Tennessee Williams -> Dr. Feelgood -> Mark ShawPosted: January 6, 2015
Tennessee Williams in Key West
Strewn around the apartment of a friend this weekend were a few biographies of Tennessee Williams.
I don’t know much about Tennessee Williams. The most I ever thought about him was when I was briefly in Key West, where there’s some stuff named after him. He jockeys with Hemingway for local literary mascot top honors.
Looking into it, I found this stupefying article about TW in Key West from People Magazine, 1979, entitled “In His Beloved Key West, Tennessee Williams Is Center Stage In A Furor Over Gays.” Tough reading, on the one hand. On the other maybe we can find some optimism in how far things have come?:
Some of Williams’ friends are less sanguine—notably Rader (whom some Key West sympathizers find faintly hysterical on the subject). “It has been terrible,” he said in the aftermath. “Tenn won’t talk about it, but it has been really frightening what’s happening in Key West and in this house. The worst was the night they stood outside his front porch and threw beer cans, shouting, ‘Come on out, faggot.’ When they set off the firecrackers, I remember thinking, ‘God, this is it. We’re under attack. They’ve started shooting.’ ”
Williams’ imperturbability springs both from a matter of principle (he once defined gallantry as “the grace with which one survives appalling experiences”) and from a diminished interest in the Key West gay scene. “I’ve retired from the field of homosexuality at present,” he explains, “because of age. I have no desires—isn’t that strange? I have dreams, but no waking interest.” The thought does not cheer him. “I’ve always found life unsatisfactory,” he says. “It’s unsatisfactory now, especially since I’ve given up sex.” His own problems seem far more pressing to him than the city’s. “I suspect I’ll only live another two years,” says Williams, 68, who tipples white wine from morning on and complains of heart and pancreas disorders. “I’ve been working like a son of a bitch since 1969 to make an artistic comeback. I don’t care about the money, but I can’t give up art—there’s no release short of death. It’s quite painful. I’ll be dictating on my deathbed. I want people to say, ‘Yes, this man is still an artist.’ They haven’t been saying it much lately.”
As a consummate prober of human passions, Williams does have theories on why his adopted hometown is under siege. “There are punks here,” he explains. “That’s because a couple of gay magazines publicized this place as if it were the Fire Island of Florida. It isn’t. One Fire Island is quite enough. But it attracted the wrong sort of people here: the predators who are looking for homosexuals. I think the violence will be gone by next year.”
Other residents seem less willing to wait. The leader of the anti-gay forces, the Reverend Wright, says Anita Bryant has promised to come to Key West to help his crusade. Recalling nostalgically the days when “female impersonators and queers were loaded into a deputy’s automobile and shipped to the county line,” Wright warns: “We’ll either have a revival of our society or the homosexuals will take it over in five years.”
Mamet On Williams
This morning happened to pick up in my garage this book by David Mamet:
Highly recommend this book as well as Three Uses Of The Knife, True And False: Heresy And Common Sense For The Actor, and On Directing Film by Mamet. All short, all tight, all good. (His subsequent nonfiction seems to me to be a bit… deranged?)
Found this, and thought it was great:
Reading about Tennessee on Wikipedia, I learn:
As he had feared, in the years following Merlo’s death Williams was plunged into a period of nearly catatonic depression and increasing drug use resulting in several hospitalizations and commitments to mental health facilities. He submitted to injections by Dr. Max Jacobson – known popularly as Dr. Feelgood – who used increasing amounts of amphetamines to overcome his depression and combined these with prescriptions for the sedative Seconal to relieve his insomnia. Williams appeared several times in interviews in a nearly incoherent state, and his reputation both as a playwright and as a public personality suffered. He was never truly able to recoup his earlier success, or to entirely overcome his dependence on prescription drugs.
Let’s learn about Dr. Feelgood, who was also screwing up Elvis and everybody else cool back then:
John F. Kennedy first visited Jacobson in September 1960, shortly before the 1960 presidential election debates. Jacobson was part of the Presidential entourage at the Vienna summit in 1961, where he administered injections to combat severe back pain. Some of the potential side effects included hyperactivity, impaired judgment, nervousness, and wild mood swings. Kennedy, however, was untroubled by FDA reports on the contents of Jacobson’s injections and proclaimed: “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works.” Jacobson was used for the most severe bouts of back pain. By May 1962, Jacobson had visited the White House to treat the President thirty-four times.
By the late 1960s, Jacobson’s behavior became increasingly erratic as his own amphetamine usage increased. He began working 24-hour days and was seeing up to 30 patients per day. In 1969, one of Jacobson’s clients, former Presidential photographer Mark Shaw, died at the age of 47. An autopsy showed that Shaw had died of “acute and chronic intravenous amphetamine poisoning.”
Well, that takes us to
Born Mark Schlossman on the Lower East Side, a pilot on the India/China Hump in World War II, he became a freelance photographer for life:
In 1953, probably because of his fashion experience, Shaw was assigned to photograph the young actress Audrey Hepburn during the filming of Paramount’s Sabrina. Evasive at first, Hepburn became comfortable with Shaw’s presence over a two-week period and allowed him to record many of her casual and private moments.
He married singer Pat Suzuki, “who is best known for her role in the original Broadway production of the musical Flower Drum Song, and her performance of the song “I Enjoy Being a Girl” in the show”:
In 1959, Life chose Shaw to photograph Jacqueline Kennedy while her husband, Senator John F. Kennedy, was running for President. This assignment was the beginning of an enduring working relationship and personal friendship with the Kennedys that would eventually lead to Shaw’s acceptance as the Kennedys’ de facto “family photographer”. He visited them at theWhite House and at Hyannisport; during this time he produced his most famous photographs, portraying the couple and their children in both official and casual settings. In 1964, Shaw published a collection of these images in his book The John F. Kennedys: A Family Album, which was very successful.
Here’s another famous Jackie Mark photo’d: