Tennessee Williams: Sex positive activist

Although considered politically naive by some, Tennessee Williams did know how to make a scene. Especially when it came to love. 

If you want the unbuttoned Tennessee Williams, you have to read Dotson Rader's entertaining Cry of the Heart. It's a wonderfully breezy and entertaining book about the mature Tennessee Williams, but even better, it's a sort of biography by dialogue. We quickly understand how much Tennessee Williams' fourteen-year-long love affair from Frank Merlo meant, both to Williams, and to Merlo. 

During the fifties, as his fame grew, Tennessee became very sensitive to slights against [his longtime companion and] friend Frankie, insisting that he always be included whenver Tennessee was invited anywhere. It didn't always work out that way. 

Tennessee was angered when Irene Selzick [the powerful heiress who produced the movie version of "Streetcar"] invited him to her socially prestigious dinners in her Hotel Pierre apartment and would add, "Oh, and ask Frank to drop in afterward, if he likes."

"Tell her to go fuck herself," was Frank's usual response. 

Or Tennessee would raise hell when they checked into a suite in a fancy hotel and there would be two single beds rather than one king-size. He would threaten to leave and never return unless they were moved to a suite with a proper bed or a proper bed was delivered to the suite they were in at once. 

Whent he Royal Orleans in New Orleans refused to allow them to share a room with only one bed, Tennessee created a scene in the lobby. 

"But it simply isn't done, Mr. Williams," the night manager tried to assure him. "We never allow two men to sleep in the same bed. Why would two men want to sleep in a bed together?" 

"So they can fuck!" Tennessee said, before he and Frank marched out. 

[Here's the only picture I can find of Merlo and Williams together — sort of.

From the height of Williams' glory days, from left to right, Frank Merlo, Elia Kazan, Tennessee Williams, Charles Feldman. Courtesy of a play at NYC called Love of Men Ferocious


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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