EXCLUSIVE: Broad Green Pictures just acquired an award-winning biography of Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams as the basis of a biopic on the legendary playwright. Williams’ plays — A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Sweet Bird Of Youth, The Night Of The Iguana, The Rose Tattoo and so many others — have been a mainstay of Broadway for years and have also been brought to the big screen (some with multiple incarnations).
The book that Broad Green optioned is John Lahr’s Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage Of The Flesh which follows the playwright’s life from childhood through to death. Broad Green’s Lauren McCarthy and Shary Shirazi will be overseeing the project for the company.
Lahr (son of actor Bert) has authored numerous books (including Prick Up Your Ears) and was a theater critic at The New Yorker for 21 years until his retirement two years ago. His book on Williams won the National Book Critics Circle Award, The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award and the Lamda Award for best gay biography. In the UK, it won the Sheridan Morley Prize for Theater Biography.
The project will next go out to writers to adapt, and whoever lands the assignment will have a rich story with which to work. It continues Broad Green’s aggressive growth into generating its own projects.
Williams, who was born in Mississippi, was a frail and sickly child whose alcoholic father was constantly on him to become stronger. When he got a little older in high school, he began to write and started winning awards for his essays. He decided to become a journalist and went to University of Missouri’s Columbia Journalism School before dropping out and moving back home to St. Louis where his father put him to work at a shoe factory. The tedium drove him over the edge and he suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 24.
When he got back on his feet, he wrote his first play at Washington University (Wash U) in St. Louis and then ended up in New York, and that is when his career as a playwright took off. He also found love with his assistant Frank Merlo. Even though they had split up, Williams took care of Merlo until he lost his battle with lung cancer. Behind the scenes he took care of his schizophrenic sister with royalties from his plays. But like father, like son, and Williams became an alcoholic and led a life embracing addiction. He died at the age of 71.