated. Like Williams, Rose had difficulty getting along with her father. Diagnosed with dementia praecox (an early term for schizophrenia) in 1937, Rose underwent insulin shock treatment and a prefrontal lobotomy on January 13, 1943. She was institutionalized for the rest of her life. Williams visited her often and made some attempt to have her under his care after his success. A few months after Williams’ seventh birthday, the family moved to St. Louis. Their status changed dramatically, from being the prominent family of the minister in a small southern town to being an undistinguished middle-class family in an unfashionable St. Louis suburb. Despite spending so few of his formative years in the South, Williams would always cling to his identity as a southerner. Thomas (Tennessee) and Rose bMS Thr 553 (23), Houghton Library, Harvard University illiams wrote two poems for his sister, “Valediction” and “Elegy for Rose” both were about her leaving home. They anticipate the scene in A Streetcar Named Desire when Blanche is led off to an institution. Valediction She went with morning on her lips down an inscrutable dark way and we who witnessed her eclipse have found no word to say. I think our speechlessness is not a thing she would approve, she who was always light of wit and quick to speak and moveI think that she would say goodbye can be no less a lyric word than any song, than any cry of greeting we have heard! Elegy For Rose She is a metal forged by love too volatile, too fiery thin so that her substance will be lost as sudden lightning or as wind And yet the ghost of her remain reflected with the metal gone, a shadow as of shifting leaves at moonrise or at early dawn A kind of rapture never quite possessed again, however long the heart lays siege upon a ghost recaptured in a web of song. W In a number of his significant plays, Williams based characters on Rose. These include: Laura in The Glass Menagerie; Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire; Alma in Summer and Smoke ; Hannah in The Night of the Iguana; and Clare in The Two-Character Play (later rewritten as Out Cry). Williams wrote about or alluded to lobotomies and mental illness such as dementia praecox in such diverse plays as Not About Nightingales, Spring Storm, Suddenly Last Summer, Stairs to the Roof, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, the published version of “Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry,” “Talisman Roses,” “Alice at the Country Club” (Fragment), and “The Paper Lantern” (fragment) and the closely related “The Spinning Song” (fragment), and also in the short stories “The Four-leaf Clover” and “Why Did Desdemona Love the Moor?” (fragment). Williams also borrowed her name for characters in his plays and short stories. Williams and His Younger Brother Dakin bMS 553 (4), Houghton Library, Harvard University Letter from Dakin to “Tom” (April 10, 1964) Historic New Orleans Collection MSS562 Folder 829: D akin (Walter) Williams is pictured here with his older brother Tennessee. After gaining a law degree from Washington University, he was sent to Harvard for officer training, where he also studied business administration. He served in WWII in the Pacific. From 1946 to 1949 he taught at St. Louis University and beginning in 1965 he practiced law in Collinsville, Illinois. Dakin was instrumental in institutionalizing his brother for a short time in the psychiatric ward of Barnes Hospital in 1969 for his drug and alcohol abuse. Early that year, finding his brother in a very poor state, Dakin had proposed that he meet a local Jesuit priest, Father Joseph LeRoy. Within a few days, Williams was received into the Catholic Church, although he admitted later he had not taken the conversion very seriously. Dakin was eight years younger than his brother and was his father’s favorite son. Once the family moved to St. Louis, Williams acquired diphtheria, an infectious disease. As a result he was housebound and had to cope with isolation from the neighborhood children. He claims that his mother, Edwina, prone to mental breakdowns, gave him too much attention and he became soft, much to the dismay of his thunderous and controlling father, Cornelius. T ennessee’s brother, Dakin often referred to himself as “a professional brother” taking care of business matters for the family. This letter to Tom (Tennessee) is an example of just that. Edwina Dakin Williams Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin I n her memoirs, Remember Me to Tom (1963), Edwina Dakin Williams quotes from the extensive memorabilia associated with her son’s writing career which she had collected from the time he was a teenager. Williams’ attachment to his mother, as evidenced in his correspondence to her, continued after he left home at the end of 1938. His letters and postcards to her in the several years following 1938 are filled with reports of his welfare, his travel plans, the progress of his writing, as well as requests for money. When she went backstage after the Chicago opening of The Glass Menagerie, 1944 the actress asked ‘And how do you like yourself on stage?’ Miss Edwina stated that there was no resemblance between Amanda and herself, behind “a mutual enthusiasm for jonquils.” (Memoirs) Cornelius Coffin Williams Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin support from his father, and their relationship was weak in contrast to the closeness with his mother. Cornelius would disrupt the delicate household formed so carefully by Edwina and her loving parents. His presence, undoubtedly, became greatly feared. he character of the absent father in The Glass Menagerie is loosely based on Williams’ father, who was working for the Cumberland Telephone and Telegraph Company at the time he met Edwina Dakin. In scene 1 the narrator, Tom, says: “There is a fifth character in the play who doesn’t appear except in this largerthan-life-size photograph over the mantel. This is our father who left us a long time ago. He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances.” He modeled the main character, “C.C,” in the one-act play “The Last of My Solid Gold Watches” on his father, as well as the traveling salesman in the short story “Grenada to West Plains.” In his plays, You Touched Me! (character named Cornelius Rockley) and A House Not Meant to Stand (character named Cornelius McCorkle) the character’s first names are taken from his father. T ornelius Coffin, referred to as “C.C.” often was away from home with his work at the International Shoe Company. He forced his son, Tennessee to work for the company, which Tennessee hated, but he wrote every night and eventually Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! was the first of his plays to be produced. Williams received very little literary C Reverend Walter and Rosina Dakin in St. Petersburg, Florida Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin W illiams’ grandmother, Rosina Otte Dakin, who was affectionately known as “Grand,” was one of his strong supporters beginning in childhood during his illness. He recalls fond memories of his grandparents and most importantly notes their continuous compassion from the earliest years. He is quoted, At the age of fourteen I discovered writing as an escape from a world of reality in which I felt acutely uncomfortable. It immediately became my place of retreat, my cave, my refuge. From what? From being called a sissy by neighborhood kids, and Miss Nancy by my father, because I would rather read books in my grandfather’s large and classical library than play marbles and baseball and other normal kid games, a result of severe childhood illness and of excessive attachment to the female members of my family, who had coaxed me back to life.(Roger Boxill, Tennessee Williams, p. 9) Hazel Kramer in Tutu Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin F or Williams, Hazel Kramer was his childhood friend and ‘first love.’ One day he met eyes with a girl in his Geometry class. This made him blush, and as a result, he avoided eye contact with Hazel. His desire and love for Hazel grew, and while at the University of Missouri in 1929 he wrote a letter proposing to her. She refused and he was devastated, but his devastation inspired three of his plays. In 1934 Hazel became engaged to Terrence McCabe. Williams could never detach himself from this youthful disappointment. Williams to Audrey Wood, (1961, age 50) The Historic New Orleans Collection, accession no. MSS562 Folder 872 n 1939 Tennessee Williams entered and won a Group Theatre contest with three of his one-act plays. One of the judges was literary agent Audrey Wood. For the next 30 years of his life, Audrey Wood was Williams’ literary agent and dear friend. Her work obtained a contract between Williams and MGM. In this letter, he confides in Wood his business concerns as well as his personal desires and fears. He writes about his failing relationship with lover, Frank Merlo in Key West, and his constant state of loneliness. He mentions the rejection from his first love, childhood friend Hazel Kramer, an event that took place decades before. He is unsure about everything: his profession, sexuality, family, and his most recent work. There seems to be no solid foundation for Williams. Following this letter his alcohol and drug abuse would worsen, adding to his already unbearable paranoia. The reference to Kubie is Dr. Lawrence Kubie, an orthodox Freudian psychoanalyst who practiced in New York from 1930-1959. In a letter Williams wrote to his mother on June 27, 1957 - “I’ve been wanting to try it for a long time, and this seems a good time to do it, now that it seems advisable to stay at a safe distance from Broadway till the critics have a chance to forget my recent transgressions.” I Williams to Audrey Wood The Historic New Orleans Collection, accession no. MSS562 Folder 875 udrey Wood (1905-1985) was a prominent literary agent who had been introduced to Williams by Elia Kazan’s wife, Molly Day Thacher, a play reader at the Group Theatre. Audrey Wood and her firm, Leibling-Wood, represented Williams from 1939 until 1971, when she and Williams had a falling out. Wood was a devoted agent who managed not only Williams’ literary interests but his personal affairs as well. Her affection for Williams and his reliance on her advice and encouragement are very evident in their extensive correspondence. Her memoirs, Represented by Audrey Wood, were published in 1981. It may be that I am no longer estimable as a playwright or as a client, and in that case we should all release ourselves from each other. Insecurity had gotten the best of the bond between Williams and Wood, and the relationship was severed for good in 1971. William E. Barnes became his new agent. A Letters from