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Tennessee Williams talks with Studs Terkel

BROADCAST: Dec. 1961 | DURATION: 00:54:03


Playwright Tennessee Williams discusses his play "The Night of the Iguana," which was currently playing at the Blackstone Theatre in Chicago. The conversation takes place in Mr. Williams' room at the Blackstone Hotel.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Any discussion of Tennessee Williams, I think, must - we must keep one one factor in mind: that any discussion of Tennessee Williams evokes discussion even, I found out, at bars, thank God. And if ever a time when discussion involving the human spirit or the dispirited human is needed it is now, and we're delighted to be guests of Mister Williams, at this moment, in his suite at the Blackstone Hotel. We know that in Chicago right now "The Night Of The Iguana" is playing until December 21 before it opens in New York at the Blackstone Theater.

Tennessee Williams Twenty-third.

Studs Terkel Twenty-third - correction. Mister Williams, I remember something you wrote - it was on the back of a Caedmon record, I think, on which you were reading "The Yellow Bird" - and you spoke of your childhood. And this to me - I immediately thought of something - you spoke of of your Episcopalian, clergyman, grandfather and your father, who was a deft poker player, and you spoke of a puritan and cavalier strains in you, and it occurs to me, this is America, isn't it - the Puritan and the Pagan always embattled?

Tennessee Williams [Laughter] Yes, I think it's most of the world actually, but I don't think there's anything like that on Caedmon record. At least, I didn't say it. Was it written on the--

Studs Terkel Oh, well, it was written on the back.

Tennessee Williams Oh,written on - oh, yes. Yes.

Studs Terkel Now, I was thinking of, perhaps, explaining the fact that all of your heroes and heroines, the matter of conflicting impulses in them. I thought, perhaps, this might reflect our country, you know. We speak of the Pagan and the Puritan always in battle here. The grizzly [unintelligible]--

Tennessee Williams I think, I think Puritanism is an element more of the Protestant countries - the countries that are Prot-, you know, predominantly Protestant - than it is of those of the Mediterranean nations. You know, the ones that are predominantly Catholic, such as - I'm not giving, I'm not trying to [laughter] make a pitch for one religion against another, but I've noticed in the Mediterranean nations like Italy and Spain and France the Puritan the Puritan complexes are not so evident. But out of these Puritan complexes seems to come a great deal of that friction that makes interesting art.

Studs Terkel Well, isn't this - I think, we'll come to the Mediterranean in a moment. You, someone speak - was it Kenneth Tynan spoke of you and hot climates.

Tennessee Williams Mhmm.

Studs Terkel That is your figures in hot climates in the Mediterranean who are so much more free.

Tennessee Williams Yes. Well, you see I spent most of my life in a very Puritanical background. My home life was dominated by a very wonderful, but you know, rather Puritanical mother who was in conflict with a very wonderful, but rather profligate father [laughter]. And so I liked, I kind of sided with finally - first I sided with the mother's side and then after my father's death for some strange reason I began to see his point of view better [laughter]. After they put him away in Old Gray. That's the name of the cemetery in Knoxville.

Studs Terkel In Knoxville this was.

Tennessee Williams Yeah.

Studs Terkel We speak of-. Was moving to St. Louis-. We'll come, perhaps, through in talking about yourself and things you remember too, not that plays are autobiographical - although I suppose there's a bit in all of us, in everything we write or say - but moving to St. Louis was a big factor, was it not, in effecting you?

Tennessee Williams Oh yes, yes.

Studs Terkel From Mississippi.

Tennessee Williams There have been these two biographies about me that came out this season. I found it, find it very very disturbing to have these two [things?] come out. They examine my background, and they dissect my plays as if I were no longer living, it seems to me. And--

Studs Terkel As though they were museum pieces.

Tennessee Williams Yes, as if I were totally out of the picture now and were just a retrospective item. Well, when I, my agent informed me last spring these two - she had first drafts of these two biographies on her desk - I said my God they must think I'm going to kick off. I was really frightened by it [laughter]. Well, now I've got to live with it, and they've got to live with me, because I'm still living and I'm not about to kick off.

Studs Terkel You made that comment, though, there about you found the rich and the poor. This [thing?] big split when you were a small guy.

Tennessee Williams Oh ,yes yes.

Studs Terkel And how--

Tennessee Williams Well, that was only apparent in St. Louis. It wasn't apparent in Mississippi.

Studs Terkel Why was this? Why was it apparent in St. Louis and not in Mississippi and [unintelligible]--

Tennessee Williams Because because, you see, in Mississippi we lived in small communities, small towns as a rule, and being grandchildren of the Episcopal minister we always had our social acceptance, you know. It was taken taken for granted, but in St. Louis there was this, there was this money aristocracy, you know. Plutocracy, I think, is the precise word for it. And if you lived in the wrong neighborhood you just weren't the right people. And we had to live most of the time in the wrong neighborhood because there wasn't the money to live in the right one, you see. And we had to go to public schools. We couldn't go to the Country Day School. The equivalent for girls - what was it called now? Well, you know, the school [unintelligible].

Studs Terkel Well, I suppose this is often asked you - I'll ask it though it be a cliche - in "Glass Menagerie", if we may start at the beginning, Jim pretty much reflected your feelings, didn't it - the son, to great extent?

Tennessee Williams Tom, you mean.

Studs Terkel Tom, I'm [unintelligible]. Tom, rather.

Tennessee Williams Yes, at that time nobody knew my real name was Tom. They all thought my real name was Tennessee, I suppose. I let the character be named Tom. Yes, he did pretty much. I tried to keep him in the background of the play, except as a narrator. The leading characters were the mother and and the and the girl.

