Tennessee Williams by John Lahr
The UK cover is so much more evocative than the US one, don’t you think? I’m just biased, and I’m also biased in favour of this amazing biography of a playwright we have all heard of. But I had no idea the breadth of his plays, or how many had been made into hit movies. Williams made his name alongside another (to me) relatively unknown producer and director, Elia Kazan. Himself famous for bringing us actors such as Brando and James Dean, incredibly. This book is a must-read for any aspiring writer, in whatever format.
Sadly, Williams knew how to party. Coming from the Hemingway school of pouring his own blood onto paper and calling it entertainment, he was a legend in his own lifetime. And so he remains: a new production of Streetcar (his plays usually need only one word of their title) starring Gillian Anderson has just closed at the Young Vic in London. But did you know that there really was a Streetcar Named Desire? Yes, there was. The other was called, oddly, Cemetaries. All real stuff, and I know you’ll think me a philistine. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you I had no idea Hedda shot herself until Sheridan Smith did it before my own eyes at the Old Vic, would you? I was physically shaken by that bit of pyro, and staggered to Waterloo for a stiff drink.
Anyway, this book is one for your library. It’s thick, it’s heavy, it’s full of excellent photos and is worth a study. John Lahr combines the life of Williams in detail, as you would expect, but also has time to cover his plays, poems, letters and so on as well. Tenn, or even 10 Williams, was really Tom Williams, of course. I didn’t know that, either, but then that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? No point reading hundreds of pages about someone you already knew everything about.
This book reinforces, for a UK reader anyway, the symbiosis of Broadway and London’s West End. Even back in the 1950s, when boats were more common than planes, several Williams plays made it to London, and he to they. He, like Hemingway, spent much time in Europe, preferring Italy to Spain. He loved a good cocktail too. Cheers, 10!