Mart Crowley And The Meaning of Fulsome

Mart Crowley, photographed by Dominick Dunne, 1969.

Tennessee Williams
In Conversation
New Orleans

No one had ever explained to me, until I was deeply in my forties, that [the] word 'fulsome' was not a pejorative. I had heard over the years that I was a fulsome writer, and I always turned my inner ear away from these comments and assumed that to be fulsome was to be gruesome or tiresome or desperate. I certainly believed, for far too long, that I was all of those things, so I fell right into the belief that all comments regarding my work were, in fact, comments relating to my person. I realize now, at a deep recess in my life, that a fulsome writer, operating on every level, revealing everything known to him at a particular time and toward a particular subject, is the best writer, a valuable writer, and I would like to once again be as fulsome as I can be. This is a goal I take most seriously.

The cast of The Boys in the Band (left to right): Laurence Luckinbill, Peter White, Frederick Combs, Kenneth Nelson, Reuben Greene,Cliff Gorman, and Keith Prentice. (Photo courtesy of Photofest.)

I became aware of my utter lack of fulsomeness when I saw Mr. [Mart] Crowley's Boys in the Band, when I was in both an advanced state of age and an advanced state of confusion toward my work and my life and my person. I think that I was only walking up to the front door of my consciousness during these years, failing even to knock on the door, fearful of going inside. I gave vague impressions of writing plays, of caring, of understanding. I applied wet fingers to the orifice of drama, but I was unable or unwilling to fully enter, if you get my meaning. But Crowley, like myself expunged from Mississippi, plunged right into the uncomfortable truths of the world in which I had been living, to which I had been a witness. This is both upsetting and exhilarating--to be in the presence of a writer who has understood fully something that you have been working and living in for so long. Crowley got to the top of the hill before I did. I shouldn't imply that there was a race or a contest going on, because I was not equipped to enter such an event. I can only tell you that I was most envious and shocked when I heard those words coming from those characters and realized that the truth was still happening in the drama, on our stages, and that my failure to create work that mattered, work that was real and fulsome, was not an epidemic situation covering and destroying all of theatre. It was most certainly destroying me: I was destroying myself. But here was truth and beauty and comedy and tragedy and that glorious fulsomeness right in front of me, right at a time when to face the pale judgment was both painful and laughable to me.

Diana Lynn, Mart Crowley, Natalie Wood, and Chessy Rayner celebrating the filming of The Boys in the Band, 1969. (Photo courtesy of Photofest.)


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