Studs Terkel We think of Amanda - Amanda and her sham gentility, yet she was in her own way--. We think of Blanche too to some extent, but it occurred to me in thinking in "Night Of The Iguana" [sic], Lyle Shannon, your defrocked clergyman--

Tennessee Williams Lyle Shannon?

Studs Terkel Yeah, of "Iguana". Wasn't his name Shannon

Tennessee Williams No, not Lyle. It was Shannon.

Studs Terkel Shannon, not Lyle.

Tennessee Williams T. Lawrence Shannon [laughter].

Studs Terkel Lawrence Shannon. Why did I, why did I call him Lyle Shannon?

Tennessee Williams I don't know [laughter].

Studs Terkel I don't know. There must be a connection somewhere. But T. Lawrence - Larry Shannon.

Tennessee Williams T. Larry Shannon, yeah.

Studs Terkel T. Lawrence Shannon - I thought of him. I don't know if this makes any--. I thought of him and Blanche being two figures in the same boat. He's at the end of his tether. Blanche coming to visit her sister was at the end of hers.

Tennessee Williams I've said this very same thing, and I'm glad you make that point. In in the portrait of Shannon, I think I've drawn a male equivalent almost of a Blanche DuBois.

Studs Terkel I hadn't heard you say this. It occurred to me that he was a male--

Tennessee Williams But I knew I was doing it, and it's - I don't know if that's good in the play or bad, but that's what it is, undoubtedly.

Studs Terkel Yet he, Blanche comes across--

Tennessee Williams He is a little - of course, there many important differences, such as the fact that Shannon is a man with, who is very much concerned with what is going on in society. I mean, if you study if you listen carefully to certain parts of the play, you realize this is a person with - his great redeeming virtue is that he has made himself a true and deep social conscience.

Studs Terkel Shannon does?

Tennessee Williams Yeah. Even though at this point at which we see him exposed he is in a state of extremely personal disturbance. But still through that personal disturbance you see the presence of a deep awareness of social inequities and the starvation and the misery, you know, of the places he's conducted tours through. He says there's great deal that lies under the public surface of cities, you know.

Studs Terkel He is aware this.

Tennessee Williams He's aware of that.

Studs Terkel Whereas, Blanche was [incomplete?] and removed.

Tennessee Williams Blanche was, so her personal situation seemed to eclipse everything, you know. For her, you will notice that she didn't - well, there is the speech in which she said we mustn't hang back with the apes.

Studs Terkel We mustn't hang back with the brutes or with the apes.

Tennessee Williams Yeah with the

Studs Terkel brutes, yeah. She says this to Stella.

Tennessee Williams That is the speech that shows the sort of -that's a general philosophical, you know, feeling of hers. But in Shannon's case it seems to be more particularized and more on a more impersonal level somehow.

Studs Terkel And yet, though, Blanche at the very end says I will depend upon the kindness, or something,

Tennessee Williams Of strangers.

Studs Terkel On the kindness of strangers and finds no kindness really. Shannon does--

Tennessee Williams Yes, I'm not su-, I think people always find kindness.

Studs Terkel Well, did Blanche find it as that man took her own way?

Tennessee Williams I think even, I think even in asylums one can find kindness, if one is willing to give give it.

Studs Terkel You're asking Blanche to give after the play ends, in a sense, aren't you? Blanche is taken away--

Tennessee Williams I don't, I have no idea what happens to Blanche after the play ends. I know she was shattered. And the meaning of the play is that this woman who was potentially, who was potentially a superior person was was broken by--

Studs Terkel Brutality.

Tennessee Williams Was broken by society.

Studs Terkel Society. Isn't that funny--

Tennessee Williams And falsities in it.

Studs Terkel Isn't it funny. I said brutality and you said society. I was--

Tennessee Williams Well, we were thinking along slightly different lines.

Studs Terkel Yes, yes. And yet, perhaps, not too different.

Tennessee Williams Yet they converged a bit, didn't they.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking--

Tennessee Williams I think in our time the condition of society is pretty terrifying.

Studs Terkel Because all of your heroes and heroines are, I suppose, in their own way not only rebels - I was about to say lost, but they seek to find themselves. Shannon, for example, in "The Night Of The Iguana" does meet the kind stranger, doesn't he, in Hannah.

Tennessee Williams He does, indeed

Studs Terkel The role played by Margaret Leighton.

Tennessee Williams Mhmm, he does.

Studs Terkel How would you describe since we have, perhaps, a new figure in American theater in the role played by Margaret Leighton. Was it Kenneth Tynan spoke of your love for what we call the incomplete people? That is, he was not he was not denigrating them. He merely meant our society makes them incomplete, I believe.

Tennessee Williams I've always regarded myself as an incomplete person, and consequently, I've always been more interested in my own kind of people, you know people that have problems. People that have to fight for their reason. You know, the people that to whom, you know, the impact of life and experience from day to day and night to night is difficult and people who come close to cracking and all that. Those are my - that's my world. Those are my people, and I must write about the people I know. And that, perhaps that limits me. I'm sure it must limit me as an artist but; nevertheless, I couldn't create believable characters, if I moved outside of that world. That doesn't mean that I'm altogether a crackpot because I'm not and I can occasionally--

Studs Terkel Well, does this - pardon me, I don't mean to be - does this limit you? I mean, the fact that aren't these people a basically sensitive people up against a brutal framework?

Tennessee Williams I think of course they are. There's never been any question about that, I don't think. And I don't think you'll find many artists who aren't, more or less, in the same situation, because give a person an acute sensibility, and you're bound to find a person who who is under a good deal of torment, especially in this particular time that we are in, I would say.

