The Books: The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town, edited by Lillian Ross; ‘The Celluloid Brassiere’, by Andy Logan


Next up on the essays shelf:

The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town (Modern Library Paperbacks) is a collection of “The Talk of the Town” pieces in The New Yorker, grouped by decade, which is a lot of fun because you can see how the “voice” of the magazine developed, and how “The Talk of the Town” has grown and changed over the years.

How exciting!

The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams, opened in Chicago in December of 1944. Williams had already had a production of his first play, Battle of Angels, which had outraged pretty much everyone when it opened in Boston. It was dead in the water upon arrival. Williams was devastated (and kept working on Battle of Angels, it went through many different incarnations), but went back to the drawing-board and completed a play that had been on his mind for years. He had already written it up as a short play, and had worked out a lot of it in short stories and poems. He wanted to write something about his mother, and about his doomed sister. The Glass Menagerie was the result.

It was such a hit in Chicago (mainly due to the hammering-away at the local audience to “go see this show” by two influential local critics) that people started coming to Chicago to see the show. Movie stars would stop off in Chicago on their way to Hollywood, by train. It was an event. And people seemed to know it at the time. Something amazing is going on in Chicago right now. Laurette Taylor, who had been in the business for decades, came out of semi-retirement, to play Amanda Wingfield. It is a performance that influenced a generation. She would be dead in 1946. She certainly went out with a bang.

The show moved to Broadway. It was a continued success. It made Tennessee Williams a star.


The New Yorker‘s Andy Logan gets a chance to speak with Tennessee Williams in April of 1945, in the first flush of that success. Williams had been around for a bit, but he was an entirely new kind of person, seemingly, and people treated him with awe and a little bit of fear. He was openly gay, although I suppose at the time people would use the word queer or fairy. But he never tried to hide who he was (something that closeted men, Montgomery Clift, for example, found disturbing. He was going to ruin it for the rest of them!) He was intimidatingly talented. His play made all others seem pale and unfinished. He had put Laurette Taylor back on the map for all time (although they couldn’t know that in 1945 – they couldn’t know that people would STILL be talking about that performance, even those of us who never got a chance to see it, because it happened decades before we were born). Extraordinary. Who was this guy?

I love this little interview!

The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town (Modern Library Paperbacks), edited by Lillian Ross; ‘The Celluloid Brassiere’, by Andy Logan

For a journalist unwilling to interview Tennessee Williams, who wrote the latest hit show, “The Glass Menagerie,” the only alternative is giving up his press card. Fortunately, Williams is an amiable and adaptable young man, unruffled even by such experiences as being asked to pose for three news photographers in a single morning. He told us, as he has told other interviewers, that four years ago he was an usher at the Strand Theatre. It turns out, however, that this was merely an interlude between jobs as a Guild playwright (unsuccessful) and as a Hollywood script writer (unsuccessful). “Battle of Angels” was the name of the Williams play the Guild put on, and, though it starred Miriam Hopkins and was directed by Margaret Webster, it folded up after the tryout in Boston. “I never heard of an audience getting so infuriated,” Williams told us. “They hissed so loud you couldn’t hear the lines, and that made Miriam so mad that she began to scream her lines above the hissing. Then they stamped their feet, and after a while most of them got up and left, banging their seats behind them. That play was, of course, a much better play than this one. The thing is, you can’t mix up sex and religion, as I did in ‘Battle of Angels’, but you can always write safely about mothers.”

The mother Williams wrote about in “The Glass Menagerie” is his own. The play is mainly taken from life. “We moved to St. Louis when I was about thirteen,” the author informed us. “We took an old house that just had windows at the front and back. My sister, who was a year older than I was, had a sad little shadowy room that looked out on an alley, so we painted it white for her, and she collected a lot of little glass animals and put them on the white shelves to brighten things up. It’s something you remember. Especially if you’re a playwright.” A playwright Williams certainly is, the current show being the eighth he has written, not counting his work in Hollywood. He went out there straight from his run as a Strand usher, M-G-M having topped his old salary considerably (life is that way in the arts). They put him right to work on a Lana Turner picture the name of which he cannot remember – “I always thought of it as ‘The Celluloid Brassiere,'” he said – and then, when this project failed to work out, tried to assign him to a Margaret O’Brien script. When he had finished telling M-G-M what he thought of child actors, they barred him from the studio. He sat out the rest of his contract on the beach in Santa Monica, drawing two hundred and fifty dollars a week. That was when he started work on “The Glass Menagerie.” He finished it in Provincetown last summer. When he showed the manuscript to his agent, she said, “Well, let’s get it typed, anyway.”

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