Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Epilogue

Epilogue


When I arrived back in town, Key West was in the full flower of spring. Squawks and chirps filled the air as birds, amphibians, and insects scrambled for mates. I retreated to my apartment. My own world, sucked dry as if by a retreating tsunami, lay flat and monochrome. Not ready to get on with my life, I puttered about the apartment. April stretched into May.
I would have to work, but I was now too big for the town—and inadequate too. The tourist season was winding down; the town was shrinking. And with that being the case, the prospect of finding a restaurant job, or any other, shrank too. I could leave Key West, but had no idea where to go. I decided to paint houses, the thing I had done before while biding time, waiting for a better idea. I painted a friend’s kitchen and talked him into letting me paint the rest of his house as well. Then I ran into Tina Keller. She hired me to paint the interior of the house she was renovating for the horse’s-ass artist. Daily, I dragged through the motions and, sometimes in the evenings, went to the bars, but even there, I remained cheerless.
But I would have to return to the real world soon—anywhere but the Keys. I would need some kind of reference from Tennessee. Gaps in employment could be fatal to the job search, and I doubted he would respond to someone calling to check references. Trying to get a letter of recommendation now was a scary prospect, but it would at least settle the question. My fear that Tennessee would refuse to see me or write a letter of reference was soon overtaken by my determination that I must get one. I decided to ask for it through Gary. A few days after I did, he called and said he had it. He brought it to my apartment.

August 31, 1982
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: 
You could not find a more efficient nor dedicated employee than Scott Kenan. He worked for me a year and I say this with all conviction.
Sincerely,
Tennessee Williams 

A smile bloomed on my face. I looked at Gary.
“You know,” he said, “everyone will assume a good reference with only two sentences means the opposite.”
I stared at the paper. Maybe his mistake that it had been a year instead of six months was not a mistake at all. Maybe he kept the letter short because he knew what people would assume, and to drive the point home, he subtly made clear that it felt as though he had endured me for a year.  
I looked back at Gary.
“Tom wrote you a check too, but I pointed out that he’d already given you severance. He tore it up.” 

Regardless what might be made of the letter, the task had been accomplished. I made plans to move back to Philadelphia. The night before I left, I visited The Monster for the last time. I climbed the stairs to the upper deck. There, Tennessee sat at a table with Gary, Skye, and some of their friends. They were drinking cocktails, and all of them except Tennessee, were singing along to “It’s Raining Men.” Skye toasted a hot one as he walked by.
            He waved me over to the table. I hesitated, but took the empty seat beside him. Tennessee sat low in his chair at the opposite end. He glanced up, saying nothing, and then returned to his own world. Gary ordered a round of drinks, and when they arrived, Tennessee sat up and paid the waiter.
After passing me my drink, Skye announced, “Gary’s going to direct two of Tennessee’s plays.”
I grunted, not wanting to put words to my thoughts. And I was not about to tell them about my own plans—I was not going to offer them any information at all.
“What happened to the Sicilian?” I asked.
“Who do you mean?”
“Tony—that kid Tennessee took to Boston.”
“Oh, him.” Skye let out a caustic laugh. “He ran off somewhere. They were in . . . Germany? Italy?—Europe, I think.”
I sat back, eyeing the faces at the table, taking the whole of it in. Not speaking. Not listening. I had never seen Tennessee so glum or disinterested before. I began studying his face and realized he was staring at me too.
There was nothing to do. I considered the empty glass in my hand. I rose from the table and went over to him. I shook his hand and thanked him for the drink and for the reference. And then I left.