Studs Terkel Think of think of Blanche for a minute. I mean I'm asking you, the creator, to think of Blanche. I'm thinking of her, for the moment. She represented so many good things too, despite the sham that she seemed to evoke.

Tennessee Williams Well, she said, "I don't tell truth. I tell what ought to be truth." She had the courage to admit that she occasionally embellished upon the real facts. And when she was, her back was to the wall, she had courage and truth and eloquence, I thought.

Studs Terkel I'm thinking of another figure now - someone else who was hurt very easily. Earlier I ask you about the conflict of the of the Pagan versus the Puritan, the battle in "Summer and Smoke" that will soon be coming to Chicago with the magnificent Geraldine Page--

Tennessee Williams Yeah, Gerrie Page, yeah

Studs Terkel As Alma Winemiller. Here you have someone who is outwardly, and has been, so caged by her inhibitions and when she busts through--

Tennessee Williams Mhmm.

Studs Terkel I mean, there was a wildness within her.

Tennessee Williams There always was, yes. That's why, that's what gave her the palpitations. That was that she was caging in something that was really quite different from her pur-, her spinsterish, puritanical exterior.

Studs Terkel Well, isn't this, isn't this figure almost an archetype - not that all your are the same. There all different. But isn't this figure the one who is caged. It's a phrase that your reputed--

Tennessee Williams It seems to be an obsessive figure with me as a writer. I'm gradually beginning to find other other types to deal with in my work. But it is gradual, and the question is will one man's life be [laughter] long enough to complete the discovery of these other types.

Studs Terkel Well, I'm sure your-. Well, indeed your creative--

Tennessee Williams Well, I'm 50 now.

Studs Terkel That's a beginning.

Tennessee Williams Life doesn't begin at 50, my friend [laughter]. Don't kid me.

Studs Terkel Tennessee Williams, I'm thinking of this new figure that is in "The Night Of The Iguana", Hannah, who is a little different than the others. A spinster, perhaps, she's a spinster. Not to acquainted with the flesh of life, yet very much with the spirit of it. Yet she seems - there's less, there seems there's less conflict within her than in, say, in Alma.

Tennessee Williams She has come to terms, of a kind, with life, yeah. She's a very very modest person, Hannah. And in that sense, to me, a very beautiful person. I meant, Hannah - the part of Hannah Jelkes in "The Night Of The Iguana" - almost the definition of what I think is most beautiful spiritually in a person and still believable in a person. And I'm still I'm still exploring the character of Hannah. And thank heavens, I have a great artists like Margaret Leighton--

Studs Terkel Indeed, you do.

Tennessee Williams To help me explore it because Maggie and I, we're exploring this woman. And Maggie is portraying each night with the most consummate artistry the woman as far as I've created her. And then after the show and between shows we talk over this woman, and we we explore between us still further. You know, Maggie seems to dig this woman. That's why she took the part.

Studs Terkel Even now while you're here in Chicago - this is now its third week or so - even now you are honing and [parts of your work?].

Tennessee Williams What astonished me about some of the reviews - I won't mention names, but at least one or two reviews - is that they didn't see what I was trying to find through the creation of Hannah. I don't see why a woman as unique and as lovely as Hannah Jelkes could be ignored, you know, in a play, especially when she was portrayed as beautifully as she is being portrayed--

Studs Terkel Well, it's interesting that it's Hannah. You see, we think of - off hand we think of the defrocked clergyman, Shannon, as the focal figure, yet as you say he he's had a prototype in a way in Blanche DuBois, the end of his tether. But the new figure then is Hannah, really, is it not, in your world?

Tennessee Williams She's the new one really. She's the new one, yes.

Studs Terkel Because--

Tennessee Williams And as I say she's still in the process of creation. The first production of the play isn't for me the final one. Even if this one should close, you know, after a short run, I would go on working on this play until I created Hannah completely.

Studs Terkel This is, I think, this is a fascinating avenue, if we may explore this a bit. Even though "The Night Of The Iguana", you say might close after a long run and you--

Tennessee Williams Well, we've had, you know--

Studs Terkel "Battle Of The Angels" [sic].

Tennessee Williams We've had -yes, "Battle Of Angels" eventually became "Orpheus Descending", and not that it was ever successful in either form, but there was certainly - I certainly continued my exploration of the characters in the play over a long period, and I think I will with this one too. I don't think whatever happens to the Broadway reception of "Night of the Iguana" [sic] will will finish my work on "The Night Of The Iguana." I don't think it will.

Studs Terkel Where the characters will outlive whatever the framework at the moment may be.

Tennessee Williams Oh, yes.

Tennessee Williams They will possibly become--

Tennessee Williams After all, the production - for me the production of a play is only an incident in the life of a play. I mean, there's not only continued work on the play, but there are other productions of the play. Sometimes it's done. It's a failure on Broadway and is a success Off-Broadway as happened in "Summer and Smoke". Sometimes it's a failure in one country, and in another country it's a great success. And consequently, I feel that a play is dynamic and living far beyond the time of its Broadway opening and the opening and the press the following morning. And I don't think I'm going to be too much concerned this time with the critical reception of this play because I know this play, as long as I am living, it will live in me, and I will keep it alive within myself and do all I can to complete it.

Studs Terkel In that sense it is dynamic, this very play. You will not be bothered by the framework in which it at moment may be, or no matter how that framework is received.

Tennessee Williams No, I won't be limited by its reception, no.

Studs Terkel You, I heard somewhere you mentioned something about your feeling about you yourself more and more leading toward Off-Broadway, eventually, when it comes to future projects.

