I just finished Conversations With Tennessee Williams by Albert J. Devlin this morning. Published by the University Press of Mississippi it a good number of interviews that Williams gave during his life. Starting with an interview given in 1940 when his Battle of Angels was first produced at the Theatre Guild in New York City up to 1981 in which the last interview is a very thorough overview of his thoughts on a good number of people and things that he dealt with during his life.
It was interesting reading all the interviews and seeing how his views changed over time with some things, the number of contradictions about him, and it is just a very good way to find out more about him that you wouldn’t get just from a biography or critique. You learn more about his writing processes, how he spends his time, he was very consumed by his writing, and there is an interview for almost every couple of years so you see the progression of his life in that way. It’s also funny seeing how some things that he dealt with, how with time and hindsight, he opens up about them more. He talks about his failures, the critics that seemed to have caused him too much stress, and in his later years he is a lot more comfortable talking about his sexuality and with just not caring about being as open as he feels about things. You get to see just how pompous he could be at times, how drunk, and he is pretty open with all the troubles that he had gone through.
The most interesting thing was reading about his family. With how his mother was, how conservative and narrow-minded she was in a lot of ways, you start to wonder if his sister really was as mentally disturbed as it’s been made out to be or if it’s just because her mother was so off. I got the impression that his sister was more of a feminist, more opposed to conventions, than people maybe realize but with a mother like her’s, she is just institutionalized, given a frontal lobotomy, and treated like an invalid for the majority of her life. And then there is Tennessee’s brother Dakin who is very conservative as well and during one of Tennessee’s bad periods, his brother pushes him into Catholicism. He definitely had a family with a lot of hangups and a good thing Tennessee got out before he probably would have been institutionalized as well or just driven to go crazy eventually.
There is also an interview given early in Williams’ career in which he talks to William Inge for the St. Louis Star-Times before Inge’s own career as a playwright took off. There is another interview in which Williams and William Burroughs talk together. Williams only seems interested in talking about drugs and Burroughs seems so beyond it by that point for the most part.
So many things are touched on in this collection, Williams views on people such as Brando, Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, some of his favorite writers, other playwrights such as Albee and Pinter, his friendship and work with Elia Kazan, their falling out, his falling out with his longtime agent Audrey Wood, and the biggest would be how writing seemed to consume most of his life, how he couldn’t go without it.
It’s definitely worth getting a copy of this book, even if you are not a huge fan of his. It’s interesting regardless.