The next morning, I filled a U-Haul with all my belongings, hitched my car behind it, and drove to Philadelphia. I moved in with my brother and got a management job with Magic Pan Restaurants. In February, the company transferred me to Atlanta, and three weeks later, I saw the news of Tennessee’s death on CNN.
            That evening, I called Vassilis.
            “No Scotty, don’t come up now. Dakin is planning a Catholic funeral and a burial in St. Louis—nothing like Tennessee wanted. He hated St. Louis.”
For years, Dakin had chafed in the shadow of his younger brother’s success, often pulling stunts to get attention. He had written a book on his own profession, The Bar Bizarre, and against all hope, he ran for governor of Illinois, and even president. Now that he had the opportunity, he was seizing center stage. 
In the late '60s, when Tennessee’s tether was at its thinnest, Dakin convinced him to commit himself to a mental hospital and converted him to Catholicism. A fervent convert himself, Dakin had even written a book defending his new religion against Protestant heresies, Nails of Protest. However, once back on his feet, Tennessee never studied or practiced the faith, and was, if anything, Episcopalian. He had told friends that he wanted his body cremated and his ashes scattered at sea—in the Gulf of Mexico where Hart Crane had committed suicide years before.
            “There’s going to be a memorial,” Vassilis said. “Next month—on his birthday. People he loved will be there. Come up then—stay at my apartment.”
            On the March morning that I was to fly to New York, I awoke to a whitened Atlanta. A freak snowstorm had fallen overnight. Beneath the magnolias and the still-bare oaks surrounding my apartment, wet snow blanketed the blooming azaleas. Bits of pink and peach and fuchsia flared in the bright, morning light. I got in my car and drove slowly through the enchanted neighborhood, then faster past the Big Star and Hardee’s on Howell Mill Road. At the entrance to the freeway, I hit the accelerator and left the confection to melt.
             The next day, I sat with Vassilis and Jane Smith in the Shubert Theater. On the stage, a dozen people sat lined up on chairs. Vassilis pointed out Maria St. Just.
            “Oh yes, Maria,” Jane said, her spine at attention, a finger guarding her mouth.
The people onstage spoke or acted in turn: Maureen Stapleton, Kim Hunter, and Elizabeth Ashley. Maria told anecdotes about Tennessee. Jessica Tandy delivered one of Blanche Dubois’s speeches from the role she had originated on Broadway. It was the most moving moment of the memorial, and when she got a standing ovation, she thanked the crowd for allowing her to remind them of the writer.
            Afterward, we joined the people from onstage and crossed the street for lunch, our party overflowing the tables that Sardi’s had set aside. But I was morose, and unable to make anything but the bare minimum of small talk.
After we finished lunch, Vassilis invited several people to his apartment for dinner that night, and then he went home to prepare for it. I joined Jane, Maria, and Maria's daughter and hailed a cab. Maria’s son-in-law was the architect for Andy Warhol’s nearly completed new Factory, and Warhol had promised Maria he would give her a tour of both the old and the new. Maureen Stapleton walked with us to the curb, and after the rest of us had piled into the cab, she turned to walk to her apartment.
Inside the Checker, Maria turned sharply to me.
            “Get out! Help her!” she yelled. “Can’t you see she’s drunk!”
My face reddened. Maureen had not seemed so very drunk to me. Vassilis had not invited Maria to dinner. Hating to miss the tour and my only chance to observe Maria in person, I delayed a moment. By the time I had climbed out of the cab, Maureen was lost in the crowd, so I scrambled back in. Maria continued to scold me until the driver slammed a giant pothole, and she turned her attention to him.
At the Factory, Warhol, seeming to have all the time in the world, gossiped with the others. I attached myself to a chatty, six-foot Romanian princess who sported a bleached mustache. Eventually, Maria took charge and shepherded Warhol as he showed us first the old building and then, after a cab ride, the new. I could see how Tennessee might want to rely on Maria if he were in a state of collapse—but I could not imagine paying her price.
Seven of us met at Vassilis’s for dinner that night. I sat among them, feeling anxious and undocked. I looked forward to my return to Atlanta.
“Scotty,” Vassilis said, “if only you had been there . . .”
Vassilis had said this before, when we spoke on the phone right after Tennessee’s death. I had not known how to respond then. And I had heard these words from a few others as well—that had I been at the hotel with Tennessee that night, I could somehow have prevented him from choking to death on the cap of a medicine bottle. But some things could not be helped. Once again, I was not sure how to reply. I felt for John Uecker, who had been with Tennessee during his last days and had stayed in his suite that final night. I always made a point of defending him. He loved Tennessee, and I never doubted his dedication or his integrity.
“Vassilis,” Jane said, putting a hand on his arm, “that’s not fair. Tennessee was totally . . . finally exhausted. You saw him. He had simply given up.”
The next morning, as I packed my bag, Vassilis told me about his recent trip to Key West. He had gone to help the curator from Harvard pack the contents of Tennessee’s house.
“It was very sad,” he said. “Took forever. Piles of manuscripts in the studio. Letters, memorabilia . . .” He stopped a moment. “I found some letters addressed to you,” he said. “Three of them—on his desk . . . opened.”
I looked at him, confused.
“Scotty, they were love letters—dated. . . . They were received while you were there.”
I stared at him.
“They’ve been packed off to Harvard now,” he said. “Three letters from Matthew.” 
* * *

The blue below was LITERALLY WRITTEN by John Uecker!!! I groomed it a little to be more my own language, but I had to have John's APPROVAL of this to satisfy Thomas Keith and Sewanee!!!


