Channeling Tennessee Williams


“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”

Thus, with the opening lines of The Glass Menagerie, in the voice of Tom, being played by Kevin Young, began the first scripts-down run-through of the 1954 Christmas-period Pasadena Playhouse production of the play. The reading continued, with total silence otherwise throughout the theater to the closing lines in the play, also given by nineteen-year-old Kevin Young in the role of Tom.

“Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions. I pass the lighted window of a shop where perfume is sold. The window is filled with pieces of colored glass, tiny transparent bottles in delicate colors, like bits of a shattered rainbow.”

There was a moment of silence when Kevin finished his closing lines as the brother, Tom, in Tennessee Williams’s play, The Glass Menagerie. Just as the play had begun with a monologue by Tom, it ended in a monologue by Tom. It was the first scripts-down run-through of a youth Christmas season production of the play at the Pasadena Playhouse. The players were expected already to know their lines, and, professional actors all, despite their tender ages, they did.

The theater put on a young actors’ production of some play—usually an offbeat one like this one for the occasion—during the holiday season, using movie, television, and commercial actors who were younger than twenty. It was meant to highlight stage talent coming onto the scene. This year it was The Glass Menagerie, the breakout Broadway hit ostensibly about a delicate and crippled, in more ways than one, St. Louis girl in trying to deal with the world outside her flat, which had originally been staged ten years previously, in 1944. Arthur Hunter had been brought in as guest director of the production, and, as he was considered the consummate expert on all things Tennessee Williams, it was natural that he selected a Williams play to produce.

The timing for the playhouse’s youth production coincided with the Christmas breaks in Los Angeles area acting schools and holiday filming blackouts in the industry’s schedule. All of the youths were professional actors, actively working in the industry, as well as going to theater arts school. It was prestigious and good for their careers, though, to be selected to play in the Pasadena Playhouse productions. The limiting factor was that, for equity purposes, they all had to be at least eighteen.

Kevin Young, who was playing Tom in this production, was particularly pleased to have been cast as Tom, because he idolized everything Tennessee Williams, who had come to his attention because Kevin’s mother, Agnes, had brought him out here from Knoxville, Tennessee, to “make it big in pictures.” Kevin’s father hadn’t come back from World War Two, and Agnes was the proverbial fussy stage mother, willing to turn a blind eye to whatever Kevin had to do to progress in the business. Although an actor now, Kevin wanted to be a playwright and screenplay writer in the worst way—and he was willing to do anything required to get there. He was ready to prove that. There was no greater sacrifice to ambition than, as a young man, to give your body to an older, influential in the theatre world, man. But there were competitive young men aplenty in the theatre world. Kevin wasn’t the first one willing to do so. Kevin was barely nineteen.

The silence was broken by loud, rhythmic clapping from the play’s director, Arthur Hunter, who stood from his chair in the middle of an otherwise empty seating area. A few beats later the stage hands and other cast members added their applause.

“Bravo, Kevin,” Hunter boomed out. “You have it already. If you flubbed even one line, I didn’t notice it. We could go on tonight. That raps it up for tonight, players. You have all learned your lines well. This will be a memorable Christmas production. The parents or agents for the cast are in the lobby, waiting to take you home—all but you, Kevin. I need to consult with you in my office, please. I phoned your agent to let him know I would make sure you got home.”

As the others headed for the lobby, Hunter came up onto the stage and guided Kevin to the back, which led to the stairs to the office area above. As soon as they had cleared the back curtains, Hunter placed the palm of a hand on the small of Kevin’s back to guide him further. Kevin didn’t shy away from the touch, although he trembled in anticipation of what was to come. Although old—in his mid-fifties—Hunter was a handsome man, elegantly turned out, and quite fit for a man his age. Not that that mattered. What mattered was that Hunter was the play’s director. Kevin didn’t mind the possessiveness by Hunter much. He would have done anything to get into this play. He hadn’t been fucked by Hunter yet, but he was prepared to be if that was to be part of the package. It clearly was what was required Bostancı Escort Bayan of him now.

He had done what he had to do to get into the TV serial he was in. He’d heard Hunter was directing this play because he knew Tennessee Williams personally. And giving Hunter what he wanted wasn’t anything he hadn’t done for his agent, Mitch Sandro, to have gotten this far. Kevin’s trembling anticipation now wasn’t a factor of losing his virginity to men. He’d lost that to his first stage director in school and he’d also gone under his agent. It was moving up in the world to more influential men in the business—seeking them out and offering himself rather than waiting for them to make the moves.

