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.