Tennessee Williams That's only because I feel that too much of my nervous energy is expended on needless tensions - things that are quite extraneous to the creation of a work. I would rather concentrate on writing the work, and then having it done by unestablished, but excellent, players Off-Broadway, then go through this so exhausting hassle, you know, of--

Studs Terkel Involving stars--

Tennessee Williams Putting on a 100,000 dollar or a 125,000 dollar production with all the responsibilities outside the one that you have to your work.

Studs Terkel Again, this is another reflection of what you were saying a moment ago that it's the play itself, although even mo-, perhaps even more in the the characters within this play who are most important to you as a man of the [unintelligible].

Tennessee Williams Yes, they come, they come alive. They are like living beings to me. They're more alive to me than I am to myself. They are my life. And I don't feel that their life terminates with a Broadway opening, a Chicago opening, a Detroit opening, or any opening.

Studs Terkel Right now--

Tennessee Williams Until I have created them as fully as I can create them, they're still going with me [laughter].

Studs Terkel Right now--

Tennessee Williams And then I release, you know, once I'm totally satisfied that they're completed as fully as I can create them, then they have their own lives to lead without me.

Studs Terkel Right now as you're here in Chicago you are living with Hannah and with Larry Shannon.

Tennessee Williams Hannah and Larry Shannon and with old Maxine Faulk [laughter].

Studs Terkel Maxine - we haven't we haven't we haven't spoken of this figure filled with animal spirits. Maxine--

Tennessee Williams [I kind of like Maxine?].

Studs Terkel Who is a third figure of this group in Mexico. Again the hot climate. D.H. Lawrence a big factor in your life? The [unintelligible]--

Tennessee Williams Not as much as people imagine. Chekhov more, I would say.

Studs Terkel Chekhov more?

Tennessee Williams Yeah, especially where this play is concerned. The influence of Chekhov is much stronger. I call this a dramatic poem, this play. More a dramatic poem than a play.

Studs Terkel In that the the the hurts, the hidden hurts of people, in one way or another bounce against each other.

Tennessee Williams No, in the sense that it's composed rather like a poem. It's not constructed very well as a play, but it has the the atmosphere of a poem more, I think.

Studs Terkel Well, doesn't all, don't all of your plays have have a poetic flavor to them?

Tennessee Williams I hope so [laughter]. Some of them more than others.

Studs Terkel Yeah, it was--

Tennessee Williams "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" was the most realistic play I've done. "Suddenly Last Summer" was, perhaps, the most poetic I've done.

Studs Terkel I remember at the end of "Suddenly Last Summer" - opening night here in Chicago with Diana Barrymore, who was excellent in the role, as I recall, of the girl--

Tennessee Williams It wasn't her best role. Her best role was as Maggie in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof."

Studs Terkel Oh, she didn't do that Chicago, no.

Tennessee Williams She was excellent as Blanche in "Streetcar".

Studs Terkel Really?

Tennessee Williams But when I saw her in Chicago in "Suddenly Last Summer" I realized that she she was doing a brilliant virtuoso performance of a part in which she was basically miscast.

Studs Terkel I remem--

Tennessee Williams Just as Liz Taylor was miscast in it onscreen.

Studs Terkel I remember outside on the sidewalk - this is the point about you, I think, in your writing that is, I think, whether people are pro or con Williams in the plays - what is most important is that you create a great deal of animated discussion at a time when there are so little of it. And that in itself, that there's discussion involving the human being, one way or another, in stress.

Tennessee Williams Mhmm. Yeah. I'm glad to hear that.

Studs Terkel Well, don't you believe that?

Tennessee Williams Yes, I do, yeah. I gather that [laughter].

Studs Terkel One of your - at least this is attributed to you - one of your, quotation you found a favorite is that "we are all in solitary confinement in our in our skins." You know that phrase the phrase [unintelligible]?

Tennessee Williams Oh, yes. That's from "Orpheus", yeah, "Orpheus Descending."

Studs Terkel Is that in from "Orpheus Descended?"

Tennessee Williams Mhmm. "We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins." Yeah, it was from "Orpheus."

Studs Terkel Well, does this find its way then, pretty much, to in all of your - whether it be Blanche, whether it be Alma Winemiller, whether it be Shannon?

Tennessee Williams Well, the drama in my plays, I think, is nearly always people trying to [read?] each other. In "Night Of The Iguana" [sic] each one has his separate cubicle, but they meet on the veranda outside the cubicles - at least, Hannah and Larry Shannon meet on the veranda outside their cubicles, which is, of course, an allegorical touch of what people must try to do. It's true they're confined inside their own skins or their own cubicles, but they must try to get out as much as - they must try to find a common ground on which they can meet because the only truly satisfying moments in life are those in which you are in contact, and I don't mean just physical contact. I mean in deep, a deeper contact than physical with some other human being.

Studs Terkel The matter of communication, then, that is so lacking today, perhaps.

Tennessee Williams Yeah, I think it's the only comfort that we have of a lasting kind.

Studs Terkel To communicate.

Tennessee Williams And I have seen it happen between two people. I think, I can't think of any better example than my grandparents, who were so close together, they were like one person

Studs Terkel This was in Columbus.

Tennessee Williams Yeah, it was - no, in Mississippi - various places in Mississippi. Finally, in Memphis where they retired to after my grandfather completed his service to the church. They were, remained so close they were like that old Greek legend: Baucis and what?

Studs Terkel Philemon.

