This is a short story in subject and substance. There just isn't that much to tell and it would only be common fodder or grist for the Tabloids, if it wasn't a totally true story.
Let me begin by saying, that I do not suffer from any homophobic thoughts or beliefs. I have spent a good portion of my life working in the entertainment field, a field that "naturally" exposes one to a multitude of diversified sexual mores and beliefs. Simply put, what consenting adults choose to do in their personal lives simply is none of my business. I try to apply this philosophy to all things sexual, religious and, in spite of a Bush White House, politics. It has worked well for me for a very long time.
I recently wrote a piece for Broowaha that detailed a short period of time I was fortunate enough to have spent with Christine Jorgensen in Hawaii in the 70's. She was a great lady and it was a pleasure to have had the opportunity to work with her. At the end of the story, I mentioned we spent an afternoon with Tennessee Williams. I received some comments that asked about that encounter. It was so brief that I really don't think it deserves the space this will take but I will describe that day and and why I found the man so distasteful.
My wife and myself were invited to a barbecue planned on a weekend afternoon at a private home. Christine Jorgensen was to be the obvious "guest of honor". However, on the ride over, Christine announced that a "dear friend" of hers, by the name of, Tennessee Williams was going to join the festivities. She might as well have said, "Yes, Elvis will be in the house." It was that dramatic.
It was safe to say then, and it still stands today, that Tennessee Williams is an American icon, considered by many as the greatest American playwright of all time. "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", "A Streetcar Named Desire", "The Glass Menagerie; and "Night of the Iguana" make a very short list of his critically acclaimed writings. He even had a U.S. stamp printed with his portrait. Despite this success, Mr Williams struggled with demons. Battling chronic alcoholism, drug addiction and depression most of his adult life had taken a toll that even "fame" couldn't overcome.
In the car, Christine explained that Tennessee had lost his lover years back and that he had not "been the same since." She went on to say, "he had told her he had a big surprise for her today and that he hadn't felt so good in years." and that she would understand why when she arrived.
We were greeted at the door by Mr and Mrs Homeowner, (I have no recollection today of their names) and were ushered inside where a group of maybe ten or twelve people were gathered in a semi-circle around a couch. In the center of the circle sat Mr Williams and next to him sat a young man. Christine and Tennessee immediately embraced as the old friends they were. My wife and I were introduced and then welcomed by Mr Williams. It was quite an honor to meet him. There was no mention or acknowledgement of the presence of the boy sitting next to him.
The afternoon progressed with all eyes and ears tuned to the Tennessee Williams frequency. The more Jack Daniels he consumed the more we heard about past times in Key West, recent events and just general expected "party" talk among a group of his friends. The young man, sitting two feet away, never uttered a sound, it was as if, he didn't really exist.
A few more hours passed, a meal was consumed and a lot of Jack Daniels was imbibed. Mr Williams had slipped from the sweet sounds of his southern accent into a muddled mix of slurred words as the alcohol began to talk. The change in his demeanor and tone changed as quickly as one would blow out a candle. Poof, and there was a completely different Tennessee Williams. He looked at Christine and asked, "What do you think?", or words to that effect. Christine responded, "About?" I don't remember the exact words, but it was basically..."About my new toy", as he looked to the young man sitting next to him. And then he called for a chair, and told the kid to stand up on it. The young man was very uncomfortable but did it anyway. He told him to remove his shirt and turn around on the chair for all to see. It was like showing off a pedigree dog. I believe everyone was shocked but no one, including myself, protested. The poor kid looked like he was about to cry, you could feel his total humiliation. I will never forget that look. There were comments by Mr Williams regarding how young he made him feel and even a mention of the kid's body part. The whole scene was disgusting and has stuck with me for years.
Today, as a recovering alcoholic, I am very aware how the disease can alter one's perspectives and levels of morality. In reflection of some of my own past, I certainly have been guilty of some transgressions that I am not proud of. There are certainly plenty of men around today who acquire "trophy" wives. Perhaps, I overreacted. The young man was of age, he could have walked away, he didn't have to climb up on that chair. I've always wondered what happened to that kid. He's got a story he could write.
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Copyright © 2010 Steven Lane
Jack Daniels and Tennessee Williams
Copyright © 2010 Steven Lane
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