“I got you the part, Kevin,” Mitch had said. “But understand that Hunter, the director, is queer and horny for guys not yet out of their teens. You’ll have to take his cock.” Jewish and having made his way in Hollywood the hard way, Mitch didn’t mince words.

That was nothing new for Kevin. He had had to take Mitch Sandro’s cock to get signed on with an agent in the first place. Good-looking and willing nineteen-year-olds playing heart throbs in TV serials were premium commodities in the hedonist and gay world of Los Angeles in the mid-fifties. Kevin had been “discovered” in a typical way. He had started in Hollywood pumping gas at a gas station. Not just any gas station, though. It was one that had rooms in the back and only good-looking attendants who were willing to give service on their backs during a fill-up. The gas station male brothel was a trendy “thing” for the Hollywood glitterati that popped up now and again. Kevin came to the town during an “again” period. Some of the patrons of the station also scouted the rent-boys there for other forms of talent. Kevin had been discovered within a couple of months of working at the gas station. He didn’t have to explain anything to his mother, Agnes; she’s the one who got him the job at the gas station. She understood the world. Every advantage in life that had come to Agnes she had won on her back.

* * * *

“Don’t be shy, Kevin. Come on over and sit next to me on this sofa. I understand that you are a devoted fan of Tennessee Williams and his work. I thought we could talk a bit about that.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Kevin sat at the other end of the sofa from the stage director, although Hunter was sitting more toward the middle of the couch than the other end. He’d taken the jacket off he’d worn in the theater.

“Oh, let’s not be formal. You can call me Arthur.”

“Yes, thank you . . . Arthur. I’ve heard you know Tennessee Williams.”

“More than know him. I mentored him. I was instrumental in getting him recognized. I could do the same for you. I have a season in New York next year. You delivered Tom’s part in this play beautifully, and I’ve followed your work in the Clarks of the Big R Ranch Western serial. You are a natural actor and you’ve become quite the heart throb in the program. You’ll be filling the seats in the theater for this production.”

So, here it comes, Kevin thought. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. He steeled himself. He had been in Hollywood long enough to know how this worked. But could they just get on with it and get past it?

“But I understand you really want to become a playwright,” Hunter continued.

“Yes, sir. A playwright—like Tennessee Williams.”

“You dominated in the play out there on the stage today.”

“Thank you, sir . . . Arthur.” So, is this where he makes sure he’s going to dominate and I’m going to submit? Kevin wondered.

“You know this play isn’t really about what it seems, don’t you? It isn’t really about the delicate sister, Laura, who couldn’t cope with the world. It was really about Tom, the brother, the part you play. About breaking away, taking risks, grabbing life as you’re meant to live it.”

“Yes, I gathered that,” Kevin answered. Taking risks. Is this going to be kinky sex?

“Smart boy—and that Tom is just a substitute. This is an autobiographical work. Tom is really Tennessee Williams himself. This play is about Williams coming to grips with his desires and deciding to come out honestly. I know. I was there to see that struggle.”

“Is that what he was getting at in the play? I sort of wondered. I certainly felt a connection with the playwright as I was learning the lines.”

“Williams gives it away. Tennessee Williams isn’t his real name, you know. His real name is Thomas Lanier Williams, and I go back with him to that time.”

“Thomas who?” Kevin asked, stunned. His illusion was shattering. There had been a connection to that name—Kevin coming from Tennessee and Williams named for the state. This was such a fake town, Kevin thought, bitterly. Nothing was what it seemed.

“Thomas Lanier. I knew him when. I discovered him and mentored him. I was teaching drama in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1933, when he was nineteen. And that’s your age, isn’t it? Nineteen?”

“Yes, sir, nineteen.” İstanbul Escort Old enough, Kevin thought. You won’t get into trouble. I’ve been doing it for almost two years. No sweat.

“I was doing a Christmas play,” Hunter continued, “and we needed a young actor for a particularly compelling role, and Thomas was cast. He was an angel—sweet, beautiful, perfectly formed at nineteen—just like you. He was nineteen and fully ready to experience life. And he played the part magnificently—just as you will render the part of Tom in this play.”

“Columbus, Mississippi?” Kevin asked.