Tennessee Williams Baucis and Philemon, yeah, that's what they were like. And it's been a great inspiration to me, and on the other hand there was my mother and father who were quite the opposite [chuckling]. They were in constant conflict. But I thank God that I have seen exemplified in my grandmother and grandfather the possibility of two people being so lovingly close as they were, that they were almost like a tree - two people that have grown into a single tree. That was the story wasn't it, the Greek legend?

Studs Terkel Mhmm, that's right after they were so good to the two strangers, Mercury and his friend. The the, this is interesting. There were two two kinds of lives you saw from the very beginning, and this reflects itself in one--

Tennessee Williams Two different couples - my grandparents who grew together in wholeness and in, you know, in love, and then my parents who split violently apart and tore the children apart through division and conflict. Yeah, those are the two backgrounds that I had as a, you know, as a forming person.

Studs Terkel And I think of the gentle Laura of "The Glass Menagerie." A way, a victim, Laura.

Tennessee Williams Yeah. Oh, yes she was, Laura was sort of an abstraction of my sister, Rose [ice tinkling in a glass].

Studs Terkel And there are so many questions I want to ask you, Mr. Williams, and everything you're saying connects with what with what I am asking. We think of the two playwrights of the American theater. This is again, I quote Tynan who speaks of the two best writers of American prose. Now, he does, though.

Tennessee Williams Mmm

Studs Terkel He speaks of Williams and Miller. And he said, "One: the social playwright who seeks the attainable summit. The other, Williams: the poetic playwright who speaks of the unattainable summit because his aspirations are the unattainable because he's so poetic." Do you follow that?

Tennessee Williams Yes I do. Yeah, I never read that bit, but [laughter] Mr. Tynan is a very good critique, even when he lambastes you. He does it such eloquence and wit that you enjoy it.

Studs Terkel Well, he paid tribute to you very much indeed I remember in this particular essay that--

Tennessee Williams We're good friends, Ken and I. We always have been friends in spite of the occasional times when he's felt it necessary to take a negative point of view of my work.

Studs Terkel When he speaks of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", that was his favorite. He speaks of--

Tennessee Williams That was his, yeah, I like his choice in that matter.

Studs Terkel Do you feel he was justified - perhaps not. That's when he, you may recall he criticizing Kazan.

Tennessee Williams Yeah.

Studs Terkel Who he felt tampering with what they thought was a superior product - the original script as the inspiration.

Tennessee Williams Well, I don't think when you're dealing with an artist as creative and as great as Kazan you can't use the word, tamper. Kazan brings to bear an intensely creative imagination. He cannot help but leave his own stamp upon what he does and who would want him not to. I don't want him not to. I just want the meaning of my place to come through, and essentially whenever Kazan has worked on a play of mine he has magnified that play in a good way. He hasn't diminished it ever. Sometimes we've had a little, you know, variance. My viewpoint about how a certain act may go may be divergent from his viewpoint, but after all a play is published, you know, and people can take their choice, and who - I can't say that my viewpoint is right. Perhaps it isn't, and perhaps I need someone like Kazan to modify my viewpoint.

Studs Terkel This is always - I mean, I imagine this is par for the course, is it not, the conflict between playwright and director?

Tennessee Williams Certainly. What isn't par for the course is to have such a great director do your work. That's what isn't part of the course. That's very exceptional.

Studs Terkel I think one thing that's significant about your plays, the feeling of actors toward them when they pl-. And also of the - when we think of number of actresses in the American theater today, and just about the top five you can name one way or another found their way as a result of your [unintelligible]. There's Maureen Stapleton, "Rose Tattoo" [sic], or whether it's Geraldine Page who, "Summer and Smoke" and "Sweet Bird of Youth." Name--

Tennessee Williams I've been very fortunate in having great, great actors and actresses in my plays.

Studs Terkel Uta Hagen, Jessica Tandy.

Tennessee Williams I think nearly all the very distinguished stage actors in America have - I've had the advantage of having them in my work. [ice tinkling]

Studs Terkel But isn't there something else here? I mean, the fact that the theatricality. I mean, this is, I'm sure, a word always comes to - the theatricality of your writing. That it plays no matter what the sit--

Tennessee Williams Even if the plays themselves don't come off, there's always a part in them that is very good for an actor. Yes, there is always a part

Studs Terkel

Tennessee Williams actor. Exultation that is there continuously. Yes, there is always a part that attracts a fine actor.

Studs Terkel Because you are continuously, where there is a detractor, you are continuously, I noticed, defended by actors. Almost almost invariably it's the actor who always comes to your defense. The one--

Tennessee Williams I hope will always be so [laughter].

Studs Terkel Lonny Chapman a young actor I know Lonny who did--

Tennessee Williams I've never had Lonny in a play of mine.

Studs Terkel He was the gentleman caller at The City Center.

Tennessee Williams Oh, then I have had him in a play of mine. I didn't know about that.

Studs Terkel The one that Helen Hayes did.

Tennessee Williams Oh, yes. Yes.

Studs Terkel And Lonny, the gentleman caller. And he directed your "Orpheus Descending.".

Tennessee Williams Mhmm. He would have been that awfully - he would have done that very well. I missed it, but he would have done that beautifully.

Tennessee Williams But he he was making this point. I mentioned him because he was making this point that every actor he knows, one way or another finds, he may disagree with you on one point or another that you make, or agree with you, but the fact that there is the excitement of being this figure in one way or another is something that is a part of his his good memory.

Tennessee Williams Mhmm.

Studs Terkel I know a question I want to ask you, Mr. Williams. The matter of Southerner, I know your your your admiration, and it's mutual, for Carson McCullers.

Tennessee Williams Oh, Carson--

Studs Terkel Oh, Lonny was in "Baby Doll". That's right! Lonny played Rock!