Hotel St. George bMS Thr 552 (19), Houghton Library, Harvard University Williams to His Mother Edwina (January 25, 1943) I n 1939-1940 he is spending time in New York taking classes at New School for Social Research. He wins a $1,000 Rockefeller Fellowship. He spends the summer of 1940 in Provincetown and has an affair with Kip Kiernan, whom he would memorialize in his play, Something Cloudy, Something Clear. He leads an itinerant existence, traveling between New York, St. Louis, Provincetown, Macon, New Orleans, and Mexico. From 1943-1946 he is working on The Glass Menagerie, You Touched Me! Summer and Smoke, A Streetcar Named Desire. In the summer of 1948 he begins a long-term relationship with Frank Merlo in 1949 they remain in Europe until September when they return to the United States. Williams rents a house in Key West and purchases it in 1950. For the next seven years he continues the pattern of traveling to Europe each summer and returning to the United States in late August or September. Williams writes, “I did not at all understand the news about Rose. What kind of operation was it and what for?” Less than two weeks prior she had undergone a bilateral prefrontal lobotomy. Williams on his bicycle in the French Quarter Tennessee Williams Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York A sketch Williams made of himself with his bicycle in the French Quarter Journal entry-Saturday, October 4, 1941 I cruised with 3 flaming belles for a while on Canal Street and around the quarter. They bored and disgusted me so I quit and left Saturday night to its own vulgar, noisy devices and went upstairs to my big wide comfortable bed, and my book of Lawrence’s letters - always so rich and friendly. The Reverend Walter Dakin in Key West bMS Thr 553 (51), Houghton Library, Harvard University dwina’s father, Reverend Walter Dakin, an Episcopal priest, was responsible for Tennessee Williams’ love of travel. It was his grandfather who sent him to Europe at the age of sixteen, and eventually Williams would find himself traveling to Europe every year during the summer months. E Grandfather and Williams in Key West Tennessee Williams Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York randfather has bought a pith helmet and a pair of swimming trunks covered with palm-treesyou cannot imagine what a fantastic sight he is! (Excerpt from letter to Pancho Rodriguez, 1947, Tennessee Williams Notebooks, ed. Margaret Bradham Thorton p. 456) G Williams and his grandfather and Mr. Moon Tennessee Williams Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York Williams named his dog after the night porter at the Cavendish Hotel in London (“Mr. Moon”) Letter from Edwina D. Williams May 20, 1964) ( The Historic New Orleans Collection, accession no. MSS562 Folder 853 You are too good to me but I love it, and you for being so! We Dakins and Williamses have our faults but it isn’t laziness. I’m so proud of my three children. Letter from Rose Williams to Tennessee (Caladma, Mo. March 15, 1953) The Historic New Orleans Collection, accession no. MSS562 Folder 853 I am told that you have entered the ministry! Will be or are a priest! I do hope that you can! I love the Church of England! It needs you. his letter to Williams shows how Rose was no longer completely aware due to her lobotomy. Williams was never going to become a priest or enter the Church of England. His memory of her ‘sane self’ lived on only through his writings. The child-like drawings of houses that Rose made were in his Florida home. T 1014 Dumaine Street, Apt. 13, New Orleans, July 16, 1972 The Historic New Orleans Collection, accession no. MSS562 Folder 689 Letter to Andreas Brown signed 10 (for Tennessee) , I want you to permanently assure your devotion to me by getting the genealogy back to me, chop chop... You probably think it foolish and vain of me to want to establish my distinguished lineage in Tennessee. But you don’t know the circumstances. ndreas Brown catalogued Williams’ archives in the 1960s. They soon became friends, as Brown would send boxes of books to Williams that he thought he might enjoy. This letter shows Williams’ concern with his genealogy in Tennessee. A Reverend Walter Dakin praying Tennessee Williams Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York I n honor of his grandfather, Williams left his estate to the University of the South at Sewanee after the death of his sister, Rose. He loosely based Nonno in the play The Night of the Iguana on his grandfather. Williams dedicated his poetry collection In the Winter of Cities (1956) to the memory of the Reverend Walter E. Dakin. The Reverend died in St. Louis on February 14th, 1955 at the age of ninety-seven. Self-portrait – Tennessee Williams With permission from Don Bachardy “Williams’s lonely death in the winter of 1983 was consistent with his life and art. He had lived as an exile from Eden in a fallen world where his only real solace lay in the power of his words. He died in a run-down hotel with a lobby the size of a kitchen, but a name, Elysee, that winks at paradise. The last address was fitting for the author whose heroine gets off a streetcar at Elysian Fields and resides as a transient in a city far from home until the hour of her final exit.” Roger Boxill, Tennessee Williams (p.20) ...I already knew that writing was my life, and its failure would be my death...” (Memoirs)