Journalist Catherine Fruchon-Toussaint returns in an impressive biography on the romantic life of Tennessee Williams. To discover when Johnny plays it on the boards.
Paris Match. When did you become passionate about Tennessee Williams?
Catherine Fruchon-Toussaint. I fell in love with him as a teenager, taking acting lessons. There, I discovered a work that was both very poetic but also violent and sensual. I was also struck by the universality of this American author who, through pieces deeply rooted in the southern United States, in a pivotal period of the twentieth century (from the 1940s to the 1960s), was able to move and to jostle a little French girl like me, half a century later. Finally, after reading it, I felt the need to know more about his life. I discovered that he had had an incredibly romantic, excessive, dizzying existence, just like his characters.
When he was 12, he asked for a typewriter. Is he a born writer?
Yes, from his early childhood he started to invent little stories. He was certainly saved by writing. Shackled by religion, morality, Puritanism and the madness inherent in his family origins, he had only dreams to escape. And it was to get out of a stifling reality that he threw himself headlong into writing. This is why it has a considerable production: more than one hundred plays, novels, short stories, poems, a very voluminous correspondence, a private diary, essays …
You say that the lobotomization of his sister Rose will become the glue of his work to come. Why ?
It is indeed the drama of his life. Very close to his sister in his youth, he turned away when she began to show the first signs of schizophrenia. Then, quite busy becoming “Tennessee Williams” and assuming his artistic life and his homosexual love, he could not prevent his mother from orchestrating this fatal operation, which he will evoke on several occasions, from “La glass menagerie ”to“ Suddenly last summer ”.
“His transgression of taboos forged his singularity”
Has his homosexuality influenced his work?
Tennessee Williams has never claimed to be a homosexual writer; he thought it was too narrow a category. On the other hand, he has never been afraid to approach the sexuality of his characters, and particularly of his heroines, who can be by turns frigid, nymphomaniacs, even “cougar”. A transgression of taboos that forged his singularity as a writer.
When he comes to Paris, he meets sacred monsters, such as Arletty or Jean Marais. Does this have an impact on the course of its existence?
It is true that he often came to Paris to see the creations of his pieces: whether it was the “Tramway” adapted by Cocteau or “Doux oiseaux de jeunesse” played by Edwige Feuillère in a version by Françoise Sagan. He was also very impressed with Sartre. Her love for European culture, especially Italian culture, inspired her with one of her most original pieces: “The Tattooed Rose”, written for Anna Magnani.
Tennessee Williams has not always been successful. How did he come back to the fore?
Indeed, from the 1960s, he experienced a series of resounding failures. “The night of the iguana” is one of his last masterpieces. He drinks more and more, he takes a lot of medication, he gets lost in multiple romantic relationships; on the other hand, he never stops writing.
There is a vital impetus in him which drives him to creation, and if, at the time, his pieces are criticized, today we recognize that, behind the excess, the caricature, the experimental, hides a writer who has never ceased to renew himself.
What will remain of his work?
His work still resonates today because it stages the great human dramas: the thirst for love, the anguish of loneliness, the violence of power … But, above all, the question that haunts the writings of Tennessee Williams is that of God, and that is an eternal theme …
To eds. BakerStreet: “Tennessee Williams. A life ”, by Catherine Fruchon-Toussaint, 340 pages, 21 euros.
“From you to me”, unpublished by Tennessee Williams, 279 pages, 19 euros.
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