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David Hare on Tennessee Williams Close

David Hare | Sept. 29, 2015

 David Hare with Tennessee Williams, Manhattan, 1978. Photograph by Arnold Weissberger.

In 1979, while living in New York, David Hare met Tennessee Williams. The two writers soon became good friends. In this extract from his new memoir The Blue Touch Paper, David Hare remembers and reflects upon their friendship.

There was still enough of artistic SoHo left to make it feel interesting, although people were beginning to talk more frequently about property prices. We were just on the cusp of change. At a time when private life in the UK was still often furtive and repressed, English friends would come over to the US because they could be themselves. We had a gay friend who went to the bathhouses every Friday and Saturday night and he would come in for coffee in the morning to report on the previous night’s Saturnalia. But the heterosexual opportunities in the late 1970s weren’t significantly fewer, if that’s what you wanted. Studio 54, the nightclub adored by people who wanted to be celebrities, was represented in the newspapers as being the city’s keynote institution. More properly, that honour should have gone to Plato’s Retreat, one of several places anyone could go for a nice middle-class commercial orgy. The likely drawback was that the first person you would meet there would be a British Theatre director.

Feelings of decadence were reinforced by a growing friendship with Tennessee Williams, which would continue well into the next decade. We had met at a cocktail party where Myrna Loy, the world’s most attractive seventy-five-year old, had charmed me rotten. Margaret and Lynn Redgrave had carried the party on to dinner, and Tennessee and I had hit it off straight away . Tennessee was never happier than when enjoying his own often incomprehensible jokes. Every day he got up early to write, then began drinking white wine before lunchtime. By the time I got to him he was more than half cut, but determined every night to keep going as long as possible, preferably until a final drink at 3 a.m. ‘How are you doing, Tennessee?’ I would ask around midnight, when conversation had slurred to a halt. Like a Southern belle, he would curl his pinkie, throw back his head and reply, ‘Why thank you, David, I’m doing just as well as I possibly can.’ He would then peal with cheerful laughter. When we got to know each other better, he would insist on dining at Sardi’s, a theatrical restaurant in midtown where the food was appalling. He ordered cannelloni, which he left untouched. But he felt Sardi’s was the last place where he was properly treated. Tennessee liked eating there because they made a fuss. Waiters stood in line while he passed. And quite right too. The larger part of his conversation was about how completely he’d fallen out of fashion. He felt it so keenly that he was inconsolable, however hard you tried. He ignored praise. Once Tennessee got into his riff about how his plays could no longer be mounted in New York because the critics hated him so much, it was impossible to get him out. I didn’t mind. The reliable grievances of one of America’s greatest dramatists shut out of the city where he had made his name reinforced my own feelings of companionable gloom. Later my junior friendship with John Osborne was played out to the same harsh melody: ‘I knew it would end badly, but not this badly.’

Reproduced from David Hare’s new memoir The Blue Touch Paper, published by Faber and Faber Ltd, with the kind permission of the author.