Williams is one of America’s best known playwrights.
He was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911, in Columbus,
Mississippi, the second of three children born to Cornelius
Coffin (a traveling salesman) and Edwina (Dakin) Williams.
the University of Missouri from 1931 to 1933. After seeing a
production of Ghosts, a play by Heinrik Ibsen, he decided to
become a playwright. But his education was interrupted by his
father’s insistence that he work for a shoe company. Williams
managed to resume his education at Washington University, St.
Louis, Missouri, from 1936 to 1937, and he finally graduated
with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Iowa in
1938. He then worked in various jobs in New Orleans, Jacksonville,
Florida, and New York City. These included clerk, waiter, hotel
elevator operator, teletype operator, and theatre usher.
In 1940, Williams’s
first major production, Battle of Angels, was staged in Boston,
but critical reception was harsh and the play was quickly withdrawn.
But success was not long in coming. In 1944, The Glass Menagerie
was staged in Chicago and then ran for over five hundred performances
in New York City. The play won the New York Drama Critics’
Circle Award and established his reputation as a playwright
of considerable promise.
His new reputation
was further enhanced by A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947, which
was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. In 1951, the play was made into
a highly successful film starring Vivien Leigh as Blanche and
Marlon Brando as Stanley. By that time, Williams had entered
his most prolific writing period, producing a new play about
every two years. His major plays during the 1950s and early
1960s include The Rose Tattoo (1950), Camino Real (1953), Cat
on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), which won the Pulitzer Prize, Garden
District (1957, which became Suddenly Last Summer, 1964), Orpheus
Descending (1957, a revised version of Battle of Angels, and
The Night of the Iguana (1961).
In 1961, Williams’s
long-time companion, Frank Merlo died. This plunged the playwright
into a depression that lasted many years. He was also afflicted
with a dependence on prescription drugs and alcohol. For a while
he was committed to an institution in St. Louis. However, Williams
recovered and during his last decade he continued to produce
plays. These include Small Craft Warnings (1972), The Two-Character
Play, and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980). During this period,
his reputation, which had slumped during the 1960s, revived,
and he was universally acknowledged as a master dramatist. His
plays were translated into many languages and many of them were
made into films. Williams also wrote two novels, a novella,
three volumes of short stories, poems, and an autobiography.
On February 24, 1983,
Tennessee Williams choked to death on the lid of a medicine
bottle at the New York City hotel where he lived.