National Book Award Finalist
A 2014 Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
The definitive biography of America's greatest playwright from the celebrated drama critic of The New Yorker.
John Lahr has produced a theater biography like no other. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh gives intimate access to the mind of one of the most brilliant dramatists of his century, whose plays reshaped the American theater and the nation's sense of itself. This astute, deeply researched biography sheds a light on Tennessee Williams's warring family, his guilt, his creative triumphs and failures, his sexuality and numerous affairs, his misreported death, even the shenanigans surrounding his estate.
With vivid cameos of the formative influences in Williams's life—his fierce, belittling father Cornelius; his puritanical, domineering mother Edwina; his demented sister Rose, who was lobotomized at the age of thirty-three; his beloved grandfather, the Reverend Walter Dakin—Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh is as much a biography of the man who created A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as it is a trenchant exploration of Williams’s plays and the tortured process of bringing them to stage and screen.
The portrait of Williams himself is unforgettable: a virgin until he was twenty-six, he had serial homosexual affairs thereafter as well as long-time, bruising relationships with Pancho Gonzalez and Frank Merlo. With compassion and verve, Lahr explores how Williams's relationships informed his work and how the resulting success brought turmoil to his personal life.
Lahr captures not just Williams’s tempestuous public persona but also his backstage life, where his agent Audrey Wood and the director Elia Kazan play major roles, and Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Bette Davis, Maureen Stapleton, Diana Barrymore, and Tallulah Bankhead have scintillating walk-on parts. This is a biography of the highest order: a book about the major American playwright of his time written by the major American drama critic of his time.
Writing with sympathy and insight, former New Yorker drama critic Lahr (Prick Up Your Ears) invests the Tennessee Williams of this brilliant new biography with the same vitality and honesty that the playwright used to bring his characters to life. Williams wrote that he "saw every play and every film I ever worked on as a confession," and Lahr looks to his scripts as the chief means of understanding his turbulent life, beginning with the delicate poetry of The Glass Menagerie, which is encoded with sentiments from his fraught childhood relationships with his mother and sister. Quoting extensively from diaries, notebooks, and journals, Lahr depicts Williams as an artist who "made a spectacle of his haunted interior." His detailed account of Williams's work with Elia Kazan on the stage productions of A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and other projects reveals the complex dynamics of one of the greatest partnerships in modern theater, just as his exploration of Williams's troubled romantic relationships highlights the self-destructive proclivities that fueled and threatened his creativity. Lahr's feel for Williams's literary creations he describes The Glass Menagerie's Amanda Wingfield as an "embattled bundle of Southern decorum and Puritan denial" and for Williams himself show a perspicacity wanting in previous biographies. Though Lahr acknowledges the successes of previous Williams scholars, his achievement is not likely to be surpassed. 80 photos.
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Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
As elegantly written as the great play write himself.