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Tennessee Williams @ 100

"Williams grew up watching movies," writes Jose at the Film Experience. "He was one of the major playwrights who learned his craft not through Shakespeare and Molière but through the works of DeMille and Chaplin." The piece marks the culmination of a week-long celebration of the centenary of the birth of one of the most vital American playwrights which Nathaniel R kicked off by asking, "since his stage work has had such crucial impact on the big screen especially for actors, since Nicole Kidman and James Franco will soon attempt to revive Sweet Bird of Youth on Broadway, and since his writing has influenced other legendary writers or filmmakers like John Waters, Edward Albee, Tony Kushner and Pedro Almodóvar, why not a whole week?"

So Nathaniel's site has given us Robert G on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), featuring, of course, Elizabeth Taylor alongside Paul Newman and Burl Ives, Robert A on Suddenly Last Summer (1959) — Elizabeth Taylor again — Nathaniel on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Michael C on The Fugitive Kind (1960), JA on The Night of the Iguana (1964), and finally, Jose on The Rose Tattoo (1955) and the friendship between Williams and Anna Magnani, who "took on the role of Serafina with such intensity and passion that she ended up taking home the Oscar for Best Actress." Update, 3/27: Andreas on Baby Doll and Nathaniel: "Maggie the Cat, the sex-starved slip-covered wife at the heart of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (discussed earlier this week) is not just alive, she keeps coming back to life."

"How have attitudes towards his work changed during the years since his death?" asks Paul Taylor in the Independent. "Now, as the festivities for Williams's 100th birthday get underway, there's a dramatic new twist to the proposition that London takes the lead in the posthumous re-evaluation. At her stylish new venue, the Print Room in Bayswater, Lucy Bailey, who scored a huge hit with a sizzling stage adaptation of Baby Doll (the Williams-scripted movie denounced by Time as 'just about the dirtiest American-made motion-picture that has ever been legally exhibited') is gearing up for a fresh assault on Kingdom of Earth, a play that bloodily bombed on Broadway in 1967 and hasn't been seen here in England since the mid-80s. Meanwhile, Kilburn's Cock Tavern Theatre, under the enterprising artistic directorship of Adam Spreadbury-Maher, has weighed in with a couple of coups. Tom Erhardt, the agent who is the playwright's literary executor in Europe, was so impressed by the recent Edward Bond play at this address that he has given them the right to present the world premiere of two late Williams plays, one of them such a rarity that it won't be published until the birthday. I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays, a Pirandello-esque play-within-a-play about the dramatist's rocky relationship with the American theatre industry, opened last week. At the end of the month, it will be followed by Gene David Kirk's production of A Cavalier for Milady, the most graphic and gob-smacking of all his snapshots of Rose, the schizophrenic sister whom their mother had lobotomized (behind his back) when she began to make sexual abuse charges against the father, Cornelius."

For a report on the centenary for NPR, Tom Vitale's spoken with Kenneth Holditch, editor of The Collected Plays of Tennessee Williams: "He changed the history of American drama and, I think, drama in the English-speaking world with his first two plays [The Glass Menagerie and Summer and Smoke] because they were so different. He broke free of what had been going on in the 1920s and the 1930s — all those social-protest dramas — and gave us something totally new, this wonderful understanding of human nature, human suffering… human foibles."

Williams died in a Manhattan hotel room in 1983 and, "to celebrate the 71 years of his life," Flavorwire's Paul Hiebert presents "71 Things You Didn't Know About Tennessee Williams." Let's add a parting shot of Williams and Warhol.

Update, 3/30: Sam Stephenson is at work on a biography of W Eugene Smith and writes for the Paris Review: "Not many people, even theater professionals, have seen a production of Camino Real, not to mention a good one, and few feel as strongly about it as Smith did. He saw the play's 1953 debut, directed by Elia Kazan, which was drubbed by critics. It hasn't been revived on Broadway since 1970. A New Directions paperback of the script, with a powerful introduction by John Guare, reprints the original Playbill notes, in which Williams states the play 'is not words on paper.' 'Of all the works I have written,' he argues, 'this one was meant most for the vulgarity of performance.' In an effort to learn what Smith saw in Camino Real, I called Ethan Hawke, who took on the role of the play's protagonist, Kilroy, in a revival at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 1999, a production mentioned in the theater world as perhaps the definitive treatment of that play. Hope Davis played the gypsy's daughter. Hawke was eager to discuss it…"

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Oh how I love this guy!
a true legend.
He may have grown up watching movies, but his plays weren’t for the stage, not the screen. Very few held up on screen, although that is probably the way most of remember Williams. I think that Night of the Iguana was perhaps the best screen adaptation, thanks in large part to the great performances by Burton and Kerr. Ava Gardner wasn’t too shabby either.
That should have been “were for the stage” and “most of us remember.” Damn these typos ; )
Great man.

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