 The coroner, Elliot Gross, on the scene the morning of Tennessee Williams’ death, determined that Tennessee’s body may have become intolerant of the drugs he had used throughout his life, and in the end they had simply overwhelmed his system. Tennessee’s health had declined, and during his last year, he had lost a lot of weight. A medicine bottle top such as the type used in eye drops was not found in his air passage as reported, and in any case, as Gross later acknowledged, would not have been large enough to restrict airflow. Gross was certain that the event that had caused Tennessee’s death was inadvertent.
He filed a false report stating that the playwright had died by choking on a medicine bottle top. He had surmised that if the press, clamoring loudly outside the hotel, heard that any drug had been part of the cause of death, they would report it as an overdose or suicide—an unjust verdict—but one that would live in the mind of the public forever.
Six months later, after the hubbub died down, Gross quietly corrected his report. 1 The legacy Gross left is that for all these years, most, like myself, erroneously believed Williams died by choking.
In his will, Tennessee Williams left the bulk of his estate, including the copyrights, in a trust for the care of his sister Rose. After her death, ownership was to go to the University of the South (commonly referred to as Sewanee), a small college in Tennessee. He left the bequest in honor of his beloved maternal grandfather, Walter Dakin, who had received his divinity degree there in 1895. Administration of the estate, including permissions to produce his plays, to use quotations from his work, and to access his papers, was to be split among an administrator from Sewanee, one from Harvard, and a third one appointed by the other two.
However, in late 1982, Tennessee added a codicil to his will. Now, Harvard, instead of Sewanee, was to receive his papers. While the codicil specified that Sewanee was still to keep actual ownership of the bulk of the estate, it charged Harvard with making all decisions concerning the use of the intellectual property rights as well as the financial proceeds of the bequest. Tennessee further stipulated that the bulk of the proceeds should form a fund to support creative writers, specifically clarifying that it should be used to support writing of a “progressive, original and preferentially of an experimental nature.” 2
Tennessee’s groundbreaking plays had been exactly that: progressive, original, and experimental, and anyone studying his later plays knows what he meant when he wrote the codicil. In the course of his career, he had continually broken taboos as he unflinchingly explored the deepest regions of the human heart. As a result, he often battled censors and self-appointed guardians of public morality. In the last few years of his life, Reaganism came to full flower and Evangelical Christianity was surging, its adherents demanding that the nation’s laws—even its Constitution—bow to the Bible. Many Christian leaders proclaimed that AIDS was God’s righteous punishment of gay men—and they thanked God for that. Few politicians dared denounce them.
Tennessee’s fear that his plays would be sanitized after his death no longer seemed so paranoid. In the context of this national trend, it seemed eminently sane that he decided on Harvard rather than a small religious university in the South.
Not surprisingly, the codicil was contested. An agreement was reached. As the dust cleared, Maria St. Just emerged as the de facto manager of the rights, and she anointed herself guardian of Tennessee’s legacy. In an attempt to suppress knowledge of the aspects of Tennessee’s life that she found unsavory and to shape his image and the world’s understanding of his work to conform to her view, she refused to allow most scholars access to his papers, and she micro-managed the major productions of his plays that she allowed. As a result, the most produced English language playwright since William Shakespeare dropped under the radar—many of his plays going unproduced and his papers rarely studied—until after Maria’s death in early 1994. 3 
         The bulk of Tennessee’s papers went to Harvard. Following the death of Rose Williams, the rest of the estate, including ownership of the rights and funds, went to The University of the South. The estate—valued at $10 million at the time of Williams’ death 2—was the largest bequest the school had received to that time, and Maria St. Justs’s and Sewanee’s management of the estate has increased its value more than ten-fold. Based at Sewanee, the Walter E. Dakin Memorial Fund supports writers directly and indirectly. 
Whether the codicil to Tennessee’s will stood or not was a moot point for Leoncia McGee, even though in it he had added that she be paid a stipend until her death—something he’d forgotten to include in the original will. Under Florida law, the fact that she had witnessed the codicil would prevent her from receiving the stipend he had granted in it. Maria St. Just stepped up to the plate, and Leoncia received an income until her death in 1992.
Several months after Tennessee’s death, Gary Tucker and Schuyler Wyatt moved to Atlanta and Gary worked as a deejay in a leather bar. They lived a stone’s throw from the Alliance Theatre in a Victorian mansion on Peachtree Street, rent-free. Their parties became legendary. I occasionally ran into them, but turned down their party invitations. 
After Gary’s death from AIDS in 1989, Skye moved to Chattanooga and worked for a caterer. He visited Atlanta occasionally, and when I ran across him, he bought rounds of drinks in the bars and bragged about his lavish lifestyle in Tennessee. He died from AIDS in 1992.

             Helen Chuba returned to her trailer and her husband in Homestead. 

             Vassilis Voglis died from AIDS in 1990. 

             Edmund J. Perret II went on to become the Executive Director of the Contact Lens Association of Ophthalmologists, was very active in the Catholic Church, and sat on the boards of several national charities. He died in 1991 from a long but unspecified illness.

            Rose Williams died of cardiac arrest in 1996 at the age of 86.

Jane Smith died of natural causes in 2005.

Bruce Smith continued to run a public relations firm in Chicago.

