Style: "TW:RBML"

Book Review – Five O’Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just

The computer killed the art of letter writing, or I should say the internet did with its remarkable means of communication via email. I’m guilty of it myself these days though I do share a regular email exchange with the person who gave me this book and I print and keep a paper copy of every email from her for this very reason.

Don’t believe me? When’s the last time you printed a photograph you took with your cell phone? How often do you go back and reread old tweets on Twitter or messages on Facebook? Does your Email “Trash Bin” have more stuff in it than your “Saved” emails? When’s the last time you mailed someone a handwritten letter or even a birthday card? Chances are your answers to these questions are very small numbers. No worries. I’m just as guilty as you are.

But from the late 40s till his death in the early 80s, Tennessee Williams exchanged letters with his dear friend Maria St. Just. They met at a party in 1948 and a life-long friendship ensued from there.
This book is a collection almost entirely of his letters to her, with a few of her own letters to him and other commentary in between.

Through his words, we see a young jet setter Williams traveling the country to parties, vacations, and opening nights of his plays. We also meet a drunken, frail, and drugged out Williams completely dependent upon Maria for guidance and companionship. And lastly, we see a sad lonely Williams with surprisingly not much to say.

Some of the highlights are all the other characters in Williams’ life who stop by: Gore Vidal, Isherwood and his young lover Don Bachardy, Marlon Brando, Tennessee’s sister Rose, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, and many more.

After Williams’ death, Maria became a harsh co-executor of his estate. She published this book in 1990 and died four years later. Though the book lends itself to be a bit one-sided for the most obvious reasons (it is his letters only for the most part), it’s a brilliant and honest look into the mind of one of America’s all time greatest playwrights, and we have Maria to thank for giving us that look.

As for the rest of us, when alien archaeologists unearth our civilization many years from now, let’s hope they can break through the Firewalls on our computers (if they still work) and know how to utilize our USB’s. Otherwise, they stand to learn nothing from our words or lack thereof.

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5 comments on “Book Review – Five O’Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just

  1. On the contrary, the book is entirely dishonest. St. Just, writing in the third person as herself in history and the first person as the author, distorts their relationship and her importance to Williams. The idea, for instance, that she “buried her friend alone” is ludicrous. She was not ever his literary executor or the executor of his will as she claimed; in fact, Williams leaves her almost out of his Memoir. For the full story of her toxic influence on Williams, please read my profile in the New Yorker, “The Lady and Tennessee”, 12/18/95. Her cherished letters were never found after her death. Why? Because having edited them like she edited Williams own documents at the Harry Ransom Center–cutting her name out of his actual letters with scissors–she wanted to destroy the evidence of her manipulation. Although this can’t be proved, it is in absolute keeping with her draconian grandiosity.Because she wouldn’t allow an authorized biography to be published or critics to quote from his work, she is personally responsible for a decade-long critical silence after his death.

    • Hi John-

      Thank you for your comments. I actually did read your profile yesterday shortly after I wrote this book review, and I found several inconsistencies, and even more now based on your comments here.

      You state in your comment above that “she was not ever his literary executor” but your profile says “who after his death became executor of his estate” and later
      “Maria became Williams’ literary executor and stopped many publications of his papers and tried to control productions of his work.”

      You also state she stopped publication of Leverich’s bio of Williams. Maybe she delayed publication, but she did not stop it. The first volume is available (I own a copy.) and the only reason the second volume was not published is because Leverich died before completing it. Granted, your profile was written in late 1994 and Leverich published almost a year later (See ISBN: 0517702258, 1st edition, Crown, © October 1995).

      You also state “Williams died a year and a half before St. Just.” I’m sure you meant Peter, but it doesn’t read that way. It reads as if you meant Maria. And we both know she died over 10 years later.

      Thanks again!

      Regards,
      Shannon

  2. When Lady St. Just first met TW in the late 1940’s, she was working as an actress and was immediately drawn to him. She privately expressed her interest in marrying him. He quickly disabused her of that possibility. But she determined to possess him to any degree she was able and her almost pathological obsession with him poisoned more than one relationship in TW’s life.

  3. It’s a nice photograph of them at the top. I don’t recall learning about her much except I do believe she supported him, wrote cheques. She had to have been in New York (my memory is a mess right now). I believe the UK are proud of her for her enduring and undying love for her friend. Maybe there’s something linked here to the loss of her father. She was inspirational to him.

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