Most people know that Tennessee Williams was a famous American playwright. Many may have even heard of “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” — some from seeing stage productions, others by their silver screen versions. But even those who can name every play the Pulitzer Prize winner wrote might not know these five fun facts below:
1. His given name. Thomas Lanier Williams III became Tennessee at the age of 28. Whether it was a tribute to his ancestors who “fought the Indians for Tennessee” or claiming the state where his father hailed from, we may never know.
2. Erotic dark comedy. In 1956, Time magazine wrote that Tennessee Williams’ first original screenplay, “Baby Doll,” was “just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited.” The film, which told the story of two Southern rivals and a sensuous 19-year-old child bride, was picketed by nearly 20 million Catholics on its opening weekend, prompting nearly 75 percent of the theaters to pull it from their screens.
3. Instant success? Not exactly. Williams’ first recognition didn’t come until 1940, when he received a Rockefeller fellowship and wrote “Battle of Angels.” To get by, he ran an all-night elevator, waited tables in New York and New Orleans, worked as a teletype operator for the U.S. Engineers in Jacksonville and ushered at the Strand Theater on Broadway, later writing in a playbill that, “All the while I kept on writing, writing, not with any hope of making a living at it but because I found no other means of expressing things that seemed to demand expression. There was never a moment when I did not find life to be immeasurably exciting to experience and to witness, however difficult it was to sustain.”
4. Tennesse Williams, the painter. He created and gifted his sensual, psychological dreamscapes to close friends, including David Wolkowsky, whom Williams spent much time with while living in Key West. Thanks to Mr. Wolkowsky’s generosity, visitors to the Custom House Museum can enjoy the 17 Tennessee Williams paintings he bequeathed to Key West Art & Historical Society.
5. A birthday celebration. Key West Art & Historical Society and the awardwinning Tennessee Williams Museum host a birthday celebration in his honor every year. The month-long commemoration begins March 4 with a screening of the first of four of Williams’ films at the Tropic Cinema and a limited-ticket kickoff party on March 6 at the home of exhibit founders Dennis Beaver and Bert Whitt. This year’s festival theme is “The Library” (Williams loved and supported the local Key West library) and boasts a full roster of writing and painting contests, film and poetry forums, curator tours of the Tennessee Williams Museum (513 Truman Ave.), a March 27 birthday party for the playwright (following his March 26 birthday) and two one-act theater productions of the Pulitzer Prize-winner’s work topping off the month-long celebration.
Visit www.kwahs.org/events for a full schedule of celebration events and advance ticket purchase or contact Dani Holliday at email@example.com or 305-295-6616 ext. 114. Sponsored in part by Community Foundation of the Florida Keys, Neal Ruchman, Melissa Jean McDaniel and Bert Whitt. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island. ¦