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Archive for the ‘Missouri’ Category

“Stella!”

St. Louis, Mo.

International Shoe Company

1501 Washington Avenue

International Shoe Company warehouse

701 N. 15th Street

In 1931, Tennessee Williams’ father secured his son a summer job as an office clerk at the show company where he himself was sales manager. Later, when the Depression leveled the family’s finances and Cornelius withdrew his son from the university, Tennessee lived at home and labored full-time as a clerical worker at the company’s warehouse during 1934 and early 1935. Because he hated it and dreamed of being a writer, Williams later exaggerated his employment time there, saying it dragged on for three or four years. (Or maybe it just felt that way to him?) Williams wrote after work and late into the night at the kitchen table, getting by mostly on cigarettes and coffee.

At International Shoe, there was a brawny worker named Stanley Kowalski, a “ladies’ man,” who became Williams’ closest companion. According to one biographer, there is no evidence that the two men had a sexual relationship, but it is clear that Williams was infatuated with his co-worker, much as Blanche DuBois was drawn to the fictional Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Williams’ employment records at International Shoe list “ill health” as the reason for his resignation in the spring of 1935. Suffering from anxiety attacks that felt like cardiac arrest, Williams went to recuperate at his grandparents’ house in Memphis.

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kerouacburroughs

St. Louis, Mo.

William S. Burroughs home
4664 Pershing Avenue

Author William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was born on this quiet, tree-lined street, and the large, 3-story house belonging to his family is still standing. Burroughs’ family was wealthy: in 1885, Burroughs’ grandfather had invented the adding machine.

Young Burroughs began writing at age 8, and his first effort was a 10-page “novel” entitled “The Autobiography of a Wolf.” From then on, he wanted to be a writer, and penned everything from westerns to adventure stories to horror. As a teenager, he became obsessed with true crime and began writing detective and gangster fiction.

It was also in his teens that he first experimented with drugs (he later became addicted to heroin), and formed a romantic attachment with another boy at his boarding school. Drug addiction and homosexuality would become the primary themes of his adult fiction. Living off a monthly stipend from his family, he moved to New York City, where he and pals Jack Kerouac (above, right, with Burroughs) and Allen Ginsberg formed the core of the Beat Movement.

After Burroughs was arrested for possession of narcotics, he tried to start a new, drug-free life as a cotton farmer in Texas. But he was on and off junk and in and out of rehab, and when he was arrested a second time, he and his wife, Joan, decided to relocate to Mexico. There, in 1951, he accidentally shot and killed Joan during a drunken game of “William Tell.”  He lived much of the rest of his life in self-imposed exile in Europe and Tangiers.

Burroughs later claimed that his wife’s tragic death “motivated and formulated” his writing, but Kerouac and Ginsberg – who considered him a genius – were instrumental in spurring him on. Ginsberg (Burroughs’ occasional fuck buddy) helped get his first novel, Junkie (1953) published. Burroughs’ most famous novel was Naked Lunch (1959), a title suggested by Kerouac. It was a surrealistic account of an addict’s life, which was banned in Boston and was at the center of a famous censorship trial.

In all of his work, Burroughs drew on the genres that had fascinated him as a child writer in St. Louis and transformed them, creating his own distinctive and subversive brand of literature.

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beatrice.jpg

St. Louis, Mo.

Statue of Beatrice Cenci (1856)
St. Louis Mercantile Library
Thomas Jefferson Library Building
One University Blvd.

Originally from Watertown, Massachusetts, Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) applied to study anatomy – as preparation for sculpting the human body – at Boston Medical School and other eastern schools and was refused admittance. Wayman Crow, the father of one of her school friends, got her into the Missouri Medical College in St. Louis, where Hosmer lived with his family while she was a student. Crow, a prominent St. Louis businessman, became a lifelong benefactor of Hosmer, and his influence helped obtain important commissions for her. Among her public sculptures in the city are the Senator Thomas Hart Benton statue, Lafayette Park, and “Beatrice Cenci” at the Mercantile Library.

Back in Boston, Hosmer ran with a lesbian crowd, including Charlotte Cushman, the actress and art patron, and her lover, sculptor Emma Stebbins. While touring the country, Cushman was invited to visit the Crows, Hosmer’s second family, and became infatuated with Emma Crow, Wayman’s daughter, addressing her in letters as “my darling little lover,” much to Wayman’s dismay. When Cushman traveled to Rome, Hosmer went with her to study sculpture, writing to her worried benefactor: “I shall keep a sharper lookout on Miss Cushman and not allow her to go on in this serious manner with Emma – it is really dreadful and I am really jealous….” Knowing Wayman would disapprove, Hosmer used the convenient excuse of “keeping a lookout” on Cushman to justify living with her in Rome.

Throughout her life, Hosmer claimed that all she wanted to do was get married, but she never did. In a letter to Wayman, she joked, “I have been searching vainly for Mr. Hosmer.” In 1858, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife visited Hosmer at her studio in Rome, and the writer gave a telling description of her: “She had on a male shirt, collar, and cravat…. She was indeed very queer….”

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williams.jpg

St. Louis, Mo.

Tennessee Williams home
4633 Westminster Place  (private)

Born in Mississippi, Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams (1911-1983) spent most of his childhood and young manhood in St. Louis, after his father, a shoe salesman, secured employment there. But Williams’ father often drank or gambled away his paycheck, forcing the family to live in a variety of crowded, rented rooms, moving a dozen times in just a few years. In 1921 a small, dark apartment on the third floor of this building was home. A rear window was blocked by a fire escape, allowing only minimal light into the rooms. Williams’ parents were openly hostile to each other, and his mother was increasingly unhappy to be so far removed from the genteel life she had known as a Southern minister’s daughter.

Williams set his first successful play, the autobiographical Glass Menagerie, here on Westminster Place, though the actual events he depicted in that play happened at a later time in another apartment in St. Louis (see below). According to Williams’ stage instructions, the building in which the Wingfields lived was “one of those vast hive-like conglomerations of living-units that flower as warty growths in overcrowded urban centers of lower middle-class population.” This building was later named “The Glass Menagerie Apartments,” in recognition of its place in theatrical history; in 2006, it was gutted, converted into luxury condos, with a starting price of $220,000 each, and renamed “The Tennessee.”

During his last years of high school, Williams and his family moved to five small rooms at 6254 Enright Avenue. Though Williams went off to the university in Columbia in 1929, he returned to the apartment for summers and to live in 1932, when his father could no longer afford to finance his education. It was events at this address that Williams depicted in The Glass Menagerie. His older sister, Rose, who suffered from phobias and hysteria and had twice been hospitalized, was living at home and retreating more and more into herself. The social call that is at the heart of The Glass Menagerie occurred in 1933, when Tennessee’s mother tried unsuccessfully to set Rose up with one of her son’s college friends. Williams’ younger brother, Dakin, later recalled that “the events of The Glass Menagerie are a virtually literal rendering of our family life at 6254 Enright Avenue.”

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