Tennessee Williams Oh, Lonny!

Studs Terkel Lonny was Rock in "Baby Doll."

Tennessee Williams Yeah, Lonny was in "Baby Doll." Thank you for reminding me of that [unintelligible] [laughter].

Studs Terkel He played the sidekick of Eli Wallach.

Tennessee Williams Yes, he did. Yes, he did, and he was very good. Yes.

Studs Terkel That's Lonny.

Tennessee Williams Yes,

Studs Terkel excellent If we may return to you again, and Carson McCullers. I know that you--

Tennessee Williams Carson McCullers and I, yes. We've, we're - she is the person that, I suppose, next to my sister, Rose, Carson is the, of all the women that I know now living, she is the one closest to me, with the possible exception my mother. But in a way, of course, my mother is of another generation. Carson and I are of approximately the same generation. And I feel very close to her, even though often I don't may not see her for months at a time. It's because we have - we seem to have similar attitudes toward things in life.

Studs Terkel Toward incomplete people.

Tennessee Williams That's true, yes. I'm afraid that's true [laughter].

Studs Terkel I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I mean, again if I may, the reference was made of you and your feeling for incomplete people. These are in a sense really, they could be complete under other circumstances couldn't they?

Tennessee Williams They could, I think, under ideal circumstances. But to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I've ever met a complete person. I met many people that seemed well adjusted, but I'm not sure that to be well adjusted to things as they are is a desid- desideratum - is that the word?

Studs Terkel [unintelligible]. [Yeah, something that you wanted?].

Tennessee Williams That which is to be desired. I'm not sure I would want to be well-adjusted to things as they are. I would prefer to be racked by a desire for things better than what they are. Even for things which are unobtainable, then to be satisfied with things as they are. I don't think the human race should settle for what it has now achieved at all. Anymore than I think America must settle for its present state. I think our country - and my people fought for the beginning of this country - and this country I am totally an American, and I'm an intensely patriotic American in a sense that I feel I feel a longing for this country to go forward and be unafraid. I feel intensely American, but I am not satisfied with the present state of things in this country, and I'm afraid of complacency about it. I'm afraid about thinking that all the rest of the world is in error and we are totally right. Nobody is right, and the whole meaning of all my work is that no, there is no such thing as complete right, complete wrong, complete black, complete white. That that we're all in the same boat. And really the boat is the world. You might even say it's the universe. It's all creation is the boat - not just one nation, not just one ideology, not just one system. That everything is in flux. Everything's in a process of creation. The world is incomplete. It's like an unfinished poem. Maybe the poem will suddenly turn to a limerick, or maybe it will turn to an epic poem, but it's for all of us to try to complete this poem, and the way to complete it is through understanding and patience and tolerance among ourselves. That's my idea of patriotism. It's patriotism to the world and to humanity. And I'm afraid Birch Societies - I'm afraid of that sort of thing. That's the most fearful and dreadful thing that we have to face now in this world.

Studs Terkel In your way as a playwright, you are saying this [definitely? differently?] when you speak of - when they speak of your incomplete people, as you say none of us-. Oh, the adjustment, you will not adjust to that which is evil, really. What you feel is evil.

Tennessee Williams Oh, I have plenty of evil in me. I'm not a nice person.

Studs Terkel Well, don't all of us have the saint and sinner in us?

Tennessee Williams Yeah, but I think I know what evil, you know, I think I can recognize evil, and I think most people can. They will try to. My business my vocation, or whatever you want to call it, compels me to weigh evil and good. And consequently I'm, when I'm working I'm in a always in a state of examining. I think I am.

Studs Terkel You're a highly moral man is what it amounts to. You are.

Tennessee Williams Are you talking about my behavior?

Studs Terkel No, no. I'm talking about your outlook, outlook [at? and?] world

Tennessee Williams [Laughter] I'm glad you're talking about my outlook. Yeah, because I couldn't make such a claim for myself as a person in his behavior.

Studs Terkel Who can?

Tennessee Williams I couldn't, certainly

Studs Terkel Who can?

Tennessee Williams Who can?

Studs Terkel Yes.

Tennessee Williams Well, I don't know about other people. I only know about myself.

Studs Terkel If we may return to the idea of you. You are a moral, you're a very moral person.

Tennessee Williams I'm a moralist, sure

Studs Terkel Yes, you're a moralist. And thus you're a surgeon who would who would, perhaps, probe the canker and the sore, and being a good surgeon you dig pretty deep.

Tennessee Williams Yes, I want to discover all that is evil, and all that is good. I hope that I have a chance to and hope the public will bear with me while I continue the exploration. I'm not a very good writer, but I seem to be a man who's, you know, who has this obsession to explore good and evil.

Studs Terkel If we may continue with this exploration. In "Camino Real" doesn't your Byron speak of taking chances and risks, doesn't he? And even when a guy, you know, a good shortstop--

Tennessee Williams Yes, [he says?] make voyages, attempt them, there's nothing else.

Studs Terkel Yes. Yes. Yes. Is this pretty much your credo?

Tennessee Williams That's my philosophy, my credo, yeah. I don't know where they'll lead, the voyages, and neither did Byron, actually, in the "Camino Real", but certainly this just sitting still is of no constructive purpose.

Studs Terkel So it's this itch in you, this as as a creative spirit, this restlessness, then, that in a way--

Tennessee Williams I think one must try to go forward in this world without stepping on other people. And that's the way. The way to progress is by daring to go forward, but not trampling on other beings as we go, if we can help it. God knows I can't say that I have made whatever progress I may have made in life without stepping on people. I suppose I've stepped on many toes.

