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Thomas Lanier WILLIAMS

Male 1911 - 1983


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  • Name Thomas Lanier WILLIAMS 
    Died Between 24 and 25 Feb 1983  New York City, New York County, NY Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Cause: Choking to death on a plastic bottle cap used to ingest barbiturates 
    Born 26 Mar 1911  Columbus, Lowndes County, MS Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Gender Male 
    AFN 1157-FBV 
    Birth 26 Mar 1911  Canton, Madison County, MS Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Name Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" WILLIAMS 
    Occupation Playwright 
    Buried Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, St. Louis, MO Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Notes 
    • (1) "Tennessee Williams," Encyclopædia Brittanica, 2010, © 2010 Encyclopædia Brittanica, Inc.:

      Tennessee Williams, original name Thomas Lanier Williams (b. March 26, 1911, Columbus, Miss., U.S. - d. Feb. 25, 1983, New York City), American dramatist whose plays reveal a world of human frustration in which sex and violence underlie an atmosphere of romantic gentility.

      Williams became interested in playwriting while at the University of Missouri (Columbia) and Washington University (St. Louis) and worked at it even during the Depression while employed in a St. Louis shoe factory. Little theatre groups produced some of his work, encouraging him to study dramatic writing at the University of Iowa, where he earned a B.A. in 1938.

      His first recognition came when American Blues (1939), a group of one-act plays, won a Group Theatre award. Williams, however, continued to work at jobs ranging from theatre usher to Hollywood scriptwriter until success came with The Glass Menagerie (1944). In it, Williams portrayed a declassed Southern family living in a tenement. The play is about the failure of a domineering mother, Amanda, living upon her delusions of a romantic past, and her cynical son, Tom, to secure a suitor for Tom's crippled and painfully shy sister, Laura, who lives in a fantasy world with a collection of glass animals.

      Williams' next major play, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), won a Pulitzer Prize. It is a study of the mental and moral ruin of Blanche Du Bois, another former Southern belle, whose genteel pretensions are no match for the harsh realities symbolized by her brutish brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski.

      In 1953, Camino Real, a complex work set in a mythical, microcosmic town whose inhabitants include Lord Byron and Don Quixote, was a commercial failure, but his Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), which exposes the emotional lies governing relationships in the family of a wealthy Southern planter, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and was successfully filmed, as was The Night of the Iguana (1961), the story of a defrocked minister turned sleazy tour guide, who finds God in a cheap Mexican hotel. Suddenly Last Summer (1958) deals with lobotomy, pederasty, and cannibalism, and in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), the gigolo hero is castrated for having infected a Southern politician's daughter with venereal disease.

      Williams was in ill health frequently during the 1960s, compounded by years of addiction to sleeping pills and liquor, problems that he struggled to overcome after a severe mental and physical breakdown in 1969. His later plays were unsuccessful, closing soon to poor reviews. They include Vieux Carr?? (1977), about down-and-outs in New Orleans; A Lovely Sunday for Cr??ve Coeur (1978-79), about a fading belle in St. Louis during the Great Depression; and Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980), centring on Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, and on the people they knew.

      Williams also wrote two novels, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950) and Moise and the World of Reason (1975), essays, poetry, film scripts, short stories, and an autobiography, Memoirs (1975). His works won four Drama Critics' awards and were widely translated and performed around the world.

      (2) Obituary, The New York Times, February 26, 1983:

      Tennessee Williams Is Dead at 71

      By MEL GUSSOW

      Tennessee Williams, whose innovative drama and sense of lyricism were a major force in the postwar American theater, died yesterday at the age of 71. He was found dead about 10:45 A.M. in his suite in the Hotel Elysee on East 54th Street.

      Officials said that death was due to natural causes, and that he had been under treatment for heart disease. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

      Author of more than 24 full-length plays, including ''The Glass Menagerie,'' ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof''-Tennessee Williams was the most important American playwright after Eugene O'Neill. The latter two won Pulitzer Prizes-and ''The Night of the Iguana,'' he had a profound effect on the American theater and on American playwrights and actors. He wrote with deep sympathy and expansive humor about outcasts in our society. Though his images were often violent, he was a poet of the human heart.

      Plays Intensely Personal

      His works, which are among the most popular plays of our time, continue to provide a rich reservoir of acting challenges. Among the actors celebrated in Williams roles were Laurette Taylor in ''The Glass Menagerie''; Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy in ''A Streetcar Named Desire'' (and Vivien Leigh in the movie version), and Burl Ives in ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.''

