Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tennessee Williams Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr


I do relish a good meaty literary biography and John Lahr's recent magnum opus on Tennessee Williams is one of the best. Its 600 pages must be the definitive word on that troubled genius. He had a lot going for him, brutal father, puritanical mother, fragile sister and his own guilty sexuality. It all came out in the plays which must be amongst the most autobiographical in the history off the theatre. Lahr has an excellent eye for spotting the connections between the life and the work. He's also very good on the politics of the New York theatre and on Williams' creative relationship with Elia Kazan - his most successful director. Its replete with juicy anecdotes about the actors, agents, hustlers, and chancers that surrounded him. Brando is there fighting off the lustful assaults of Anna Magnani, and we are spared no details of Williams relentless consumption of drink, drugs and young men. Williams went out of fashion long before he died and Lahr traces this extended dying fall mercilessly. He messed with his will a lot as those around him fell out of favour and this ultimately caused problems for his literary estate. It's very well illustrated with some photographs that do its subject no favours. And did you know that the biographer John Lahr is married to Connie Booth - the fair Polly from Fawlty Towers. No, I didn't either. If you like literary biography and are interested in the theatre you'll love this. If you don't care for either, you'll still enjoy the story - the rise and fall of a fascinating, talented but unlikeable man.