“Texas” Kate Moldawer married a physician, was widowed several years later, and then died of cancer in 2007. (A copy of this manuscript was found centered on her desk when Kate died.)
After Tennessee’s death, John Uecker, who had (never) served as Tennessee’s literary assistant both before and after I worked for Tennessee, became James Purdy’s literary assistant, which he remained until Purdy’s death in 2009, when Uecker was revealed to be Purdy's sole heir. John’s credits in theater include acting, coaching, producing, and directing. After Tennessee's death, James Purdy, with John’s assistance, wrote many works for the theater, as Tennessee had inspired both of them to do. (John Uecker LITERALLY wrote most of this -- except my additions in red. He MURDERED Tennessee Williams.) 
Mark Beard developed six distinct artist personalities so that he could paint in as many different styles. Today, his work is in the collections of major art museums around the world. Abercrombie & Fitch commissioned him to paint murals on their flagship stores, and in 2009, he completed an eleven-story mural, his largest so far (and a world record for size of oil painting), on their Tokyo store. Mark has won awards for his set designs as well. 
Robert Carroll lives in West Virginia. 
The whereabouts of  Toni Narducci are unknown. (Toni Narducci wrote a book in 2013: In the Frightened Heart of Me: Tennessee Williams's Last Year, but CANCELLED his book tour and went into hiding after I challenged him about it.) 
Searching the internet in 2007, I discovered that Jeanne Wolf released the documentary film, The Donsinger Women and Their Handyman Jack in 1983. It won an award in San Francisco. The short story remains unpublished. 
André Ernotte continued directing on the American stage and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical three times before he died of heart failure in 1999. 
After leaving the Goodman Theatre, Gregory Mosher produced or directed over 200 plays on stages in America and abroad, and won every major American theater award, including two Tonys. He is now the Director of the University Arts Initiative at Columbia University. 
I remained in Atlanta and worked in restaurant management until 1990, when I suffered a second, more severe bout of mania. (Actually, I was WAKING UP TO REALITY.) I was arrested that time too, but due to new laws meant to protect the rights of the mentally ill, the judge (although she stated her belief that I should be committed), was afraid to do so. Over a six-month period, I spent a total of 14 weeks in jail. After my final release, I dedicated myself to the care of my mental health. I stabilized on Lithium, found work in sales, and then one day late in 2003, I decided I would have to trust myself. I had a story to write. 
In the course of coming to terms with "bipolar illness", I had learned the truth of what Tennessee said that day he rebuked me, “Never support anyone’s delusions. It’s the cruelest thing you could do.” My suggestion at the time had been to play coronation anthems for his sister Rose who thought she was the Queen of England. It is easy to point out delusions in others, but it is our pernicious day-to-day delusions that lead to our private insanities. Only in staring down my own delusions was I able to find my own grounding and the clarity to write this book. 
I also came to understand that Tennessee had reached a place of transcendence. He had spent his lifetime wrestling demons, and in the process pulled Blanche Dubois, Stanley Kowalski, Alexandra del Lago, Lady Torrance, the Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, and all his other characters from within. He thrust them onto the public stage for our contemplation. Although his characters—aspects of himself—collide, compete, win, lose, and survive or not in this world, the greater thing within him, the über-thing that fueled Tennessee, the man John Patrick Shanley called “that gorgeous, unstoppable beast,” could not be—and never was—harmed. As he watched his work unfold upon the stage, he allowed that greater part of himself, that thing that drove him always onward, to possess his conscious being, and, he laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed. 
It is now November, and I am finishing the final edits. Earlier this month, I traveled to New York City for Tennessee’s installation in the American Poets’ Corner in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. On that Thursday evening, people from all walks of life gathered in the soaring gothic cavern. Marian Seldes, Eli Wallach, Vanessa Redgrave, and many others performed or read Tennessee’s work. John Shanley delivered an electrifying address. Three days later, Tennessee’s stone was formally unveiled at Sunday Evensong service. Many fewer attended the quiet event; I was back in Georgia. The movie critic John DiLeo wrote me later that he, too, missed the service, but he did see the stone, “and it is beautifully placed, as if the poets surrounding him are mere supporting players.”  
These words are inscribed on the face of Tennessee’s stone in the Cathedral: 
Time is the longest distance between two places.
And on Tennessee’s tombstone in St. Louis:
The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.



  



1. Baden, Michael M. 1989. Unnatural Death, New York: Random House, 1989. pp. 73-74. 
2. Lindsey Gruson. March 22, 1983. “Harvard to Direct Williams Bequest” The New York Times,  http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/31/specials/williams-harvard.html.
3. Lahr, John. December 19, 1994. “The Lady and Tennessee” The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1994/12/19/1994_12_19_076_TNY_CARDS_000370469 , pp. 76-97.
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