      ''The Glass Menagerie,'' his first success, was his ''memory play.'' Many of his other plays were his nightmares. Although seldom intentionally autobiographical, the plays were almost all intensely personal -torn from his own private anguishes and anxieties.

      He once described his sister's room in the family home in St. Louis, with her collection of glass figures, as representing ''all the softest emotions that belong to recollection of things past.'' But, he remembered, outside the room was an alley in which, nightly, dogs destroyed cats.

      Mr. Williams's work, which was unequaled in passion and imagination by any of his contemporaries' works, was a barrage of conflicts, of the blackest horrors offset by purity. Perhaps his greatest character, Blanche Du Bois, the heroine of ''Streetcar,'' has been described as a tigress and a moth, and, as Mr. Williams created her, there was no contradiction.

      His basic premise, he said, was ''the need for understanding and tenderness and fortitude among individuals trapped by circumstance.'' Just as his work reflected his life, his life reflected his work. A monumental hypochondriac, he became obsessed with sickness, failure and death. Several times he thought he was losing his sight, and he had four eye operations for cataracts. Constantly he thought his heart would stop beating. In desperation, he drank and took pills immoderately.

      He was a man of great shyness, but with friends he showed great openness, which often worked to his disadvantage. He was extremely vulnerable to demands-from directors, actresses, the public, his critics, admirers and detractors.

      He feigned disinterest in reviews, but he was deeply disturbed by them. Unfavorable ones could devastate him. Favorable ones might corrupt him. The most successful serious playwright of his time, he did not write for success but, as one friend said, as a ''biological necessity.''

      Frightened by Success

      Success struck him suddenly in 1945, with the Broadway premiere of ''The Glass Menagerie,'' and it frightened him much more than his failure.

      He was born as Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Miss., on March 26, 1911. His mother, the former Edwina Dakin, was the puritanical daughter of an Episcopal rector. His father, Cornelius Coffin Williams, was a violent and aggressive traveling salesman who later settled down in St. Louis as manager of a show company. There was an older daughter, Rose (memorialized as Laura in ''the Glass Menagerie''), and in 1919 another son was born, Walter Dakin.
      ''It was just a wrong marriage,'' the playwright wrote. The familial conflict is made clear by instances from the son's art. His mother was the model for the foolish but indomitable Amanda Wingfield in ''The Glass Menagerie,'' his father for the blustering, brutish Big Daddy in ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.''

      Acted Out Fantasies

      While his father traveled, Tom was mostly brought up, and overprotected, by his mother-particularly after he contracted diphtheria at the age of 5. By the time the family moved to St. Louis, the pattern was clear. Young Tom retreated into himself. He made up and told stories, many of them scary.

      In the fall of 1929 he went off to the University of Missouri to study journalism. When his childhood girlfriend, Hazel Kramer, also decided to enroll at Missouri, his father said he would withdraw him, and succeeded in breaking up the incipient romance. It was his only known romantic relationship with a woman.

      In a state of depression, Tom dropped out of school and, at his father's instigation, took a job as a clerk in a shoe company. It was, he recalled, ''living death.''

      To survive, every day after work he retreated to his room and wrote-stories, poems, plays-through the night. The strain finally led to a nervous breakdown. Sent to Memphis to recuperate, the young Mr. Williams joined a local theater group. Back in St. Louis, he became friendly with a group of poets at Washington University, particularly Clark Mills McBurney who, among other things, introduced Mr. Williams to the poems of Hart Crane. Crane became his idol.

      In 1937, Mr. Williams re-enrolled as a student, this time at the University of Iowa. There and in St. Louis he wrote an enormous, and uncounted, number of plays, some of which were produced on campus. In 1938, nine years after he had entered college, he graduated.

      Success seemed paired with tragedy. His sister lost her mind. The family allowed-with subsequent recriminations-a prefrontal lobotomy to be performed, and she spent much of her life in a sanitarium.

      Life in New Orleans

      At 28, Thomas Williams left home for New Orleans, where he changed his style of living, as well as his name. He offered several reasons for the name change. It was a reaction against his early inferior work, published under his real name. It was a college nickname. It was because his father was from Tennessee. It was distinctive.

      In New Orleans he discovered new netherworlds, soaking up the milieu that would appear in ''A Streetcar Named Desire.'' He wrote stories, some of which later became plays, and entered a Group Theater playwriting contest. He won $100 and was solicited by the agent Audrey Wood, who became his friend and adviser.

      ''Battle of Angels,'' a play he wrote during a visit of several months to St. Louis, opened in Boston in 1940 and was a disaster. It closed in two weeks and did not come to New York.

