Tennessee Williams, perhaps best-known for his plays "Streetcar Named Desire," "The Glass Menagerie," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," is the author of a "massive body of work," in the words of N.Y.U. drama professor Joe E. Jeffreys. On the occasion of the centennial of Williams' birth—the playwright was born March 26, 1911—Jeffreys hosted the first of a three-part series at Manhattan's Museum of Arts and Design entitled The Kindness of Strangeness. (Williams fans will recognize the title of the panel from an achingly memorable line delivered by Blanche DuBois in the playwright's "Streetcar Named Desire.")
The memory-strewn afternoon included words from Williams' agent Mitch Douglas together with Williams' friends David Schweizer and Jeremiah Newton. Later in the day, the actress Charlotte Moore, who worked closely with Williams, also spoke.
The author of 30 full-length plays, 70 one acts, as well as short stories, poetry, occasional pieces and novels, Tennessee Williams is a giant among American writers, and is equally celebrated for his complex, theatrical personality, including his wild cackle and large appetite. Agent Mitch Douglas called the playwright's work "really a roller-coaster ride."
To hear the afternoon conversation, in which Douglas recalls Williams at the White House, Newton examines the writer's work with mutual friend Candy Darling and Schweizer gets found on a Key West beach (only to wind up at a grand Tennessee Williams party), click on the audio above.
David Schweizer on attending Williams' party in Florida: "I put on a suitable outfit from 1971."
Joe Jeffreys responds: "What would have been a suitable outfit for a party at T.W.'s house in 1971?"
David Schweizer: "Uh, kind of see-through lace."
Joe Jeffreys: "There you go, that's what I was thinking."
Mitch Douglas on Williams' appetite: "I.C.M. (International Creative Management) was owned and run by a gentleman by the name of Marvin Josephson and one day I had a call from Marvin saying 'I've had a rather distraught phone call from Tennessee and I want to ask you a question: What's he on?' and I said, 'Everything but roller skates.'"
Jeremiah Newton on Williams' anger at disruptions in the theater: "He clutched a curtain and flung it back and went away, finally. I thought that was very brave of him, but not wise."
Mitch Douglas on Williams' disrupting his own one-act play "Kirche, Kŭche und Kinder" in the theater: "I've had audience members ask him to shut up. I remember "Kirche, Kŭche und Kinder," he cackled through "Kirche, Kŭche und Kinder," and I remember some audience member turning around and saying 'Will you please quit laughing like that at Mr. Williams' work? He's a very important playwright.'"
The Kindness of Strangeness was funded by the New York Council for the Humanities and took place this past January.