In Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius, produced, written, and directed by Paul Budline, Mr. Budline explores the tragic life of the Southern playwright. The documentary begins as one would expect — from the beginning. His father is said to have been a typical rough and rowdy Southern man, exerting his masculinity at all cost on his wife and children, and outside “loose” women. His rambunctious and intolerant ways made home life barely manageable for his family. Tennessee Williams, born Thomas Lanier Williams, would live and write about his feelings of displacement and isolation that began at childhood for the duration of his life and career.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Tom was a shy and awkward boy. He spent much of his time with his sister Rose. When he became sick diphtheria, he was unable to be active like a normal child, thus isolating him further from his peers. With little social interactions outside of the family, consisting mostly of his sister Rose and his literate and puritanical mother, Edwina, young Tom took to reading. His love of reading grew into his love of performing what he had read to his sibling and mother. This love would grow into his love of creating his own stories. Tom’s love for telling stories would continue with him throughout his life, until his death in 1983 at the age of 71.
Paul Budline in Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius did well to account for not only Tennessee’s family history but his tragic and wounded genius. He was a writer, and not just one whom loved the title of it. He was known to rise daily and spend large portions of the day pounding away at his typewriter. Before his fame and career really began, he was still at the mercy of his father. At the age of 21, upon the insistence of his father, Tom began work at the International Shoe Company, a company which his father held a high position. Tom deployed the work, spending his days dusting and counting shoes. In the evening, to save him from madness, he would smoke cigarettes and drink coffee while his mind and hands took to the keys of his typewriter, producing poetry, short stories, and early plays.
Tom would go to two different universities, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Iowa. Though the details of Tom’s experience at these two universities are fascinating, the documentary did not touch much on them; however, it was during his time at Iowa that he took the name Tennessee, pinning his name as a writer to his Southern roots.
His first big hit would be after he left university, tried life and his first extended homosexual relationship in New Orleans, lived in poverty in New York, and worked as a writer Hollywood. Hollywood, however, was not for him. After having his film script for The Gentleman Caller rejected, he moved back to New York, reworking his script into a play that would be first big success, The Glass Menagerie. The play was produced in Chicago in 1944-45. His success as a playwright had begun.
His fame increased with the first few plays which followed. His life became that of a famed and successful playwright, but also of a heavy drinker. He spiralled out of control in the early 1960s after the death of his lover Frank Marlo, having to be taken to a mental health facility by his brother for alcohol and substance abuse. However, it would appear that the real killers of Tennessee were the critics. After his early success, he lived on as a famous playwright but at a failed one as well. His life did not end with the praise of his audience and critics after another successful Broadway play but with mystery and silence.
On February 25, 1983, at the Eylsee Hotel in New York, Tennessee Williams was found dead alone. In his early years, he had managed to climb out of the alienated world of his childhood, discovering his own talent for writing. He built a successful career, watched it slip away, and died by accidental choking, alone in a hotel room where he frequently had sexual encounters with admiring young men. Mr.Williams’ brother, however, is not convinced of his brother’s accidental death. He believes his death was murdered, claiming that a change in Williams’ will was about to happen. Others claim that it was a suicide, pointing to the years of alcoholism and the strained and beaten characters of his work. Whatever the case, Tennessee Williams, as portrayed by Paul Budline in Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius, truly was a wounded genius who left a body of work that will be study, performed, and watched for generations to come.
Budline, Paul, dir. Tennessee Williams: Wounded Genius. Prod. Paul Budline, and Writ. Paul Budline. 1998. Videocassette. 22 Mar 2013.