Rants and Raves

Tennessee Says: In Defense Of Candy Darling and Tennessee Williams’ Drunken Press Conference

Screencap of Tennessee Williams's press conference for Small Craft Warnings

Screencap of Tennessee Williams’ press conference for Small Craft Warnings

Earlier this week, Gawker’s Tom Scocca published an article entitled “On Smarm,” posing the influx of snark on blogs and other “ironic” publications as directly oppositional to egomaniacal, smug smarm. However, we at Filthy Dreams would like to counteract this smarmy claim by choosing to revel in our own chosen method of combating snark, which at this point is oh-so-tiring, through unbridled sincerity and semi-drunken gushing.

In order to show our support of sloppy sincerity, which we have always understood as the trashiest of all outlooks, we want to examine a recent article published on the blog Dangerous Minds, which we love for their coverage of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Brion Gysin and other favorite heretics.

So here we go…what’s that? You’re cold? Well have a hot toddy before we begin, Mary. We’ve already had about 4 but who’s counting!

As most readers of Filthy Dreams know, or if you don’t know then will learn, we are absolute unapologetic and unrepentant Tennessee Williams fanatics. We love him when he was young Tom and we love him when he was tumbling Tennessee looking for the “kindness of strangers” in the late 1960s. We even pray to pictures of him before we go to sleep (Oh, Tennessee, full of grace, please show me the tacky way to be a writer like you).

So as rabid TW fans (yes, our nickname for him is TW. We’re very close to Tennessee), we were taken aback by Dangerous Minds writer Amber Frost’s sensationalist and snarky blurb about Tennessee and Candy Darling’s clip from their 1972 press conference promoting their off-Broadway play Small Craft Warnings. Not only notable for featuring Tennessee Williams in an acting role, playing an alcoholic doctor, Small Craft Warnings is also known as the play that is discussed heavily in Williams’s Memoirs written the same year.

Watching the press conference over and over again, trying to get the most out of those 50 or so seconds, we certainly don’t see Warhol Superstar Candy Darling looking “on in what appears to be obvious discomfort.” First of all, Candy Darling and Tennessee were known friends. Though quite frankly, Candy always seemed to look uncomfortable like she time-traveled out of a 1930’s Hollywood film set, looked around and wondered how the hell she got here. We’ve all had those moments, Candy.

In the press conference, Tennessee slurs over one of the actresses while Candy Darling watches over a table full of drinks. It looks like a fun evening to us! Who wants to attend a boring, sober press conference anyway? Not us! We want drunken babbling and inappropriate comments. If we had to do a press conference, we’d make sure to be drunk too.

Perhaps the statement we’re most offended by in the Dangerous Minds post is the assertion that the Small Craft Warnings press conference and play took place “looong past the golden period of Williams’ career.” There’s no critical analysis there but boy will that attract traffic! Look, we love failure but shouldn’t we be past those labels like “golden period”?

While there has been general consensus that his earlier plays such as The Glass Menagerie,  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire are his best work, contemporary critics set in motion the popular opinion that TW’s later work was a failure. TW didn’t get to decide that, and that really pisses us off. Of course, this stigmatizing was was largely the product of a homophobic press as comprehensively documented and analyzed by Michael Paller’s Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Drama (2005). Yes, TW was a drunk mess by then but who wouldn’t be? Not only is the press going after you but by the time Small Craft Warnings premiered, Stonewall and radical gay rights organizations had begun labeling him as suffering from internalized homophobia.

OK, let’s pause a moment, here, friends: not only was TW being attacked from outside for being a “failure,” or for being too queer, but he was being attacked from within for being a “failure,” or for not being “queer enough.” Talk about a cross to carry. Who wouldn’t be showing up drunk everywhere, particularly because every bit of TW’s work was simultaneously a piece of queer activism though also out of time and joint with the queer politics of its time?

There’s some interesting work being done now on TW. Attend one of the annual festivals in New Orleans where scholars, activists, friends, and the popular imagination converge to celebrate TW, “bad” and all. There’s also critical work being done on the later period of TW (a better way to describe his post-“golden period’). We invite you to read David Kaplan’s recent reflection on the body of his work, Tenn at One Hundred: The Reputation of Tennessee Williams (2011) to gain an understanding of how we might understand this “later period” as truly “queer,” not just sexually but artistically. This scholarly work being done now effectively neutralizes late 1960’s and 1970’s homophobic analyses of TW’s late period as “bad.” It’s not bad, friends; it’s misunderstood, and totally ripe for renewal.

Like John Waters, we adore “bad” Tennessee Williams just as much as we love “good” Tennessee Williams. Look no further than the success of the New York current production of Williams’s filthy, funky and frolicking 1960s New Orleans play The Mutilated starring role models like the Queen of the Underground Penny Arcade and John Waters’s Dreamland hysteric Mink Stole.

Instead of scoffing snarkily at this interview, we should be enraptured.  Let’s take a look at this scene again. A glamorous Warholian drag queen sits with a famous (and infamous) queer playwright who is obviously drunk out of his mind while he strokes the hair of another actress. Borrowing a phrase from José Esteban Muñoz who sadly passed away this week: if this isn’t queer utopia, I don’t know what is.

6 thoughts on “Tennessee Says: In Defense Of Candy Darling and Tennessee Williams’ Drunken Press Conference

  1. Viva la Mutilated, great Christmas play…and musical! TW had a hotline to God for his inspired writing…or at least to the Great Southern Psyche.

  2. Don’t know where you got “snark” or “scoff,” I’m a big fan of both. And I never said his later work was poor, just not as successful.

    And you misquoted me- I said she “appears” to be looking on in obvious discomfort.

    You admit he’s a drunken mess, that’s the part I chose to write about. Maybe reread the post. I think this is a subject very close to your heart, and I respect that, but there was no snark or scoff. Anyway, I appreciate your commitment to this part of culture and enjoy the blog. Since we have shared interests, I hope we can assume good faith as colleagues.

    • Thank you for reading and pointing out the quote-I changed it.

      As for snark, I certainly don’t want you to think we are attacking you personally so you can undoubtedly assume good faith. We’re just trying to provide a discussion about a writer we adore and the contextualization of his work, particularly his later work. Marion can jump in here if he wants but I think both of our contentions with the article was the lack of critical analysis of the clip. I’ve reread the post several times and for me, the statement that TW was “looong past the golden period of Williams’ career” reads as snark. Maybe if it was just “long past,” it would come off as less snarky but the elongating of “looong” certainly looks dismissive to me. However, the main concern for us is the lack of questioning the general assumption of his being past his golden years. Says who? Homophobic critics from that period? I think assumptions such as this need to be interrogated, particularly on sites like Dangerous Minds, which I admire for thinking outside of the box and featuring artists and writers who question generalizations such as this.

      I don’t want to come off as if we are ripping apart your article in particular-this lack of critical analysis is certainly a larger problem in online journalism. Your article just hit on a topic that we feel (obviously) very passionate about.

  3. I worked with “TW” in SCW’s in NYC…New Theater production. The only play the he wrote that he appeared/acted in. As a matter of fact, he named a character (“TYE”) after me in a later play. Thanx for your defense and affection for him and his work. JTH.

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