Studs Terkel Perhaps one more thing. This again in "Camino Real" your Don Quixote speaks - doesn't he speak of the violets cracking through rocks? The violet--

Tennessee Williams Yes, at the end of the play the violets have broken - "The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks" - that's the final line of the play. Yep.

Studs Terkel You believe that can be done? Well, that's done, isn't it? That is true [unintelligible]--

Tennessee Williams It's done occasionally, yeah. What [won't? will?] be the final - as I say I think the world is is an unfinished poem. It could turn into a limerick, or it could turn into an epic. I don't know which it will turn into, or it could just sputter out.

Studs Terkel Not in this time. Not not with the [unintelligible].

Tennessee Williams But still [in?] momentary in the at moments, certainly, the violets do break the rocks. There are moments when they do. I'm not sure that image, one should cling to that image too much because after all it's rather a pretty image and there's not a - it's effective image, but it isn't very comprehensive one, perhaps.

Studs Terkel No, but a thought occurred to me - perhaps, it one shouldn't cling to it too much - the thought occurred to me just at this moment as you were saying that, "The violets breaking through rocks", I thought of the non-violent - isn't that strangely enough - the nonviolent - almost a slip of a tongue and yet - the nonviolent movement among these students, in a sense, is violet, is a parallel of violets breaking through rocks too.

Tennessee Williams The, what mov--

Studs Terkel The sit-ins of the of the students of Nashville, you know, the theory of nonviolence they are practicing, you see.

Tennessee Williams Yeah.

Studs Terkel A Gandhi-esque approach, in a way, is that too, strangely enough, you see.

Tennessee Williams I think the Negro race is conducted itself with the most extraordinary nobility.

Studs Terkel And patience.

Tennessee Williams And patience. And we should be very proud of them as Americans. That they are our people and they have conducted themselves with such nobility and patience in these disgraceful circumstances.

Studs Terkel Perhaps one last question. There are many last questions I want to ask you, but are you pressed for time?

Tennessee Williams No.

Studs Terkel You're not. Oh good. Because I remember, since your speaking of Negro and the blues - I know you like the blues very much. I think of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry were here on "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof"

Tennessee Williams Mmm.

Studs Terkel And a broadcast was done. And you included, didn't you, the blues backing, didn't you there?

Tennessee Williams In which--

Studs Terkel In "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof."

Tennessee Williams Oh, yes.

Studs Terkel Yes, yes.

Tennessee Williams We had a wonderful Negro band playing backstage - fabulous.

Studs Terkel You chose the best harmonica blues player in the world.

Tennessee Williams Oh, he's great great great. Kazan chose them, not me. He found them.

Studs Terkel Music, if I may, you now and then - I know you're interested in certain aspects of jazz in American music - you've written some songs too, haven't you? Haven't written a tu--

Studs Terkel I have written a few blues lyrics, yeah.

Studs Terkel A few blues.

Tennessee Williams Which have been set to music by Paul Bowles who's a very dear friend of mine called "Blue Mountain Ballads."

Studs Terkel Is there something that you, on your mind now, that you feel like talking about? There are other things coming to me as we're sitting here talking about the figures in you play. As you say,"They're with you all the time. You're living with them all the time."

Tennessee Williams Well, they're most of my life. I have a little life outside of them, but comparably very little. I hope that now after "The Night of the Iguana" opens I will have a little more. I will take a rest and try to find, try to live a little more as a non, you know, as a person outside the theater.

Studs Terkel Does writing by the person outside the theater, does - you've done a good deal of writing outside the theater too - short stories and some poetry.

Tennessee Williams Not, I don't - I rarely write poetry or short stories anymore. I find that I can - I put my stories into my plays and my poetry in my plays now.

Studs Terkel So it's all theater then. You're wholly then, wholly then a man of the theater.

Tennessee Williams Almost completely. I rarely ever write a short story or a poem anymore. I find I must conserve my energies for what I am best at, and I think I'm best at plays.

Studs Terkel How do you feel when some, say, someone like "Time" for example may speak of you are non-heroes. I know this is a tender point with--

Tennessee Williams Well, I - the show business department of "Time" magazine is my bete noire.

Studs Terkel [Chuckling] I was afraid of that, yeah. Not, I wasn't afraid of, I just, you know.

Studs Terkel They rag me incessantly, and if it gives them great satisfaction, let them have it. But I don't know why they they are so rem- unremitting in this because they, just recently, they said they they said that "Iguana" was, they compared "Iguana" to a turkey, and they said that my incoming play to Broadway appeared from all indications to be a massive turkey. And then they proceeded to quote carefully selected bits from the reviews in Chicago, selected only for whatever damage they could do, and they ignored whatever was said that offered promise and expressed admiration. And then they lifted out of context something that I had said on an interview with Mr. Kupcinet, and they pretended to to, they pretended that it was a remark that I had made about my desire to work off Broadway was made in reference to this play, "Night Of The Iguana." It was not made reference to this play at all. It was only made in reference to my desire to rest for a while, and to work off Broadway till I had recovered my energies from after this present work.

Studs Terkel Has it ever occurred to you, Tennessee Williams, that I - I'm listening to you talking earlier about adjustment. That "Time" is a magazine of adjusted people. You are a non-adjusted man. This is rather interesting, as you--

Tennessee Williams I shall not care to be as adjusted as the gentleman from the show business department at "Time" magazine whom I encountered on a parlor car on a train between Philadelphia and New York when they insisted that I come and join them, and they showed themselves to be merciless sadists.

