The Tennessee Waltz
Dancing with genius and despair.
Apr 23, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 30 • By JOHN SIMON
In the fall of 1937 he takes stock:
Thornton is to be commended for reproducing Williams's shaky grammar, crossed-out words, frequent but often faulty forays into foreign languages (e.g., Bon nuit), and ubiquitous, spectacular misspellings. Over and over he butchers even the names of persons and places close to him, such as his agency ("Leibling" for Liebling Wood) or his recurrent Roman address ("Via Venuto" for Veneto). He makes up words out of ignorance, not inventiveness: devigation, punity, quotidinal, imbecilics, etc.
He was also an erotomaniac. His proclaimed only-true-love for, and longtime relationship with, Frank Merlo (nicknamed Little Horse by him for his long teeth), an up-and-down affair to shame a rollercoaster, did not preclude his customary nocturnal forays into designated pickup streets and bars for one-night stands. Sometimes he picked up two at once, or shared one with a homosexual friend.
On June 22, 1941, he notes:
There follows this reflection:
Thus with the steadier lovers; the overnight ones were unceremoniously dismissed. Tennessee liked to refer to these sexual bouts as "nightingales singing." Sometimes they would even "concertize." And he dutifully records whether the nightingale song was good, bad, somewhere in between, or, exceptionally, outstanding. Occasionally he comments on the faces or bodies of his partners; more rarely on the exact nature of the sexual acts.
In April 1938 he ruminated about his only consummated heterosexual episode:
In June it is, "Wish I could get things started again with Bette." Then nothing more about sex with women until this reflection in 1949: "Perhaps only a woman could love me, but I can't love a woman. Not now. It's too late."
The first--bad--encounter with homosexuality came 10 years earlier: "Rather horrible night with a picked up acquaintance Doug whose amorous advance made me sick at the stomach--Purity--Oh God--It's dangerous to have ideals." Successful homosexual experiences followed fairly soon, but ambivalence sometimes dogged him: "I demand of life some violence even when I run to peace." And again: "I'd like to live a simple life--with epic fornications." As late as 1953 he is bothered by bought sex: "The whole thing is offensive to the inextinguishable Puritan in me still."