Tennessee Williams on Margaret Sullavan: A Constant Gift

Margaret Sullavan in Frank Borzage's Little Man, What Now? (1934)

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

The image of a woman was always in front of me. I used a female image as a sort of diffuser for what life presented. I wanted beauty and nobility and courage in my life, and these things came to me through women, either those I saw on the screen or those I imagined into existence. In the writing of a woman, I take someone, or parts of various women, and compile them into a character who behaves as I wish I could, as I wish life might.

My mother was instrumental in placing women before me that she also admired, and they tended to be southern women, from good homes, with good intentions. They were women my mother would have liked to have been, and I could make my mother happy by telling her she was much like them. This is how Miriam Hopkins and Margaret Sullavan came into my consciousness. They were ideal women.

I had photographs of Margaret Sullavan all around me for many years, and I think she seeped into my blood, because I could hear her voice and imagine her baleful beauty as words were spoken. We danced a bit around Blanche [in A Streetcar Named Desire] but negotiations, I was told, were not promising. Did I see her as I wrote the part? Well, yes, but I saw so many women when I wrote that part, all parts.

I saw her, too, when I wrote Amanda [in The Glass Menagerie] although she was far too young for the role. I saw the young Amanda, I guess, and I even remembered a dress she had worn in a film, and I imagined Amanda greeting those wayward beaux on a dock or a porch.

Talent promises us nothing but a challenge, a glorious challenge, and the challenge is not always rewarded. The process of using our talents can bring a modicum of happiness, but, like a perfume, it drifts and departs and is soon a tiny memory on some fabric or a pillow. I feel now that Margaret is that faint whiff of perfume on so many of my parts, so many of my memories. A distant scent, a constant gift.

Margaret Sullavan in King Vidor's So Red the Rose (1935)

©  2017   James Grissom


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