“Yes. That’s where he was born and raised.”

“Not Tennessee?”

“Oh, lord, no, not Tennessee.” The glass of Kevin’s illusions was exploding, flying off explosively in every direction, producing the tingling sound of shattered crystal.

“I took him under my wing. We became quite intimate, quite intimate indeed,” Hunter prattled on. “Nineteen was a golden age for him; just the right time to experience it all.” He paused here to check Kevin out to see if he’d gotten what Hunter was saying concerning his relationship with Tennessee Williams and that Williams was in relationships with men at the age of nineteen. Kevin’s eyes looked glazed over, though, so Hunter couldn’t be sure Kevin understood. No matter, however. Kevin was obviously a smart—street smarts—young man. Mitch had assured the director the young man took cock. Hunter would assume there was no problem with that. He was an angel. Delectable. Hunter could hardly keep his hands off him.

“I trained him in acting, which he took to famously, although he said he really wanted to write—that he felt trapped in Columbus and wanted experiences to write. I helped him with the experiences, and he began to write. I could see where his passion was. Well, most of it.” Hunter paused to give a little laugh and to look at Kevin. The young man was beginning to refocus on what the director was saying.

“You understand passion, don’t you, Kevin?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I mean real, visceral, give it all passion.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve been around.”

“And you don’t think nineteen is too young to grasp the pleasure of passion?”

“Oh, my no. Nineteen is a good age for that,” Kevin said.

Hunter gave him a smile and moved on, content that they were on the same page. “I got him into the writing program at Iowa University and eventually a writing award from the Group Theatre for four one-act plays. At my recommendation, John Gassner gave him a scholarship to the advanced playwrights’ seminar at the New School for Social Research and he was on his way.”

“He doesn’t come from Tennessee?” Kevin asked in a far-away voice, tiptoeing around in the shattered glass.

“You could say I made him.” Hunter paused to give a small laugh at his unintentional pun. “Well, yes, I certainly made Tennessee Williams. But you could say that I gave him a leg up in the business.” Hunter laughed. “The young man had great legs.” He moved on. “Stagecraft can be so cruel, you know, if you don’t have friends who pull you up and you don’t show appreciation for them. I could help you just as I’ve helped Williams. You would be a smash hit in New York.”

He had scooted closer to Kevin and had an arm around the young man’s shoulders. All it took was for Kevin to turn his face to the man.

“Would you like help with your career, Kevin? In exchange for a bit of appreciation and intimacy.”

Intimacy. There it was. And about time.

Kevin said, “Yes.” He turned his face to Hunter and received the kiss and the fondling hands roaming over his body, becoming increasingly intimate when resistance wasn’t encountered, pausing long enough for Hunter to unbutton and flare his own shirt. His torso was hard and muscular for a man his age. He took one of Kevin’s hands and pressed it to his chest. Kevin left it there, his fingers playing in salt-and-pepper, curly chest hair.

“Come, I think we need these off,” Hunter whispered, undoing Kevin’s belt and unzipping his trousers. He did the same for himself and took Kevin’s hand and inserted it into the fly of his trousers. Kevin didn’t take it away. Grasping and stroking, he did what the man expected him to do, and Hunter gave a little moan, leaned back into the sofa, and savored Kevin stroking him erect.

“Turn for me,” Hunter whispered, and Kevin turned on the sofa, draping himself over the arm, head and arms dangling down to the floor, as the director pressed his face into the crack between the young man’s butt cheeks. It was Kevin’s turn to moan—more deeply than Hunter had. His moan continued as the man stripped off his own trousers and climbed up onto the sofa. He mounted himself over Kevin’s hips.

Kevin gave a little cry as the cock head breached his sphincter, but then the man was inside him. Kevin’s reaction excited the director and his body trembled as he pressed in deeper, grasped the boy’s hips between his hands, and began the rhythm of the fuck. Kevin had surrendered to him without a hint Anadolu Yakası Escort of resistance.

Kevin lay under him, panting and groaning, but, all in all, this wasn’t too taxing. The man was handsome and he wasn’t as thick and long as Mitch Sandro was. And, above all else, he was going to help Kevin get to where he wanted to go—to where Tennessee Williams had gotten.

Not that the playwright Kevin idolized and wanted to match was really from Tennessee—or really named Tennessee Williams, for that matter. What Kevin had learned from Arthur Hunter had taken much of the mystique out of that. Kevin and Williams didn’t share Tennessee.

Hollywood was such a fake place in the mid-1950s. And there were a whole lot of queers here. Kevin was only now coming to grips with the realization that he was one of them—and that many of the rest of them wanted to fuck him. He began to rock back on the thrusts of Arthur Hunter, deciding to enjoy it. The director groaned in appreciation.

“Yes, I will take you far,” the man murmured as he stroked. “My god, you’re a sweet lay. Such a nice Christmas present.” Kevin lay there, draped over the arm of the sofa, his eyes focusing across the room, doing what he had to do, being Arthur Hunter’s sweet lay, the man’s nice Christmas present.

“Oh, shit. Oh, fuck! I’m going to . . .” And then he did.

Shuffling around in the shattered glass.

* * * *

“Arthur told you what? That he was the reason Tennessee Williams is a successful playwright?” The man sitting on the sofa beside Kevin in his New York office at the end of the workday laughed. “Williams didn’t get much help from Hunter—not any more than I gave him. Williams worked his ass off before he got noticed, which was a long time after Arthur first met him. And then it was as much because I was on the award committee for The Group Theatre that recognized him for the ‘American Blues’ one-act play collection.”

The youth production of The Glass Menagerie had done so well in California that it had been brought out to New York for a one-week off-Broadway run between Christmas and New Year’s. The New York producer, Douglas Cohen, had seen the play and had tracked down and called Kevin’s agent, Mitch Sandro, to express interest in Kevin. Neither Cohen nor Kevin had told Arthur Hunter about the contact. Since the production had come to New York, Kevin had seen Hunter with another actor—a nineteen-year-old actor, just like Kevin. But he was younger nineteen than Kevin was. Kevin wasn’t so sure about Hunter’s continued devotion to Kevin’s career.

“Yeah, I know of Douglas Cohen,” Sandro had said on the phone. “He’s got chops. He’s also got the hots for young men not yet out of their teens, I’ve heard. If he offers you anything, it will come with his cock. But you have no problem with that, do you?” Sandro had laughed. “You know how to take a man’s cock, don’t you?”

Nothing new in any of that, Kevin thought.

“If he gives you an appointment for after five o’clock, you’ll be auditioning on his couch. He can give you a leg up, though—probably better than Arthur Hunter can. You just have to let him put his leg over yours. That man, Arthur Hunter, exaggerates what he can and will do. So, if I was you and Cohen asked what time of day you can come in, I’d say after five o’clock.” Sandro laughed at his own joke. Kevin didn’t, but he took heed of what the man said.

So, here Kevin was, in the offices of the Broadway stage producer, Douglas Cohen, an old and a bit dumpy Jewish guy in his fifties—after hours. The lights were off throughout the offices except for the overhead one in this office. They were sitting on the sofa. Cohen had had a hand on the tip of Kevin’s shoulder, but it now had moved to the young man’s knee. Kevin, who was sitting against the arm of the sofa, with a leg folded up on the sofa between him and the producer, his body in three-quarters turn to Cohen, looked down at the hand on his knee, but he didn’t move away. Cohen looked down at the hand too and saw that Kevin hadn’t shrunk from the touch and that they both were tuned into the hand on the knee. That encouraged Cohen, who squeezed the knee and moved his hand up a bit onto Kevin’s inner thigh. Still no shrinking away.

“You’re a strikingly good-looking young man,” he said. “Perfect for the stage,” he added to fuzzy the context in which he was voicing his admiration and attraction. He stroked Kevin’s leg then and, once again, the young man did no more than look down at the hand to acknowledge it was there.

“I’ll bet Arthur told you he made life easy going for Williams after he first met up with him in Columbus, Mississippi.”

So, that shattered delusion had been truly punctured, Kevin thought. It was, as Hunter had said, in fact, Mississippi, not Tennessee. “Yes, I got that idea—that he was helped to get the inspiration and experience he needed and he began to write in that period.”

“With Arthur supporting him and giving him space and opportunity to write, I’ll bet.”

“Yes,” Kevin answered.

“Experience. Hunter gave him experience, all right. Yes, he helped him get into the Iowa writing program, but when Williams came out of college, Hunter was chasing other, younger tail. He has a thing for nineteen-year-old almost-men. That’s how old Williams was then. You did know, didn’t you, that Williams was a homosexual?”

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