Schizophrenia Series-Disabled Legend Tennessee Williams

Thomas Lanier Williams III was born on 26 March, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, USA, in the home of his maternal grandfather, the local Episcopal rector. The home is now the Mississippi Welcome Center and tourist office for the city. Tennessee Williams’ middle name, Lanier, indicates his family’s Virginia connections to the artistic family from England. Thomas died on 25 February, 1983, at the age of 72 after he choked on an eyedrop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysee in New York. Tennessee Williams would routinely place the cap in his mouth, lean back, and place his eyedrops in each eye.

Tennessee Williams’ funeral took place on Saturday 3 March, 1983 at St. Malachy’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City. Tennessee Williams’ body was interred in the Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. Tennessee Williams had long told his friends he wanted to be buried at sea at approximately the same place as the poet Hart Crane, as he considered Hart Crane to be one of his most significant influences.

Thomas better known as Tennessee Williams, was a major American playwright who received many of the top theatrical awards. Tennessee Williams moved to New Orleans in 1939 and changed his name to “Tennessee,” the state of his father’s birth. Tennessee Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, The Glass Menagerie (1945) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. Tennessee Williams’ 1952 play The Rose Tattoo received the Tony Award for best play.

By the time Thomas was 3, the family had moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi. At 5, he was diagnosed with a paralytic disease. It caused his legs to be paralyzed for nearly 2 years but his mother encouraged him to make up stories and read. Thomas’s mother gave him a typewriter when he was 13.

Tennessee’s father Cornelius Williams was a traveling salesman who became increasingly abusive as his children grew older. The father often favoured Tennessee’s brother Dakin, perhaps because of Tennessee’s illness and extended weakness and convalescence as a child. Tennessee’s mother Edwina Dakin Williams had aspirations as a genteel southern lady and was smothering. Edwina Williams may have had a mood disorder.

In 1918, when Tennessee Williams was 7, the family moved again, this time to St. Louis, Missouri. In 1927, at 16, Tennessee Williams won 3rd prize ($5.00) for an essay published in Smart Set entitled, “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?” A year later, he published “The Vengeance of Nitocris” in Weird Tales.

In the early 1930s Tennessee Williams attended the University of Missouri, where he joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Tennessee Williams’ fraternity brothers dubbed him “Tennessee” for his rich southern drawl. In the late 1930s, Tennessee Williams transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri for a year, and finally earned a degree from the University of Iowa in 1938. By then, Tennessee Williams had written Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!. This work was 1st performed in 1935 at 1780 Glenview in Memphis.

Tennessee Williams found inspiration in his problematic family for much of his writing.

Tennessee Williams lived for a time in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. Tennessee Williams moved there in 1939 to write for the WPA. Tennessee Williams first lived at 722 Toulouse Street, the setting of his 1977 play Vieux Carré. The building is part of The Historic New Orleans Collection. Tennessee Williams began writing A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) while living at 632 St. Peter Street. Tennessee Williams finished it later in Key West, Florida, where he moved in the 1940s.

Tennessee Williams was close to his sister Rose, a slim beauty who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. As was common then, Rose was institutionalized and spent most of her adult life in mental hospitals. When therapies were unsuccessful, she showed more paranoid tendencies. In an effort to treat her, Rose’s parents authorised a prefrontal lobotomy, a drastic treatment that was thought to help some mental patients who suffered extreme agitation. Performed in 1937 in Knoxville, Tennessee, the operation made Rose incapacitated for the rest of her life.

Tennessee Williams never forgave his parents. Rose’s surgery may have contributed to his alcoholism and his dependence on various combinations of amphetamines and barbiturates often prescribed by Dr. Max (Feelgood) Jacobson. They may have shared a genetic vulnerability, as Tennessee Williams also suffered from depression.

Tennessee Williams’ relationship with Frank Merlo, a 2nd generation Sicilian American who had served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, lasted from 1947 until Frank Merlo’s death from cancer in 1961. With that stability, Tennessee Williams created his most enduring works. Frank Merlo provided balance to many of Tennessee Williams’ frequent bouts with depression and the fear that, like his sister Rose, he would go insane.

Tennessee Williams’ brother Dakin and some friends believed he was murdered. The police report, however, suggested his use of drugs and alcohol contributed to his death. Many prescription drugs were found in the room. Tennessee Williams’ gag response may have been diminished by the effects of drugs and alcohol.

Tennessee Williams left his literary rights to Sewanee, The University of the South in honour of his grandfather, Walter Dakin, an alumnus of the university. It is located in Sewanee, Tennessee. The funds support a creative writing programme. When his sister Rose died after many years in a mental institution, she bequeathed over $50,000,000 from her part of the Williams estate to Sewanee, The University of the South as well.

In 1989, the City of St. Louis inducted Tennessee Williams into its St. Louis Walk of Fame.

The “mad heroine” theme that appeared in many of his plays seemed clearly influenced by the life of Tennessee Williams’ sister Rose.

Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was understood to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is also based on her, as well as Tennessee Williams himself. When Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire, he believed he was going to die and that this play would be his swan song.

Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was generally seen to represent Tennessee Williams’ mother. Characters such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Tennessee Williams himself. In addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a motif in Suddenly, Last Summer.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar named Desire both included references to elements of Tennessee Williams’ life such as homosexuality , mental instability and alcoholism.

Tennessee Williams wrote The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer when he was 29 and worked on it through his life. It seemed an autobiographical depiction of an early romance in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This play was produced for the first time on 1 October 2006 in Provincetown by the Shakespeare on the Cape production company, as part of the 1st Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.

The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer was published by New Directions in the spring of 2008, in a collection of previously unpublished experimental plays titled The Traveling Companion and Other Plays, edited by Williams scholar Annette J. Saddik.

Tennessee Williams’ last play A House Not Meant to Stand is a gothic comedy published in 2008 by New Directions with a foreword by Gregory Mosher and an introduction by Thomas Keith. Williams called his last play a “Southern gothic spook sonata.”

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