One of America’s greatest playwrights as seen by himself and his many muses.
When Grissom wrote Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) in the early 1980s seeking advice on a literary career, he could hardly have expected the response he received. Williams not only invited Grissom for an extended visit to Baton Rouge, but he quickly made him his walking companion and amanuensis, urging Grissom to take notes as Williams talked at length about his life, plays and quasi-religious notions of art. He also had a plan: to have Grissom visit all the actresses who had mattered to Williams and ask if he mattered to them. For the playwright, it was a roundabout way of getting his groove back; he had become a decrepit, alcoholic joke to his critics, and women had always been his salvation. Also, time was running out—and would stop completely for Williams not long after Grissom left his company. Reluctantly, Grissom pressed forward over the years ahead, seeking out the great ladies of the American theater for lengthy, intimate and revealing interviews, matching their thoughts on Williams with Williams’ thoughts on them. “They say God is in the details,” Williams told Grissom, “and these particular women are those details.” Whether they were steadfast pals (Maureen Stapleton), committed individualists (Marian Seldes and Lois Smith), or became troubled (Barbara Baxley), tormented (Kim Stanley) and bitter (Jo Van Fleet) actresses with blighted careers, they defined their roles for Williams, revealing aspects of the roles he hadn't considered. Geraldine Page is just one example: “She made me a better writer and she made my plays better plays.”
There have been plenty of books written about Williams over the past three decades, but few weave so many voices into an original and compelling portrait. Grissom honors the life and achievement of his doomed correspondent.