Tenn on The Gentleman Caller: Neon Memories

An early draft of what would become The Glass Menagerie, courtesy of the Ransom Center/University of Texas (Austin)

I don't think that we ever forget the first affirmation--of affection, of attraction, of friendship--no matter how many subsequent connections are made. In a life such as mine, which has been marked by amatory indifference, exclusion, and a sensual prejudice, my memories of early acceptance burn terribly bright. Neon memories, I might call them. When someone--in my case a man, a boy, a peer--noticed me and found me, in a rare moment of beauty, to not be lacking.

I never had what could be called a gentleman caller, but the Gentleman Caller, as the character in [The Glass]Menagerie is called, is drawn from my memories of sweetness when someone who appeared to have been drawn from my dream of a partner noticed me--briefly, swiftly--and I believed that my lungs would breathe and my legs might carry me another season.

Laura is not only my sister Rose--she is very much Thomas Lanier Williams, awkward queer and quixotic dreamer. I did not fall in love with glass animals: I fell in love with words and the images that could evoke them. I lived in movie houses and kissed strangers with gin on their breath and Irene Dunne and Barbra Stanwyck in the background, and the delicate animals on my shelf were delusions that one of the men, one of the boys, might actually wish to see me, to like me, to love me, to find something necessary in or about me.

Cherry Jones, Brian J. Smith (The Gentleman Caller), and Zachary Quinto in the current revival of The Glass Menagerie.

If I had a dream--as a writer; as a professional--it would be that people see The Glass Menagerie and recognize themselves in all of the characters. I hope this for all of my plays, of course, but I realize that Menagerie bled out of a particularly personal vein in my body--nestled closely to the heart--and all of our hearts, in all of the regions, across all desires, are bound together by our shared humanity. 

We age and we decay and we get shuffled to a dark corner, and Jim, the buoyant, scrubbed Gentleman Caller, brings a vivid light--neon--into a life or an apartment before the lights are shut off. We reflect on young love and on dreams and on hopes, and we see ourselves and our friends and our lovers as they were when they first wandered into our vision and into our hearts.

The Gentleman Caller is the reminder that there are those on the planet who can touch our hearts and take up residence there, to improve and to expand it.

© 2013 James Grissom


Popular Posts