Tennessee Williams on his life at 70, and everything else in this wonderful interview in The Paris Review.
Tennessee Williams, The Art of Theater No. 5
Interviewed by Dotson Rader
The Complete Interview here.
Tennessee Williams on KIP
Kip was very honest, and I loved him and I think he loved me. He was a draftdodger from Canada. He had a passion to be a dancer, and he knew he couldn’t if he went into the war. It’d be too late, he felt, when it was over, for him to study dancing. You see, he was a boy of twenty-one or twenty-two when the war happened.
I’ve written a play called Something Cloudy, Something Clear about Kip. The setting is very important in this play. It involves a bleached, unfurnished beach shack in which the writer, who represents me, but is called August, is working on a portable typewriter supported by an old crate. He sleeps on a mattress on the floor. Alongside that set is the floor of another beach-house shack that’s been blown away in a hurricane. This floor, however, forms a platform on which Kip used to dance, practicing dancing to my Victrola. The subtitle of the play is The Silver Victrola.
I prefer the title Something Cloudy, Something Clear because it refers to my eyes. My left eye was cloudy then because it was developing a cataract. But my right eye was clear. It was like the two sides of my nature. The side that was obsessively homosexual, compulsively interested in sexuality. And the side that in those days was gentle and understanding and contemplative. So it’s a pertinent title.
Now this play is written from the vantage point of 1979, about a boy I loved and who is now dead. The author (August) knows it’s 1979. He knows Kip is dead, and that the girl whom Kip dances with is dead. I’ve invented the girl. Occasionally during the play the author onstage will make references that puzzle the boy, Kip, and the girl. But the author is the only one who realizes that it’s really forty years later, and the boy and girl are dead, and he survives, still he survives. It happened in the summer of 1940, and it’s a very lyrical play, probably the most lyrical play I’ve done in a very long while.
Kip died at the age of twenty-six. It was just after I completed my professionally abortive connection with MGM. The phone rang one day and an hysterical lady said, “Kip has ten days to live.” A year before I had been told that Kip had been successfully operated on for a benign brain tumor.
He was at the Polyclinic Hospital near Times Square. You know how love bursts back into your heart when you hear of the loved one’s dying.
As I entered Kip’s room he was being spoon-fed by a nurse: a dessert of sugary apricots. He had never looked more beautiful. Kip’s mind seemed as clear as his Slavic blue eyes.
We spoke a while. Then I rose and reached for his hand and he couldn’t find mine, I had to find his.
After Kip died his brother sent me, from Canada, snapshots of Kip posing for a sculptor and they remained in my wallet some twenty years. They disappeared mysteriously in the sixties. Well, Kip lives on in my leftover heart.