ISSUE DATE: Mar. 9, 1962
It was at the age of three that Thomas Lanier Williams, later better known as Tennessee, told his first scary story. As his mother recalls it: “We used to go to North Carolina in the summer. The women folk would gather round the fireplace—it was cool there. We had no radios to entertain ourselves with, so we’d tell stories. Tom, who was quite shy, would hide behind my skirts listening. This one night we said, ‘Tom, why don’t you tell us a story?’ We were sure he’d say no. And you know, that little cherub— he had golden ringlets and big blue eyes—launched forth with a story that went on and on. It was about alligators and the jungle and all sorts of animals. Suddenly he said, ‘I can’t go on further; it’s getting scarier and scarier.’ And closing his eyes up tight, he said: ‘I’m getting scared myself.’ “
Tennessee Williams is now 50, still gets scared (“I am a definition of hysteria”), still tells stories that get scarier and scarier—and tells them so hypnotically that the public pays him over $200,000 a year not to stop. He is the nightmare merchant of Broadway, writer of Orpheus Descending (murder by blow torch), A Streetcar Named Desire (rape, nymphomania, homosexuality), Summer and Smoke (frigidity), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (impotence, alcoholism, homosexuality), Sweet Bird of Youth (drug addiction, castration, syphilis), Suddenly Last Summer (homosexuality, cannibalism), and The Night of the Iguana (masturbation, underwear fetishism, coprophagy).
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