Studs Terkel You see, that's the point I was coming to. Forgetting about time for the moment, this matter of adjustment and non-adjustment. Doctor Hutchins - Robert Maynard Hutchins--

Tennessee Williams Yes.

Studs Terkel Recently said something very beautiful about adjustment courses at universities that he was blasting. And this matter of adjusting - he was, he's equating this with complacency, and [unintelligible].

Tennessee Williams I don't care to adjust on the level of certain types that appear to be adjusted. No I don't. I'd rather stay an outsider even if it means an outcast.

Studs Terkel Coming back again to your plays in every respect. This then is it, basically, is it not? I mean, you were, you in a sense are the outcast and that what you consider evil of another kind. Evil, whether it be of harsh commercialism or--

Tennessee Williams I think adjustment and conformity to that which is basically wrong and unjust is not the kind of adjustment we should want. Even though it is acceptable in society, I don't find it acceptable, and I'd rather accept exile from that kind of society.

Studs Terkel Tennessee Williams, another question. I wander a bit, and yet all these are part of a design. I think, I hope, but you are offering it in this way. Southern writers, in recent years, this resurgence of creativity on the part of so many, whether Carson McCullers or Eudora Welty or Flannery O'Connor. Do you consider yourself origi- a Southern writer? Do you consider yourself that?

Tennessee Williams Well, my roots are in the south at least my creative roots are.

Studs Terkel Is there a way of explaining this in the past, say, 20 years or so? This--

Tennessee Williams I think the group of writers you're referring to - Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers and myself - we're far from being the new wave, you know [laughter].

Studs Terkel No, but I mean; nonetheless, prior to that time there wasn't too much coming from the south was there creatively?

Tennessee Williams Oh, yes. There's always in the south--

Studs Terkel No, in the past. But, I mean, there was a period. Wasn't there a desert period? I mean, why in the past [5?] years--

Tennessee Williams Well, there probably was. Aside from the work of the poems of Sidney Lanier there wasn't much.

Studs Terkel Your middle name, incidentally.

Tennessee Williams Yeah, we're related collaterally. Aside from that there wasn't much except a polite sort of writing going on there. There was a sudden florescence of writing.

Studs Terkel That's what I meant. The impolite writing, if you will.

Tennessee Williams It began sort of with Faulkner, Don't you think? Yeah. He began, I think he began the Southern Gothic movement, as it's called. And Robert Penn Warren and Oda-, I think a great many wonderful writers have come out of the South, say, in the last 30 years. But in the last 5 or 6 or maybe 10 years I don't know that there have been any new ones. I think the shift maybe in another direction now. Yeah.

Studs Terkel

Tennessee Williams Another direction now. Yeah.

Studs Terkel Do you see any trends, by the way?

Tennessee Williams I think there's a great deal of creativity going on in England now - in the English theater particularly - with a man like Harold Pinter.

Studs Terkel "The Caretaker."

Tennessee Williams The author of "The Caretaker", and a man like Samuel Beckett. He's an Irishman, though, isn't he, but still I think of them all belong to the British Isles. And John Osborne - fabulous. I like all these new writers from England.

Studs Terkel Since you've mentioned Pinter and "Caretaker" [sic] and Beckett, the new way of--

Tennessee Williams The new wave writers, yes.

Studs Terkel The new wave.

Tennessee Williams And in America there's Edward Albee, of course - brilliant artist, and a very brave man, I think. And well, there have been several of those. Gelber--

Tennessee Williams Gelber, Richardson

Tennessee Williams Gelber, I'm not so crazy about Richardson, but I see that he can be amusing.

Studs Terkel But Albee, Pinter, the young writers they - the way this - you said something very moving to me, as I remember hearing you on the program. You said you, an established playwright, our most celebrated, find yourself inspired by the younger playwrights.

Tennessee Williams Yes, I do. I like their attitude toward the commercialism of the theater. They say, "Go take a flying jump at the moon." That's what they say to the commercial theater, it seems to me, and I admire them for it.

Studs Terkel And, apparently, that's what you're saying too. You were about to say.

Tennessee Williams I've been saying it all along. But still I've been having plays produced on Broadway [laughter]. But I, yeah, I know that I've made some compromises, naturally, I have. But I hope that when I have rested a while and go back to work that it will be off Broadway, and that I will not have not be so divided a person. That I will not have as much difficulty in resisting succe- the, you know, the the myth of success as the thing most to think that one must have - the big success, the rave notices, the pleasing of the big mass of people. It hasn't effected my work while I'm working, but I think it has, it has proved to be my, you know, it's an infection that you can't resist, if you are continually surrounded by it. And certainly it doesn't help you as an artist to be surrounded by it. To be - it filters in somehow.

Studs Terkel You want to be more free.

Tennessee Williams Yes, I want to be free. I want to work, I want to work with, for myself really without thinking any more about whether it will get rave notices or be a smash and all that, have a big line at the box office the night after, the morning after it opens.

Studs Terkel This is a tough one, I suppose, being human. How immune can one be from it, or how free can one be from it, from that to which we're accustomed? You know, the--

Tennessee Williams That's the big question.

Studs Terkel That's the question, isn't it?

Tennessee Williams That's the the big question. I'll find out [laughter].

Studs Terkel Anything else you'd care to say, Tennessee Williams?

Tennessee Williams No, I think we've covered a lot of ground.

Studs Terkel We have.

Tennessee Williams Maybe too much.

Studs Terkel No, I don't think so. I think, in a way, this is a portrait, and I should volunteer at this moment that a very endearing portrait of a thoughtful man and playwright, Tennessee Williams. Thank you very much.

Tennessee Williams Thank you. I enjoyed it very much.