Tennessee Williams: Middle Life

Table of Contents

Williams met and fell in love with Frank Merlo in 1947 while living in New Orleans. Together they vacationed in Italy where the writer drew inspiration from the passion for life he felt there. He was a confidant and artistic adviser, as well as a devoted partner. It has been said that people were drawn to Tennessee Williams as a celebrity, but those who maintained lasting friendships with him were drawn by Merlo’s charm. Merlo was a second generation Sicilian American who had served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, lasted from 1947 until Merlo’s death from cancer in 1963. With that stability, Williams created his most enduring works. Merlo provided balance to many of Williams’ frequent bouts with depression and the fear that, like his sister Rose, he would go insane. After Merlo’s death from lung cancer in 1961 he sunk into a deep depression which worsened his addictions to prescription drugs and alcohol.

Williams spent much of his most prolific years in Rome, Italy, and his enduring friendship with Italian stage and screen legend Anna Magnani lasted 24 years and inspired both “The Rose Tattoo” and “Orpheus Descending”. Magnani realized the lead parts of these two plays, which were written for her, in their film versions. The turbulent and inspirational friendship shared between Williams and Magnani is the subject of the internationally acclaimed play “Roman Nights” by Franco D’Alessandro.

During the late ’50s and ’60s, Williams faced harsh reviews from a number of theater critics. Some attacked Williams because of how he lived or portrayed his homosexuality. As Williams matured, his writing became more experimental in works such as “Out Cry“, which further alienated him from critics.


One Response

  1. Out Cry: In August 1971 it was produced and directed by George Keathley at now defunct Ivanhoe Threatre (3000 N. Clark) in what was called the American premiere. A two-person play with Eileen Herlie and Donald Madden.

    I know this because I still have the program. All I remember was: it’s about a sister and brother and it left me confused. I wonder if I read it or saw it today what I would think.

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