Tennessee Williams Biography

Tennessee Williams Biography

In Tennessee Williams's work, the South looms large. Soaked in heat, sexuality, and liquor, his plays are populated by desperate, fragile belles (A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie) and brooding, conflicted, often alcoholic men (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Night of the Iguana). Like many playwrights, his later work was largely rebuffed, but many of his plays from the 1940s and 1950s are considered seminal. Streetcar remains of particular importance because of the intersection of Williams, actor Marlon Brando (whose performance in it was iconic and launched his career), and director Elia Kazan, who brought some of Williams’ best works to both stage and screen.

Facts and Trivia

  • Williams’s mentally ill sister, Rose, was lobotomized and provided the inspiration for tragic characters in Suddenly, Last Summer and The Glass Menagerie. His domineering, unstable mother was the basis for Amanda Wingfield in Menagerie and Blanche DuBois in Streetcar.
  • His real name is Thomas Lanier Williams. His friends gave him the nickname “Tennessee” because of his thick Southern drawl.
  • Williams caused controversy with his screenplay for Baby Doll, a Lolita-esque drama about a middle-aged man’s obsession with a teenage girl.
  • One of his most famous plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, was originally titled The Poker Night.
  • Williams succumbed to the addictions he so often portrayed in his plays. Alcohol and prescription drugs contributed to his death by choking in 1983.
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