Tennessee Williams spent the summer of 1951 in Italy. In late July, he was driving from Rome on his way to the Costa Brava when he suddenly felt nervous and refreshed himself from the thermos of martinis he had packed for the drive. He then proceeded to drive his Jaguar into a tree at 70 mph. The crash sent the playwright's portable typewriter flying and it landed on his head. He went to Venice to recover. Williams's biographer John Lahr describes the Venetian genesis of the present story: "By day, he contemplated his loneliness, his self-loathing, and his boozing, adapting his 'term in Purgatory' into a story called 'Three against Granada,' a meditation on 'Southern Drinkers,' specifically a young Mississippian of 'great vigor and promise,' Brick Bishop, who succumbs to alcoholism. (The story, extensively rewritten and retitled 'Three Players of a Summer Game,' was published fifteen months later in 'The New Yorker' and became the basis for 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.')"
The present typescript makes clear just how extensive the revisions were. The story has been reworked and expanded by both Williams and William Maxwell, his editor at the magazine. In addition to many deletions and new additions, Williams responded to editorial queries and suggestions. At the end of the typescript are three pages of revisions, which have themselves been revised in pencil. The first of these pages is headed, "Point Three. Brick's Talk with Housepainters. Relieve Ambiguity of His Wife's Affect. (Bottom of Page 15.)" The second page is headed "Revisions 'Three Players of a Summer Game' for 'The New Yorker.' Point Two (establishing sex of narrator)." The third page is untitled, but adds a significant scene to the story.
'The New Yorker' published the story in its issue of 1 November 1952. In March 1954, Williams was back in Rome and had decided to create "a short-long play based on the character in 'Three Players'." By the time Williams's agent Audrey Wood arrived in Rome that summer, he had titled the play 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' and had completed a working script. Things moved quickly and Williams was able to secure Elia Kazan, director of 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' to take charge of the new play. It opened on Broadway on 24 March 1955, starring Barbara Bel Geddes, Ben Gazzara, and Burl Ives.
Brick Pollitt (as he became when the story was revised) is one of Williams's most memorable male characters. He is described in the story as "a drinker who has not yet fallen beneath the savage axe blows of his liquor. He is not so young any more, but he has not yet lost the slim grace of his youth." Brick's wife Margaret (known in the play as Maggie) is a much harsher and more mannish character here than she is in the play. The child in the short story, Mary Louise, foreshadows the "no-neck monsters" (Brick's nephews and nieces) in the play. Brick's father Big Daddy, another unforgettable male character, does not appear until the stage version. The short story does not address the specter of Brick's latent homosexuality, which pervades the stage play.
A highly important Tennessee Williams manuscript, not seen for over 60 years.
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