      Mr. Williams, however, brought it back in a revised version in 1957 as ''Orpheus Descending'' and as the Marlon Brando-Anna Magnani movie, ''The Fugitive Kind,'' and in 1973 it was presented at the Circle Repertory Company.
      To his amazement, Audrey Wood got him a job in Hollywood writing scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer at $250 a week for six months. He wrote a Lana Turner picture, worked briefly on a Margaret O'Brien picture and, disdainfully, began writing an original screenplay, which was rejected.

      Still under contract, in a house at Malibu, he began turning the screenplay into a play titled ''The Gentleman Caller,'' which slowly evolved into ''The Glass Menagerie.'' On March 31, 1945, five days after its author became 34, it opened on Broadway and changed Mr. Williams's life, and the American theater.

      He was inundated with success-the play won the New York Drama Critics' Circle award-and he fought to keep afloat. ''Once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle,'' he wrote, ''you are equipped with the basic means of salvation.'' His art was his salvation. Apprehending, he wrote his second masterpiece, ''A Streetcar Named Desire.''

      Opening in December, 1947, ''Streetcar'' was an even bigger hit than ''The Glass Menagerie.'' It won Mr. Williams his second Drama Critics' award and his first Pulitzer Prize.

      Never Stopped Revising

      For many years after ''Streetcar,'' almost every other season there was another Williams play on Broadway (and a one-act play somewhere else). Soon there was a continual flow from the stage to the screen. And he never stopped revising his finished work. For more than 35 years, the stream was unabated. He produced an enormous body of work, including more than two dozen full-length plays, all of them produced-a record unequaled by any of his contemporaries.

      There were successes and failures, and often great disagreement over which was which. In 1948 there was ''Summer and Smoke,'' which he wrote on Nantucket while sharing his house with his friend Carson McCullers (at his encouragement she was dramatizing ''The Member of the Wedding''). It failed on Broadway, was a huge success in a revival Off Broadway and made a star of Geraldine Page, one of many magnificent leading ladies in Mr. Williams's works (Laurette Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Vivien Leigh, Maureen Stapleton, Anna Magnani).

      There followed ''The Rose Tattoo,'' ''Camino Real'' (a flop in 1953, but revived as a classic at Lincoln Center in 1970), ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' (his third Drama Critics' prize, his second Pulitzer), ''Orpheus Descending,'' ''Garden District,'' ''Sweet Bird of Youth.'' Most of these plays have been seen again in major revivals.

      In addition to the plays, he wrote two novels, ''The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone'' and ''Moise and the World of Reason''; short stories, such as ''One Arm'' and ''Hard Candy''; a book of poetry, ''In the Winter of Cities,'' the film ''Baby Doll'' and his ''Memoirs.'' In his ''Memoirs,'' for the first time he wrote in detail about his homosexuality but, as usual, he was restrained in dealing with his creative life, explaining that his art was ''private.''

      As he became more and more successful, Mr. Williams lost his look of boyish innocence and became somewhat portly and seedy. Gradually he found it more and more difficult to write. The turning point, as he saw it, was 1955, and after ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' there was a noticeable decline in his work. To keep going, he began relying on a ritualistic combination of ingredients-strong coffee, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol.

      In the late 1950's, Mr. Williams undertook psychoanalysis, explaining, ''If I am no longer disturbed myself, I will deal less with violent material.'' His first postanalysis work was the 1960 ''Period of Adjustment,'' a comedy that by common critical agreement was one of the slightest of his works.

      He went back to his nightmares and reached further out for subject matter. In terms of subject and theme, he was a pioneer, working with dark, theater of the absurd or the theater of cruelty was fashionable.

      ''The Night of the Iguana,'' which won a fourth Drama Critics' award for Mr. Williams in 1961, was considered a return to his earlier important work. As it turned out, it was his last major success.

      Converted to Catholicism

      After ''Iguana,'' Mr. Williams went searching and seemed to fall apart. But at the same time he discovered religion. In 1968 he was converted to Roman Catholicism. And his last plays, though still dealing with grotesques, also dealt with salvation.

      ''The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore,'' which failed in successive years on Broadway and as an Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton movie entitled ''Boom!'', was an allegory about a Christlike young man and a dying dowager. His next three plays, ''Slapstick Tragedy,'' ''The Seven Descents of Myrtle'' and ''In a Bar in a Tokyo Hotel,'' also had minuscule runs.

