Tennessee Williams: Book summary and reviews of Tennessee Williams by John Lahr

Tennessee Williams

Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

by John Lahr

Tennessee Williams by John Lahr X
Tennessee Williams by John Lahr
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2014
    736 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

John Lahr has produced a theater biography like no other. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh gives intimate access to the mind of one of the most brilliant dramatists of his century, whose plays reshaped the American theater and the nation's sense of itself.

This astute, deeply researched biography sheds a light on Tennessee Williams's warring family, his guilt, his creative triumphs and failures, his sexuality and numerous affairs, his misreported death, even the shenanigans surrounding his estate.

With vivid cameos of the formative influences in Williams's life - his fierce, belittling father Cornelius; his puritanical, domineering mother Edwina; his demented sister Rose, who was lobotomized at the age of thirty-three; his beloved grandfather, the Reverend Walter Dakin - Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh is as much a biography of the man who created A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as it is a trenchant exploration of Williams's plays and the tortured process of bringing them to stage and screen.

The portrait of Williams himself is unforgettable: a virgin until he was twenty-six, he had serial homosexual affairs thereafter as well as long-time, bruising relationships with Pancho Gonzalez and Frank Merlo. With compassion and verve, Lahr explores how Williams's relationships informed his work and how the resulting success brought turmoil to his personal life.

Lahr captures not just Williams's tempestuous public persona but also his backstage life, where his agent Audrey Wood and the director Elia Kazan play major roles, and Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Bette Davis, Maureen Stapleton, Diana Barrymore, and Tallulah Bankhead have scintillating walk-on parts. This is a biography of the highest order: a book about the major American playwright of his time written by the major American drama critic of his time.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Award, 2014

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Though Lahr acknowledges the successes of previous Williams scholars, his achievement is not likely to be surpassed." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. There is only one word for this biography: superb." - Kirkus

"There's never been an American critic like John Lahr. His writing exalts, honors, and dignifies the profession and, more importantly, the art." - Tony Kushner

"Unsurpassable…An eloquent, spellbinding narrative that emerges as an instant classic." - Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Washington: A Life

"Could this be the best theater book I've ever read? It just might be. Tennessee Williams had two great pieces of luck: Elia Kazan to direct his work and now John Lahr to make thrilling sense of his life." (John Guare, author of Six Degrees of Separation

"Brilliant and seamless. A labor of the profoundest love, and it comes from the heart and mind of one of our greatest theater writers." - André Bishop, artistic director of Lincoln Center Repertory Theater

"Swear-to-god, it's the most original, insightful, thrilling biography I've ever read!" - Elizabeth Ashley

"It is a MAGNIFICENT work. Mesmerizing, illuminating, and heartbreaking." - André Gregory

"This is a masterpiece about a genius. Only John Lahr, with his perceptions about the theater, about writers, about poetry, and about people could have written this book. What a marvelous read." - Helen Mirren

"A splendid book, one of the finest critical biographies extant." - Robert Brustein

"Splendid beyond words. It would be hard to imagine a more satisfying biography." - Bill Bryson

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Author Information

John Lahr

John Lahr, the author of eighteen books, was the senior drama critic of The New Yorker for over two decades. He has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism and is the first critic ever to win a Tony Award for coauthoring the 2002 Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

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