Lot 108
  • 108

Williams, Tennessee

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Williams, Tennessee
  • A Highly Important Archive of A Streetcar Named Desire, including the first working draft of the stage play, a draft of the screenplay, correspondence, and other ancillary material. New York, Charleston, SC, and various places, ca. 1947—50
  • ink and paper
The archive comprises:

¶ Approximately 185 leaves of typescript and carbon typescript, some annotated, and a few pages of manuscript, drafting and reworking speeches and scenes, primarily from the second half of the play.

¶ Williams's 3 drafts of a one-page typed memo regarding Stella's pregnancy.

¶ Williams's one-page typescript of notes to the play's producer Irene Selznick and its director Eliz Kazan regarding the scene leading up to Blanche's departure.

¶ Three-page Typed Letter signed from Charles K. Feldman to Williams's agent Audrey Wood, regarding Kazan's and Williams's work on the screenplay and film production of Streetcar.

¶ Typed memo from Audrey Wood to Irving Schneider.

¶ Typed memo from Irene Selznick to Williams.

¶  Two typescript leaves, one from Night of the Iguana and one from The Rose Tattoo.

¶ Three-page typed eulogy of Frank Merlo, written by Williams in 1963.

¶ Collection of six photographs, two showing William with Elia Kazan and one of Williams with Frank Merlo and another man in Key West (captioned "La Vie en Rose").

Housed in a large half red morocco clamshell case, black morocco gilt spine labels.


Frank Merlo (companion to the playwright; devolved to his brother, who bequeathed them to his daughters).


As described in catalogue entry.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

A highly important archive detailing the creation and evolution of what is arguably the single most important play in the history of American drama.

This collection of papers was preserved by Frank Merlo (1922–1963), Tennessee Williams's companion from 1950 till his early death from lung cancer in 1963.

A Streetcar Named Desire, which opened on Broadway in 1947, was, along with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949), to change the nature of the American theater forever.  The remarkable script was brought explosively to life by director Elia Kazan and a cast headed by Jessica Tandy, Karl Malden, Kim Hunter, and newcomer Marlon Brando, who made a sensational impression on both the critics and the public.

The play had its beginning as a one-act drama called The Poker Night, which was completed 16 March 1947.  Early readers recognized the radical direction the play was taking and encouraged Williams to expand it into a full-length drama.  Rewriting and reimagining the short play were to occupy him over the summer and fall, right up to the play's opening on Broadway on 4 December 1947. 

The present archive contains material from scenes 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and most importantly the 89-page working manuscript and typescript of scene 11, the astonishing final scene of the play. These drafts allow us observe Williams reworking dialogue and stage directions. On one of several draft revisions to the final curtain, he explains in a pencil note, "(This is poetic completion of first scene between them in which he 'threw her the meat.')"  The most famous line in the play, "Whoever you are—I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," was first written as "Whoever you are—I place myself at your mercy!" Williams also wrote a lengthy last speech for Blanche, in which she reflects on her life and how it will end."  This revealing monologue was, of course, cut from the play before opening night.

Williams was aware that censorship would be an issue with a play dealing so frankly with sexual desire, and in these drafts, we see him making the cuts that would enable the play to be performed.  For instance, in the first version of the scene in which Blanche tell Mitch the story of her young husband, Allan, who killed himself, Williams suggests forcefully that Allan was homosexual and that personal and societal torment drove him to his final act.  This was to be reduced to innuendo before the play opened.

There are also revealing letters and memos included in the archive.  After Williams suggests cutting a couple of speeches from the play, producer Irene M. Selznick fired back, "Hey! How can you toss stuff like this overboard so lightly?" 

The screenplay of the 1950 film version was an adaptation by Kazan and Oscar Saul, in close collaboration with Williams.  Most of the changes were make to avoid censorship.  It was, however, the final scene that was most radically affected.  In the stage version, the final curtain goes down on Stella sobbing in Stanley's arms.  To placate the censors, the film ends with Stella going to the neighbors and telling them she will never go back to Stanley.

Included with the archive is the 3-page typed draft of the eulogy Tennessee Williams wrote for Frank Merlo's funeral.  It has a four-word correction in ink and is dated in ink by Williams 24 September 1963.  He has all labeled the typescript in pencil "original one"

This archive constitutes the most important gathering of manuscript material by America's greatest playwright ever to be offered at auction.