      Recovering from an illness, he plunged back to work, writing and rewriting. In the 70's he was, characteristically, prolific, but success continued to elude him. ''Small Craft Warning'' had a comfortable run Off Broadway in 1972, and at one point, the author himself made his professional debut as an actor in his own play, assuming a small role.

      ''Out Cry'' was a quick failure on Broadway in 1973 and ''The Red Devil Battery Sign'' closed in Boston, although it was subsquently presented in London. ''Vieux Carre'' had a brief Broadway run in 1979 (and will be revived next month at the WPA). Of his later plays, his most popular was the poignant ''A Lovely Sunday at Creve Coeur'' in 1979.

      His last Broadway play was ''Clothes for a Summer Hotel,'' a drama about Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald that proved to be one of his biggest failures. Though wounded by the critical reception, he continued writing, in his last years working with noncommercial institutional theaters.
      ''Something Cloudy, Something Clear'' was produced Off Off Broadway at the Jean Cocteau Theater in 1981, and last year his final play, ''A House Not Meant to Stand,'' had its premiere at the Goodman Theater of Chicago. That play, subsequently presented at the New World Festival of the Arts in Miami, deals with the physical and emotional disintegration of an older married couple in Mississippi.

      In recent years, Mr. Williams divided his time between his apartment in New York at the Elysee and his house in Key West. He also kept an apartment in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the scene of ''A Streetcar Named Desire.''

      Several weeks ago Mr. Williams had come to New York from Key West. According to a close friend, ''He complained constantly of being exhausted and overworked and he said he was suffering with a shoulder condition.''

      Mr. Williams's secretary, John Uecker, who shared the playwright's two-room hotel suite, said that at about 11 P.M. Thursday he heard a noise from Mr. Williams's room, but did not investigate. Yesterday morning at approximately 10:45 he entered the room and found him lying next to his bed.

      Mr. Williams is survived by his brother, Dakin, a Collinsville, Ill. attorney, and by his sister, Rose, who is in a nursing home in Westchester County.

      ''I always felt like Tennessee and I were compatriots,'' said Marlon Brando. ''He told the truth as best he perceived it, and never turned away from things that beset or frightened him. We are all diminished by his death.''

      (3) Article, The New York Times, February 27, 1983:

      Williams Choked on a Bottle Cap

      By SUZANNE DALEY

      Tennessee Williams choked to death on a plastic cap of the type used on bottles of nasal spray or eye solution, New York City's Chief Medical Examiner said yesterday.

      The 71-year-old playwright, whose body was found Friday morning on the floor of his Manhattan hotel suite, was first thought to have died of natural causes. But an autopsy yesterday found the bottle cap blocking the larynx-''swallowed or inhaled or some combination,'' said the Medical Examiner, Dr. Elliot M. Gross.

      Dr. Gross said that there was no suspicion of foul play and that ''deaths of this type are usually classified as accidental.'' He said, however, that he would not make that determination until the results of all the chemical tests were complete. He said they would take several weeks.

      The Medical Examiner's initial findings left many questions unanswered about the death of the playwright, who had moved between illness and hypochondria, often relying on alcohol and drugs to keep going.

      An empty bottle of wine and several types of medication were found in Mr. Williams's room, the police said. But Dr. Gross would not say whether they had been a factor in the death.

      The Medical Examiner also would not speculate on how the bottle cap might have got into Mr. Williams's throat. He did say there were a number of medical dispensers in Mr. Williams's two-room suite at the Hotel Elysee at 60 East 54th Street. He would not say whether any was missing a cap like the one that caused the playwright's death.

      Dr. Gross said he had discussed his findings with Mr. Williams's personal physician, whom he would not name. Alcohol and drugs, along with strong coffee and cigarettes, became a regular part of Mr. Williams's life in the mid-1950's after ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'' brought him a second Pulitzer Prize. As the playwright saw it, that great success was a turning point, and a long decline began.

      Though Mr. Williams continued to write prolifically, he never again achieved the success or the greatness of his earlier works, ''The Glass Menagerie'' and his first Pulitzer Prize play, ''A Streetcar Named Desire.''

      At his best, Mr. Williams was a master of dramatic moments who created lost, tortured characters struggling for dignity and hope in a world that often denied both.

      Suffered From Several Ailments

      Obsessed with sickness, failure and death, he constantly thought his heart would stop beating. He had suffered from several ailments, including cataracts, arthritis and heart disease. ''I've had every disorder known to man,'' he once said.

      Several weeks ago, when Mr. Williams returned to New York from his house in Key West, Fla., he told close friends that he was exhausted, overworked and suffering from a shoulder condition.

