Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Drama

Overview

Gentlemen Callers provides a fascinating look at America's greatest twentieth-century playwright and perhaps the most-performed, even today. Michael Paller looks at Tennessee Williams's plays from the 1940s through the 1960s against the backdrop of the playwright's life story, providing fresh details. Through this lens Paller examines the evolution of mid-twentieth-century America's acknowledgment and acceptance of homosexuality. From the early one-act Auto-da-Fé and The Glass Menagerie through Camino Real, Cat ...

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Overview

Gentlemen Callers provides a fascinating look at America's greatest twentieth-century playwright and perhaps the most-performed, even today. Michael Paller looks at Tennessee Williams's plays from the 1940s through the 1960s against the backdrop of the playwright's life story, providing fresh details. Through this lens Paller examines the evolution of mid-twentieth-century America's acknowledgment and acceptance of homosexuality. From the early one-act Auto-da-Fé and The Glass Menagerie through Camino Real, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Garden District and the late Something Cloudy, Something Clear, Paller's book investigates how Williams's earliest critics marginalized or ignored his gay characters and why, beginning in the 1970s, many gay liberationists reviled them. Lively, blunt, and provocative, this book will appeal to anyone who loves Williams, Broadway, and the theater.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Like a great actor inhabitating one of Tennessee Williams' characters, Michael Paller brings intelligence, nuance and considerable artistry to the complex figure of the man himself. He shatters the mythology surrounding Williams—that he was an innately tragic, self-loathing homosexual—and bravely recontextualizes him not only as an incomparable artist, but as a ground-breaking social pioneer. His book is a welcome re-evaluation of one of our most revered and misunderstood American originals."—Doug Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Quills and I Am My Own Wife

"Tennessee Williams was America's most original dramatic talent. He was also gay. The significance of this fact is explored by Michael Paller in a book full of striking insights into the man, the plays, and the theatre of which he was a part. What emerges from this study is a familiar figure seen in a new complexity. What also emerges is an America whose oppressive laws and casual cruelties toward those who shared his sexuality in part created the pressures which created the context, if not always the subject, of his art."—Christopher Bigsby, Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre

"Gentlemen Callers and Michael Paller look at the writing of Tennessee Williams through a gay perspective that is insightful and blessedly free from many of the distortions and exaggerations that previous studies have indulged in. It will be of interest to theatre goers and practitioners alike."-Michael Kahn, Artistic Director, The Shakespeare Theatre

"Michael Paller's Gentleman Callers offers an innovative, perceptive, and very readable examination of the works Tennessee Williams produced in his long and productive career...Paller reveals the extent to which misguided 'political correctness' among some recent critics has prevented a judicious reading of the works. This sensitive and informed analysis is destined to become a major addition to Williams scholarship, offering insights to both long-time Williams fans and scholars and to those unfamiliar with his work."-Kenneth Holditch, author of Tennessee Williams and the South and founding editor of The Tennessee Williams Journal

"Gentlemen Callers takes on the drama of color of some of Williams' most famous works...it's an insightful debunking of the conventional wisdom characterizing the theater icon as a tragic figure, a self-hating homosexual inherently incapable of true happiness." — ELLE Magazine June 2005

Kirkus Reviews
Dramaturg, academic and journalist Paller situates Tennessee Williams within the New York gay theater of the mid-40s through 70s in a thoughtful, articulate defense of the playwright's work. By no means is Paller's study an adequate biography of Williams: He quotes freely from Lyle Leverich's Tom (1995) for a comprehensive look at the life. Instead, Paller concentrates on how the playwright's work, especially its treatment of homosexuality (and evasion thereof), formed and fit into New York theater-excluding A Streetcar Named Desire, by the way, curiously ignored by Paller for "space limitation," and also because, some may argue, "there are no gay characters in it, anyway." Paller accepts the evidence of Williams's "self-loathing" only in terms of the savage condemnation of homosexuality that permeated the society-Southern, WWII-he grew up in. In most of Williams's best work, from Lord Byron's Love Letter to The Night of the Iguana (1961), he would wrestle with "his urge to conceal with the equally strong need to reveal." Paller tracks Williams's work on Broadway, where he showcased almost exclusively, starting from the 1945 production of The Glass Menagerie. He examines each play with a probing analysis of plot, character and author's intention. While mining Williams's internal acceptance of his homosexuality (allowing, however, few clues from his actual life), Paller delves most effectively into the forms of institutionalized homophobia generated at the time of the Cold War, as in the Army's justification for the rejection of homosexuals; the backlash to the Kinsey Report of 1948; the de facto criminalization of homosexuality, and the classification of homosexuality by the increasinglyinfluential psychoanalytic establishment as a sickness. Moreover, Paller demonstrates a goodly knowledge of the entire context of New York theater. Yet his work will suffice only for readers already well familiar with Williams's bittersweet trajectory as "founding father of the uncloseted gay world."A well-documented, important study of one facet of a complex artist.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781403967756
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 4/1/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Paller has written theater reviews for the Washington Post, Village Voice, Newsday, and Mirabella magazine. He teaches at Columbia University and the State University of New York at Purchase. Michael lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

• Introduction

• The Signs are Interior

• Blue as My First Lover's Eyes

• The Time and World That I Live In

• Something Kept on Ice

• A True Story of Our Time

• Almost Willfully Out of Contact with the World

• Before My Clean Heart Has Grown Dirty* Bibliography

• Index

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Recipe

"Tennessee Williams was America's most original dramatic talent. He was also gay. The significance of this fact is explored by Michael Paller in a book full of striking insights into the man, the plays, and the theatre of which he was a part. What emerges from this study is a familiar figure seen in a new complexity. What also emerges is an America whose oppressive laws and casual cruelties toward those who shared his sexuality in part created the pressures which created the context, if not always the subject, of his art."--Christopher Bigsby, Professor of American Studies at the University of East Anglia and Director of the Arthur Miller Centre

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