The Cocaine Peacock and Cherry Jones
In 1982, as my time with Tennessee Williams was coming to an end, he sat me in a chair in his suite at the Royal Orleans and asked me if I happened to be addicted to any drugs. I told him I was not. He told me that this was good news, for addictions to drugs and alcohol and “laborious” activities were bad for the soul and depleted us of artistic integrity. Tenn then told me that I danced precariously close to another addiction. What is that? I asked. “Nostalgia,” he told me. Nostalgia, he claimed, was a disease and an addiction, and it was evil: We tended to rhapsodize far too long on past glories, and we keep missing the miracles right in our way. Oil in our own backyards. “Be a witness,” he told me. “You will see someone, or you will hear about someone, who will invigorate you as no drug possibly could.” Tenn then took a small, ornate peacock (a salt cellar, I was later told), in which he kept cocaine, and dumped the contents on the coffee table. He gave me the peacock (the peacocaine, he called it) and told me to make it a gift to the person who invigorated me and made me believe—as I had when I was very young—in the power of the theatre, of art, of people.
The tail was damaged when Tenn dropped it, and he substituted the tail/spoon with a salt spoon he cadged from the home of Maria St. Just. In 1990 she saw the spoon and confirmed that it came from her home.
Last night, in her dressing room at the Booth Theatre, I gave the peacock to Cherry Jones, because she makes me believe again, and Tennessee will live again--without chemical stimulant--in the home and the performances of this great actress.