      Mr. Williams's body was found Friday morning by his secretary, John Uecker, who shared the playwright's two-room suite. Mr. Uecker said he had heard a noise in Mr. Williams's room at about 11 P.M on Thursday, but did not investigate. At about 10:45 A.M. Friday, Mr. Uecker entered the room and found Mr. Williams lying next to his bed.

      Dr. Gross said Mr. Williams had died sometime in the late evening on Thursday or the early morning of Friday. According to doctors, normal nerve reflexes at the back of the throat would ordinarily force a person to gag and therefore eject any object that was caught in the opening of the larynx, called the glottis.

      No Test for Alcohol

      Yesterday, Dr. Gross said that, while ''a number of reasons'' could have impaired the gag reponse, ''it frequently happens when a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.''

      He said that Mr. Williams's blood had not been tested for alcohol, a procedure that often takes less than an hour to complete, but that testing would start tomorrow.

      Dr. Gross issued a brief statement yesterday at a 2:30 P.M. news conference in the lobby of the Medical Examiner's headquarters at 520 First Avenue. The statement, which refers to Mr. Williams by the name he was given at birth, said:

      ''An autopsy was performed this morning on the body of Thomas L. Williams. The cause of death is asphyxia due to obstruction of the glottis (the opening to the larynx or upper airway) by a plastic over-cap (of the type used to cover the opening of nasal spray or ophthalmic solution dispenser). Further studies, including chemical tests, will be performed.''

      The police were unable to say what the bottle cap might have belonged to. ''All the medication was taken from the apartment by the Medical Examiner's office,'' said Captain Gene Burke of the Manhattan detective squad. ''We don't have any information on it.''

      Plans for funeral services for Mr. Williams remained incomplete yesterday. A memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday at the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center in Key West and a viewing, open to the public, was set for Sunday through Tuesday from 10 A.M. to 8 P.M. at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Avenue.

      (4) Article, The New York Times, August 14, 1983:

      Drugs Linked to Death of Tennessee Williams

      By THE NEW YORK TIMES

      New York City's Chief Medical Examiner said yesterday that the playwright Tennessee Williams was apparently trying to ingest barbiturates when he choked to death on a plastic bottle cap last February.

      The Medical Examiner, Dr. Elliot M. Gross, said that chemical tests of tissue samples taken from the 71-year-old playwright's body disclosed the presence of the barbiturate secobarbital in his system when he died.

      ''The cause of death was asphyxia,'' said Dr. Gross. ''But apparently the overcap was being used to take the barbiturates.''

      Mr. Williams's body was discovered in his two-room suite at the Hotel Elysee at 60 East 54th Street last Feb. 25, by his secretary, John Uecker. An autopsy performed the next day showed that the writer had choked to death on a bottle cap-of the type used on nasal spray or eye solution-that he had swallowed or inhaled. The chemical tests were taken later.

      Dr. Gross said the recent amendment to the autopsy report concluded his offfice's inquiry into the causes of Mr. Williams's death.

      Mr. Williams, who won Pulitzer Prizes for his plays ''A Streetcar Named Desire,'' in 1947, and ''Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,'' in 1954, struggled with depression and a variety of illnesses, some of which were caused by his increasing reliance on alcohol and drugs.

      (5) Social Security Death Index:

      Name: Thomas Williams
      SSN: 064-20-5631
      Last Residence: 10019 New York, New York, New York, United States of America
      Born: 26 Mar 1911
      Died: Feb 1983
      State (Year) SSN issued: New York (Before 1951)

      (6) www.findagrave.com:

      Tennessee Williams
      Original name: Thomas Lanier Williams
      Birth: Mar. 26, 1911
      Death: Feb. 25, 1983

      Playwright, Novelist, Short-Story Writer.

      Burial: Calvary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Saint Louis, St. Louis city, Missouri, USA

      Maintained by: Find A Grave
      Record added: Jan 01, 2001
      Find A Grave Memorial# 1111
    Person ID I15562  Frost, Gilchrist and Related Families
    Last Modified 29 Apr 2021 

    Father Cornelius Coffin WILLIAMS,   b. 21 Aug 1879, Knoxville, Knox County, TN Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 21 Mar 1957, Knoxville, Knox County, TN Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 77 years) 
    Mother Edwina Estelle DAKIN,   b. 9 Aug 1884, Marysville, Union County, OH Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1 Jun 1980, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 95 years) 
    Married 3 Jun 1907  Columbus, Lowndes County, MS Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F6983  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

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    Thomas Lanier 'Tennessee' WILLIAMS
    Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" WILLIAMS