Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tennessee Williams on Envy

William Inge and Tennessee Williams

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

Envy is unavoidable, but it's poisonous. Better to envy qualities, like discipline or energy or faith; ludicrous to envy success or talent, because both visit people with utter capriciousness.

I have lost far too many friends to envy--mine and theirs--and it is tragic. No one took anything away from me by having a success, but this is something I've come to believe far too late in my life.

Everyone has the cream, and everyone has the dregs. There is no entirely graceful way to drink from either cup, but you can wash up a friend's disgrace with your company and your sympathy, and you can throw some confetti at his party.

I believed that Bill [Inge] was taking something from me, reaching into my very space and taking something from me. And I pushed him away.

I will regret this to the end.

I lost a friend. To envy. Envy, the battlefield we construct for ourselves.

©  2016  James Grissom

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Arthur Penn on Lee Strasberg and Marilyn Monroe: The Heart of the Man

Interview with Arthur Penn
Conducted by James Grissom

There always was a lot to criticize about Lee [Strasberg] and there always will be. He was a controversial figure, a combative, opinionated man with whom I often had disagreements. But I respected him greatly, and he was a wonderful teacher. He was destructive with some students, but I don't think you're going to find a teacher who wasn't. I'm sure you can find some people who think I'm a real bastard.

Lee is criticized most because he had movie stars in the classes, and I think it's a bogus grudge to hold against him. Talented actors from acting classes often become movie stars, and movie stars frequently need help in performing their roles. I don't think Lee betrayed any obligation he had to art--whatever that is or should be--by agreeing to train and improve some famous people.

He took the most heat because of his nurturing of Marilyn Monroe, and I have to say she had talent; she had potential. Marilyn was torn apart by so many forces in her life that she could not become the actress she and Lee wanted her to be, but I can't fault Lee for taking her on. And one of the great qualities of Lee's was his empathy and care for certain people, and I can't fault him for trying, very valiantly, to be some kind of father figure to Marilyn.

I always recommend to people who ask about Lee--and they always do--to focus on his work, his teachings, and that's where the heart of the man will be found.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Tennessee Williams: Love Deeply

Sidney Lumet, Marlon Brando and Tennessee Williams on the set of The Fugitive Kind (1959)

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

This is how I think you need to make the world work for you: You have to love the talent within yourself, but not until you have offered some service, some reverence, to the talents that helped you get through the brutal childhood or the third rewrite or the inner war that always threatens to break out. If we tithe in our churches, we should also tithe toward those others who are toiling in our trenches.

This is not easy. It is, in fact, brutal at times, because the human nature is to notice one's own lack: to see the extra gift in the other man's hand and begrudge him the pleasure. This is poison. Keep your eyes open and trust those people who care that you're alive and working, and then, one glorious day, like flakes of snow or leaves in the wind, a Marlon Brando or a Jessica Tandy or a Geraldine Page or a Kim Stanley or a Maureen Stapleton or am Elia Kazan drift into your path. The walk gets less lonely; the view infinitely prettier.

Friends glow into being when you keep your eyes open. Love deeply what they offer. Affection, genuine affection, is glorious, whatever the source.

Love the people in your life and in your struggle deeply and consistently.

©  2016  James Grissom

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tennessee Williams: The Human Instinct

Photograph by Gerard Malanga/1974

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

(Something I deleted from Follies of God, and wish I hadn't, for here we are again.)

The human instinct is brutal and selfish. There are schools of thought about that tell us to return to our basic sweetness and equity, but I find this utter fantasy. We do not return to kindness: we are elevated to kindness. The enlightened person behaves well; is kind; is fair; is generous. The natural person is perpetually replacing the nipple for which he cried the moment he was pulled into the world and slapped on the ass. Is this not just the perfect introduction to the world? It lets the newborn know what is coming.

We want our shelter and our food and our carnal comforts, and the animal instinct, which is our natural instinct, tells us--in a paranoid and persistent voice--that someone, a group, an ideology is out to take these things away from us. Be aware. Protect your women and your crops and your body. Someone is after it, and whether this is true or not--and it is mostly untrue, because we are looking for own shelters and comforts--it leads to fear and carnage.

