Brilliant Bylines: A Biographical Anthology of Notable Newspaperwomen in America

By Barbara Belford | Go to book overview

THREE SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF A TORMENTED PLAYWRIGHT At wit's end at land's end

By MADELEINE BLAIS

The Miami Herald, April 1, 1979

The scene: Tennessee Williams' house on Duncan Street in Key West, a small, simple, white-frame house with red shutters and a picket fence. The time is late February, day's end. The living room is dominated by books and art. Out back is a studio where Williams works every day, seven days a week, waking up about 5 in the morning and sometimes using a Bloody Mary, if need be, "to overcome the initial timidity." He has often said, "I work everywhere, but I work best here." Under a skylight, surrounded by empty wine bottles and paint-caked brushes, seated before a manual typewriter, he awaits sunrise and inspiration. On Key West, there is a great ethic of sunset, but the playwright stalks the dawn.

Williams is sitting on the patio adjoining the house. He has arisen late from an afternoon nap and his face is still puffy with sleep. In a few hours, he will attend the opening of one of his plays at a local theater. From where he sits, there is a view of the backyard, which is dominated by a swimming pool, strangled weeds and trampled plants. Williams glances with dismay at the untended growth snaking toward the pool.

"My gardener was shot, you know."

Tennessee Williams' life now on Key West in a way resembles the plot of one of his plays: an injured innocent in a honky tonk town pitted against unprovoked malice, deliberate cruelty. Since January, his gardener has been murdered, his house ransacked twice. He has been mugged twice on the street, once reported, once not. His dog has disappeared. One winter evening some kids stood outside his house and threw beer cans on the porch, yelling at America's greatest playwright, "Come on out, faggot." The only person home at the time was a houseguest, writer Dotson Rader, and when the kids set off some firecrackers, Rader remembers thinking: "This is it. They've resorted to guns."

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