Friday, January 9, 2009

Tennessee Williams - An Autograph

One of my work-friends, Marianne, was at Westchester Community College in the mid-seventies. Her boyfriend was an orderly at Stony Brook Lodge in Ossining. One day he noticed a limousine pull up out front and guessed it must be Tennessee Williams coming to visit his sister Rose.

When in her teens Rose had been diagnosed as schizophrenic. The times being what they were, a prefrontal lobotomy, with the usual disastrous results, was performed. Rose spent the remainder of her life in this or that institution.

The playwright's love and care for his damaged sister has always been very touching to me. A critic once observed that all his female leads were based on Rose; that strikes me as an astute observation. That her famous brother so tenderly loved and cared for her makes me love him beyond his poetic nature, beyond his uniqueness, beyond his immaculate plays, beyond his poems, beyond his stories, beyond his couple of novels.

I saw a picture of Rose in that recently published thick book of Tennessee's notes. She was prettied up in a white dress sitting on a lawn chair -- a beautiful southern belle with a cigarette in her hand. That she was allowed to enjoy cigarettes makes me feel a little bit better for her.

Marianne's boyfriend knew she was crazy about theater, knew that she'd love to have Tennessee's autograph. He had nothing for Mr. Williams to sign except the blank flip side of the form on the clipboard he was carrying, a form whose heading was RECORD OF ELECTRIC SHOCK TREATMENT. This sweet autograph on such a form strikes me as ... what? ... poignant? ... sad? ... nothing remarkable? ... I don't quite know.