The revolution comes when people feel ignored, when even their most paranoid utterings are dismissed. Lacking talent or elevated behavior, they resort to violence and slander; rage and destruction. Take the long view as you age and you will see this recurring phenomenon. The rise of the ignored, the people who never sought to rise only to appear risen by lowering everyone else.

Protect yourself. Elevate yourself. Be kind, strong, and ever-present.

The animal instinct appears as a primary character in all of my work, because it is a primary character in all of our lives.

©  2016  James Grissom

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tennessee Williams on Edward Albee: Love and Love Denied

From Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog
By James Grissom (Knopf/Vintage)

"The love that I feel for Edward Albee extends far beyond his work," Tenn told me, returning to the bed and leaning against a small pile of pillows. "I think that his is the most extraordinary talent to emerge in the last thirty years. I have admired other plays, and other writers, but his work is emotionally dangerous and stunningly beautiful. I can't think of any other writer who has managed to combine the lean and the lapidary. He understands to a shocking degree the ravages both of love and of love denied. His command of the language is far beyond me. My words come from some instinctual dictionary that responds to fear and rage, but he has a full command of the language and can therefore achieve more with less effort.

"You can see that I feel it is important that his work be studied. His is work from which you can learn, but the love of which I spoke derives from the fact that Edward remains the only playwright who truly acknowledged me and my work, and that is a great honor, especially considering his greater abilities. That I should have been noticed by this man, that I should have been of some aid, means a great deal to me. While others write my obituary and perpetually recalculate my worth and my gifts, he has always been loyal in his respect, and he has waved at me across some rocky seas."

EDWARD ALBEE  1928-2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Katharine Hepburn on Happiness

Interview with Katharine Hepburn
Conducted by James Grissom

I don't wake up in the morning hoping to be happy. I wake up in the morning hoping to be useful, to let the world, the earth, know that I'm here and I'm giving to it what I can. Happiness, you know, is like becoming famous or becoming rich: It might be what you were hoping for, but it's like giving birth to a unicorn. At first you marvel at the thing, but then it's terribly, terribly hard to train it or feed it or keep it under control, and then you want to find a new home for it. Some things happen to show up, but I always show up, and that makes me happy.

© 2016 James Grissom

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Marian Seldes on Teaching

Interview with Marian Seldes
Conducted by James Grissom

I am no different, really, when I am teaching or when I am acting. I am always engaged in loving my partners; learning about them, sharing with them; and learning as much as I can about myself and others. We change all the time, I think. The world and its people and its history will do that to you, if you are awake and sensitive and proactive. Our basic natures might remain the same, but we change shape a lot: We just come to realize that we were wrong about certain things. We come alive with what a particular writer or actor or musician does to us. I find this very exciting--this changing and waking up and coming alive.

Teaching was perfect for me, in that it allowed me to be involved in helping people I loved wake up and come alive. Those students were my children, of course, but also my peers. When a student discovers Sheridan or Shakespeare or Albee or Williams, I rediscover it, and I see it in an entirely new way: I see it through the young eyes of my beloved students. I would become jaded about plays and playwrights: I might have thought that their time had passed. But then the play comes to me through these passionate children of mine, and I'm in love all over again.

I was devastated when I was asked to teach. I thought it meant I was no longer viable as an actress. I thought I was moving into my older years, cast aside. I was so wrong. It changed my life completely, and I am more in love with life and people and the theatre than I ever thought I could be.

You love a student, then you teach the student to love and take care of himself. You have to be kind to yourself, husband yourself.  We can never let anyone we love devalue himself. We have to lift them up; we have to let them how valuable they are. I also try to impart to students that they should stop thinking of things too much and feeling things a bit more. If something moves you, as Tennessee [Williams] told you--as Harold Clurman believed--own it. Stand up for it. Make it yours. It may not be as powerful to you in ten or twenty years, but you still love it. It taught you something, gave you something. It is a part of you.

Anyone I teach or work with becomes a part of my life, and I am such a rich woman because of this. I have changed so much and received so much because of all the gifts people have placed at my feet.

 ©  2016  James Grissom