|Tennessee Williams with his beloved bulldogs|
Williams’ reputation was as great a presence in Key West back then as Williams himself. There was the story of Tennessee Williams going to the dentist, in a state of extreme paranoia, to be fitted for a partial plate that he never wore because he died before it was ready. The dentist kept the plate as a souvenir, pulling it out of his pocket at cocktail parties, and recounting the stories of the great playwright's visits to his office. There was the story of the Tennessee Williams painting auctioned off at a Historical Society fund-raiser, a little sketch delivered to Richard Heyman’s Gingerbread Square Gallery, where Williams’ paintings were sold. The work, donated for the auction, featured Williams’ trademark signature, “TW.” It sold to a Miami couple for $750. After the auction Williams, who’d been out of town and missed the auction, raged that the painting was a forgery, created by his friend, the great artist Henry Faulkner. Williams demanded to have it back. Richard Heyman, who’d brokered the deal, explained the story to the Miamians. Henry Faulkner?! That made it even better, they said. But Williams wanted the painting returned. So Heyman refunded the $750 out of his own pocket. The Miamians reluctantly returned it to Heyman who returned it to Williams, and the painting was never seen again.
|Quintessential Henry Faulkner|
There were sightings of Williams and Truman Capote at the Pier House, and at Captain Tony’s Saloon. One night, as he wobbled down Duval Street with a friend, drunk, singing hymns, he was shoved around a bit by late-night locals. Within 24 hours the greatly exaggerated reports of the aging playwright’s vicious beating circled the globe, as the world, always ready for dirt, hungrily gobbled up the news of another fallen idol. When asked by a reporter about the scuffle months later, Williams wryly suggested that the Duval Street ruffians had probably been a pair of New York drama critics.
|Henry Faulkner with sailors|
|Williams named this "Fairy in a Wicker Chair"|
|Frankie and Tennessee at cocktail time. Who do you suppose received this photo and message?|
|Merlo and Williams at 1431 Duncan St. Check out the body language . . .|
|"Frankie" by Tennessee Williams|
|Burt and Anna in Key West|
A year or so after that night on the beach came the news of Williams’ death. On that day the Key West Picture Show theater on Duval Street, in a show of enormous respect and compassion, offered ‘round the clock free showings of The Rose Tattoo, Williams’ one and only happy-ending play, made into a film here in Key West in 1955, when Williams was at the height of his success, before he became victim to what he called “the tragedy of success.” Michael was there at the theater that day. And so was I. But we had not yet met. That happened a few years later. And when we met, we found common ground in our mutual love of Tennessee Williams’ plays, and in our worshipful study of his life and times. The genius of Tennessee Williams is like a diamond in candlelight, every glint and glimmer translating into a new slant on ... everything.
It’s all so delicious, picking over the bones of Williams, the salacious and the sentimental details of his nomadic life, made all the more tasty because we have in common with him this island that he called, and we call, home base. Tennessee Williams, his sister Rose, Henry Faulkner, my friend Douglas, are all dead now. Soon all of us who remember the tales of Williams, the Key West citizen, will be gone, too. But those born of the bright light of Williams' genius – Maggie the Cat, Blanche DuBois, Chance Wayne, Heavenly Finley, Alexandra Del Lago, Sebastian Venable, Val and his snakeskin jacket, (a character all its own!) live on forever. Ageless, as truth is ageless. And Tennessee Williams, the playwright, lives forever, too, right along with them.