What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” – Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
Today is the 55th anniversary of the Broadway opening of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. Tennessee Williams was well-known by the time the play opened thanks largely to the tremendous success of The Glass Menagerie, but his path to success, like so many writers, wasn’t an easy streetcar ride. His college days ended with the Depression and without a diploma, and he was left to spend his early twenties working full shifts in a shoe factory and writing at night. His mother, according to Margaret Bradham Thornton, writing in Notebooks, said he would “go to his room with black coffee and cigarettes and I would hear the typewriter clicking away at night in the silent house. Some mornings when I walked in to wake him for work, I would find him sprawled fully dressed across the bed, too tired to remove his clothes.”
A Streetcar Named Desire opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theater with two relative unknowns in the lead roles, but they aren’t unknown now: Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy.
Everyone starts somewhere if they are going to get anywhere. The thing is to get out there and start, even if it seems hard to do.
Writers from all over the world benefit from Williams’ generosity: he left his literary rights to the University of the South in honor of his grandfather; the royalties now help fund the school’s theater and writing programs, including the Sewanee Writers Conference, which is the finest writers conference I personally have attended. I’ve attended three times, including once as a Tennessee Williams Scholar, a direct beneficiary of William’s work and his generosity to other writers.
And any of us can benefit from reading his work. I’d use the G-word to describe him, but as he wrote in his memoirs, “When people have spoken to me of ‘genius,’ I have felt the inside pocket to make sure my wallet’s still there.” – Meg