Tennessee Williams

American playwright (1911–1983)

Thomas Lanier Williams III (26 March 191125 February 1983), known by his pen name Tennessee Williams, was an American playwright and screenwriter. Along with contemporaries Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller, he is considered among the three foremost playwrights of 20th-century American drama.

Revolution only needs good dreamers who remember their dreams.
See also:
A Streetcar Named Desire (film)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (film)

Quotes edit

I think that moral earnestness is a good thing for any times, but particularly for these times.
Snatching the eternal out of the desperately fleeting is the great magic trick of human existence.
  • When I look back at Stairs to the Roof... I see its faults very plainly, as plainly as you may see them, but still I do not feel apologetic about this play. Unskilled and awkward as I was at this initial period of my playwriting, I certainly had a moral earnestness which I cannot boast of today, and I think that moral earnestness is a good thing for any times, but particularly for these times. I wish I still had the idealistic passion of Benjamin Murphy! You may smile as I do at the sometimes sophomoric aspect of his excitement, but I hope you will respect, as I do, the purity of his feeling and the honest concern which he had in his heart for the basic problem of mankind, which is to dignify our lives with a certain freedom.
    • Program notes for a Pasadena Playhouse production of Stairs to the Roof (1947)
  • I never saw a more beautiful woman, enormous eyes, skin the color of Devonshire cream.
    • After meeting Anna Magnani, as quoted in Tennessee Williams : Rebellious Puritan (1961) by Nancy Marie Patterson Tischler, p. 175
  • Most of the confidence which I appear to feel, especially when influenced by noon wine, is only a pretense.
    • "I am widely regarded as the ghost of a writer," (1977), from New Selected Essays: Where I Live, ed. John S. Bak and John Lahr (New Directions Publishing, 2009)
  • The theatre is a place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one's office for a job.
    • Quoted in "Tennessee Williams" in Profiles (1990) by Kenneth Tynan (first published as a magazine article in February 1956)
  • The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.
    • Interview with James Grissom (1982)
  • I don't ask for your pity, but just for your understanding—not even that—no. Just for your recognition of me in you, and the enemy, time, in us all.

Stairs to the Roof (1941) edit

  • A Prayer for the Wild at Heart That Are Kept in Cages
    • This is the subtitle of the play

The Glass Menagerie (1944) edit

In memory everything seems to happen to music.
I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.
You — well, you're — Blue Roses!
  • In memory everything seems to happen to music.
    • Tom (As Narrator Scene One)
  • Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.
    • Tom, as Narrator, in Scene One
  • Animals have sections in their stomachs which enable them to digest food without mastication, but human beings are supposed to chew their food before they swallow it down… So chew your food and give your salivary glands a chance to function!
    • Amanda, Scene One
  • Mother, when you're disappointed, you get that awful suffering look on your face, like the picture of Jesus' mother in the museum!
    • Laura, Scene Two
  • I know so well what becomes of unmarried women who aren't prepared to occupy a position. I've seen such pitiful cases in the South — barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister's husband or brother's wife! — stuck away in some little mouse-trap of a room — encouraged by one in-law to visit another — little birdlike women without any nest — eating the crust of humility all their life! Is that the future that we've mapped out for ourselves?
    • Amanda, Scene Two
  • Why you're not crippled, you just have a little defect — hardly noticeable, even! When people have some slight disadvantage like that, they cultivate other things to make up for it — develop charm — and vivacity — and — charm!
    • Amanda, Scene Two
  • I took that horrible novel back to the library — yes! That hideous book by that insane Mr. Lawrence. I cannot control the output of diseased minds or people who cater to them — BUT I WON'T ALLOW SUCH FILTH BROUGHT INTO MY HOUSE! No, no, no, no, no!
    • Amanda, Scene Three
  • Every time you come in yelling that God damn "Rise and Shine!" "Rise and Shine!" I say to myself, "How lucky dead people are!"
    • Tom, Scene Three
  • Man is by instinct a lover, a hunter, a fighter, and none of those instincts are given much play at the warehouse!
    • Tom, Scene Four
  • You are the only young man that I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes the present, the present the past and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don't plan for it!
    • Amanda, Scene Five
  • All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.
    • Amanda, Scene Six
  • Yes, movies! Look at them — All of those glamorous people — having adventures — hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving! Hollywood characters are supposed to have all the adventures for everybody in America, while everybody in America sits in a dark room and watches them have them! Yes, until there's a war. That's when adventure becomes available to the masses! Everyone's dish, not only Gable's! Then the people in the dark room come out of the dark room to have some adventures themselves — Goody, goody! — It's our turn now, to go to the south Sea Island — to make a safari — to be exotic, far-off! — But I'm not patient. I don't want to wait till then. I'm tired of the movies and I am about to move!
    • Tom, Scene Six
  • All of my gentlemen callers were sons of planters and of course I assumed that I would be married to one and raise my family on a large piece of land with plenty of servants. But man proposes — and woman accepts the proposal! — To vary that old, old saying a little bit — I married no planter! I married a man who worked for the telephone company!
    • Amanda, Scene Six
  • Shakespeare probably wrote a poem on that light bill, Mrs. Wingfield.
    • Jim, Scene Seven
  • I believe in the future of television! I wish to be ready to go up right along with it. Therefore I'm planning to get in on the ground floor. In fact I've already made the right connections and all that remains is for the industry itself to get under way! Full steam — Knowledge — Zzzzzp! Money — Zzzzzp! — Power!
    • Jim, Scene Seven
  • I'll just imagine he had an operation. The horn was removed to make him feel less — freakish! Now he will feel more at home with the other horses, the ones that don't have horns…
    • Laura, Scene Seven
  • I wish you were my sister. I'd teach you to have some confidence in yourself. The different people are not like other people, but being different is nothing to be ashamed of. Because other people are not such wonderful people. They're one hundred times one thousand. You're one times one! They walk all over the earth. You just stay here. They're common as — weeds, but — you — well, you're — Blue Roses!
    • Jim, Scene Seven
  • Things have a way of turning out so badly.
    • Amanda, Scene Seven
  • You don't know things anywhere! You live in a dream; you manufacture illusions!
    • Amanda, Scene Seven
  • Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger — anything that can blow your candles out! — for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles Laura — and so goodbye…
    • Tom, Scene Seven

