Study Guide

Tennessee Williams Biography

Cover your ears, everyone. It's about to get loud and melodramatic...

Ahem...

"HEY, STELLA!"

Phew. We channeled our best Brando for that. 

So chances are you've heard that quote before. It's one of the most famous screams in theatre history, and it's been irritating women named Stella since 1947. 

If you haven't heard it before, then allow us to set the scene: Stanley Kowalski, the anti-hero of Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, stands below the balcony of his New Orleans flat. Drunk, miserable, and recently kicked out of his home by his wife, he throws back his head and lets out a cry full of primal rage, fear, and desire. 

It's raw, it's real, and it's pure Tennessee Williams. 

In a career that lasted more than forty years, Williams established himself as an icon of American theatre by giving a voice to those raw, real emotions. In addition to Streetcar, his plays include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, The Night of the Iguana, and dozens more. He won Tonys and Pulitzers. The films made of his works are classics in their own right. Sounds like he lived a pretty charmed life, right? 

Well...not exactly. While Williams did find professional success, his personal life was fraught with trouble. 

He was born into a wildly dysfunctional Southern family, which provided him with both a lifetime of inspiration, and a bunch of super awkward Thanksgiving dinners.

Nothing like cranberry sauce to soften the blow of a lobotomized sister.

Williams also used his plays to speak about homosexuality, substance abuse, and depression. Friends and relatives said that he could be a bit too flexible with the truth, often describing things as he thought they should be, rather than as they actually were. But for Williams, the stage was the only place where the truth could really be told. As Williams once said,

"I still find it somehow easier to 'level with' crowds of strangers in the hushed twilight of orchestra and balcony sections of theatres than with individuals across a table from me. Their being strangers somehow makes them more familiar and more approachable, easier to talk to." 

So the man who created Blanche DuBois also relied on the kindness of strangers. We'd call that poetic. 

 

Childhood

First Play

Plays & Screenplays

Depression & Death

Family

Education

Work Experience

Major Works

Awards

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