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Tennessee Williams Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

Williams got the name Stanley Kowalski—the anti-hero of A Streetcar Named Desire—from a salesman he worked with at the International Shoe Company in the 1930s who had the same name.16

Williams's first published work appeared in 1927 in Smart Set magazine, where the 16-year-old won third prize and $5 for an essay entitled "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?"17

Williams was famously insecure and was constantly convinced that he was a failure. According to one biographer, at an especially low point in his life Williams forged the inscription "To Tennessee, with love" on a photograph, signed famed playwright Eugene O'Neill's name, and displayed it prominently in his home.18

While studying at Washington University in St. Louis, Williams submitted a play entitled Me, Vashya to Professor William G.B. Carson's English 16 Playwriting Class. He received only an honorable mention. He was crushed. To honor their departed alumnus, the school's Performing Arts Department finally staged the play in 2004.19

Williams objected to having The Glass Menagerie performed at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. in 1947 because the theater refused to admit African-Americans.

In a letter to The New York Times from his home in Key West, Florida, Williams wrote: "I want to state that I have protested bringing The Glass Menagerie into Washington, but have no legal power to prevent it. I can only express my humiliation that a play of mine should be denied to Negroes in the nation's capital. Any future contract I make will contain a clause to keep the show out of Washington while this undemocratic practice continues."20

Williams struggled as a student, but at least he always had a gift for drama. "Tomorrow Greek final which I will undoubtedly flunk," he wrote in his diary the night before a difficult final. The next morning, on 29 May 1937, he woke up and wrote: "Monday. Never woke in more misery in all my life. Intolerable. The brilliant earth mocks my fear. Children and birds sing. People speak in casual voices. The poplar leaves shine. Yet I up here in this narrow room endure torture. God help me! Please! I've got to have help or I'll go mad. What is this a punishment for? What? Or is it all blind, blind without meaning!" And, yes, he did flunk.21

By the 1960s, Williams was propping himself up each day with the "help" of a staggering array of substances. According to a 1962 magazine profile, his daily menu consisted of two packs of cigarettes, as much as a fifth of liquor, half a Dexamyl (a barbiturate), one and a half Seconals (another barbiturate), and two Miltowns (a tranquilizer) chased with Scotch at bedtime.22

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