The Catastrophe of Success (1945) edit

  • The sort of life which I had previous to this popular success was one that required endurance, a life of clawing and scratching along a sheer surface and holding on tight with raw fingers to every inch of rock higher than the one caught hold of before, but it was a good life because it was the sort of life for which the human organism is created. I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arm still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last. I sat down and looked about me and was suddenly very depressed.
    • page 15

Summer and Smoke (1948) edit

  • Eternity!—Didn't it give you the cold shivers?
    • Alma, Prologue
  • The tables have turned, yes, the tables have turned with a vengeance! You've come around to my old way of thinking and I to yours like two people exchanging a call on each other at the same time, and each one finding the other one gone out, the door locked against him and no one to answer the bell!
    • Alma, Scene Eleven
  • You'll be surprised how infinitely merciful they are. The prescription number is 96814. I think of it as the telephone number of God!
    • Alma, Scene Twelve

The Rose Tattoo (1951) edit

  • The only thing worse than a liar is a liar that's also a hypocrite!
    • Rosa, Act Three, Scene Three

Camino Real (1953) edit

  • When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.
  • I know this place. … Here it is on the chart. Look, it says here: "Continue until you come to the square of a walled town which is the end of the Camino Real and the beginning of the Camino Real. Halt there," it says, "and turn back, Traveler, for the spring of humanity has gone dry in this place...
    • Sancho
  • You said, "They're harmless dreamers and they're loved by the people." — "What," I asked you, "is harmless about a dreamer, and what," I asked you, "is harmless about the love of the people? — Revolution only needs good dreamers who remember their dreams."

Orpheus Descending (1957) edit

We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.
  • We're all of us sentenced to solitary confinement inside our own skins, for life.

Suddenly Last Summer (1958) edit

  • We saw the Encantadas, but on the Encantadas we saw something Melville hadn't written about.
    • Mrs. Venable, Scene One
  • And the sand all alive, all alive, as the hatched sea-turtles made their dash for the sea, while the birds hovered and swooped to attack and hovered and—swooped to attack! They were diving down on the hatched sea-turtles, turning them over to expose their soft undersides, tearing the undersides open and rending and eating their flesh.
    • Mrs. Venable, Scene One
  • Well, now I've said it, my son was looking for God. I mean for a clear image of Him. He spent that whole blazing equatorial day in the crow's nest of the schooner watching that thing on the beach of the Encantadas till it was too dark to see it, and when he came back down the rigging, he said, Well, now I've seen Him!—and he meant God . . .
    • Mrs. Venable, Scene One

The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963) edit

  • We all live in a house on fire, no fire department to call; no way out, just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns the house down with us trapped, locked in it.
    • Christopher
  • All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness.

Quotes about Williams edit

  • There is one writer who has let language emerge as action recently: Tennessee Williams, a playwright and a poet, has ranged from the blue piano and the Mexican woman intoning, "Flores. Flores. Flores para los muertos. Flores. Flores...." to the streaming soliloquies of danger and the abrupt shifts of seduction and violence, in all of which the inner action and the outer are equilibrated by means of language. Sometimes false, often hypnotic and inescapable, these speeches extend the action of his plays, giving them a density, setting up a world, which is too many times absent from the theater.

Misattributed edit

  • Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.
    • Actually by the Chinese philosopher, educator and popular lecturer Dr. Tehyi Hsieh, Chinese epigrams inside out, and proverbs, 1948.
  • Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it … Success is shy — it won't come out while you're watching.
    • No known citation to Williams. Attributed in Quote Unquote (A Handbook of Quotations), 2005, MP Singh, Lotus Press.
      • The full quote is captured in a letter Tennessee wrote to Donald Windham and can be found on pages 57 and 58 of Tennessee WIlliams' Letters to Donald Windham. The quote is not misattributed.

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