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The Glass Menagerie | Study Guide

Tennessee Williams

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The Glass Menagerie | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie opened in Chicago in December 1944 to rave reviews, and the following year it won the New York Drama Circle Critics Award. The Glass Menagerie tells the story of a brother and sister, Tom and Laura, and their disappointed, controlling Southern belle mother, Amanda. Amanda is determined that Laura marry, and when she convinces Tom to bring a friend to call on Laura, the evening ends badly. Focusing on the impossibility of escape, the relationship between illusion and reality, and the power of memory, the play still has the power to move audiences and readers. As a result, The Glass Menagerie has been revived countless times, parodied, and produced on film, television, and radio.

1. Much of The Glass Menagerie is based on Williams's own life.

There are elements in The Glass Menagerie that mirror Williams's life. The narrator is named Tom, which is Tennessee Williams's real name. The mother is based on Williams's own mother—and she was not a bit pleased at how she was portrayed. Her husband was distant and frequently absent, and Edwina Williams reacted by talking incessantly and managing her children's lives. Williams's sister, Rose, had schizophrenia, and her parents eventually had her lobotomized. Her mental illness is transformed into the character Laura's chronic limp.

2. Williams was tormented by writing The Glass Menagerie.

Perhaps because of the play's autobiographical nature, Williams had great trouble writing The Glass Menagerie. He complained in a letter, "Today I felt like I was going to just blow up, so I quit. What I am going to do to that quiet little play I don't know." As he continued working on the play, he stated, "It is not a very exciting business but it keeps me occupied while I wait for the energy to do something more important."

3. The Glass Menagerie received 25 curtain calls after its Broadway premiere in 1945.

The Glass Menagerie opened in previews in Chicago on the day after Christmas 1944 during a blizzard. Few went to see it, and the producers thought about closing it, but critics loved the play. It then moved to Broadway. On its opening day there, March 31, 1945, it played to a full house and received a record-breaking 25 curtain calls, with the audience demanding that the author appear onstage. It ran for 561 performances in New York.

4. The Glass Menagerie was Williams's first successful play.

After the The Glass Menagerie's poor showing in its first Chicago preview, two Chicago critics, who were thrilled by it, began promoting the play, going to see it every night and writing about it in their columns. Other reviewers soon joined in, and by the third week of performances, it was playing to full houses. Williams received a check for $1,000 shortly afterward, the first substantial money he had ever earned.

5. Williams thought the 1950 film version of The Glass Menagerie was an "awful travesty."

In 1950 a film version of The Glass Menagerie was released, starring Gertrude Lawrence, Jane Wyman, and Kirk Douglas. Williams himself was involved in writing the screenplay, but he was extremely dissatisfied with the result. In an interview, he stated,

The Glass Menagerie was the most awful travesty of the play I've ever seen. I hope to God it's never released again. I hope it will be made again, though, as a new film. But it was horribly mangled by the people who did the film script. Gertrude Lawrence couldn't play the part. She tried, poor thing. She's talented but she didn't have the adequate direction.

6. The Glass Menagerie began as a short story.

In 1943 Williams wrote a story called "Portrait of a Girl in Glass." It included the characters from the play: Tom, Laura, their mother, and the gentleman caller. One critic of the story noted, "Williams is telling a story, but also not telling it; the piece is oddly dispassionate, depthless." Williams managed to find a way to create the depth missing in the story when he rewrote it as his award-winning play.

7. The Glass Menagerie was originally titled The Gentleman Caller.

In 1943 Williams sent a screenplay titled The Gentleman Caller to the MGM film studio. The studio rejected it, reportedly because they thought Gone with the Wind had treated Southern women adequately for the time. Williams may have written an earlier stage play version of The Gentleman Caller, and he also wrote several one-act plays based on events from it. However, none of these versions had the dramatic power of The Glass Menagerie.

8. Williams didn't enjoy the celebrity The Glass Menagerie brought him.

When The Glass Menagerie became a huge hit in New York, Williams stated,

The sudden success? Oh, it was terrible! I just didn't like it. If you study photographs taken of me the morning after the huge reception it got in New York, you'll see I was very depressed.

He did note, though, that the financial success was a relief: "I would have died without the money."

9. There have been Iranian and Indian film adaptations ofThe Glass Menagerie.

The movie Here Without Me, written and directed by Bahram Tavakoli, is a 2012 Iranian version of The Glass Menagerie. Most changed is the character of Amanda, here called Farideh and presented as a strong, serene, and competent woman who holds two factory jobs. An Indian version of the play, Akale, was written and directed by Shyamaprasad. The film is very close to the original play and won several awards in India.

10. There is a Tennessee Williams theater festival every year in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

The Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival was begun in 2006 by a group of editors, writers, and directors devoted to Williams's work. Each year the festival presents a series of plays—some new, some based on or inspired by Williams's work—and some revivals of Williams plays. The festival also includes talks, films, dinners, and art installations.

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