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Luke (rt) and his good friend Larry Weishuhn are both in their mid seventies and still enjoying the great outdoors, maybe more now than ever! Photo by Luke Clayton
April 16, 2024

OLDER SPORTSMEN HAVE MORE FUN

Category: Outdoor Life Author: Super User
Luke (rt) and his good friend Larry Weishuhn are both in their mid seventies and still enjoying the great outdoors, maybe more now than ever! Photo by Luke ClaytonThere was a time back when I was in my twenties and thirties that I thought I would be hanging…
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April 13, 2024

Close-to-home fun

Category: Outdoor Life Author: Super User
As an outdoors writer for the past 39 years, I’ve become accustomed to “gallavanting” around the country fishing, hunting and collecting material for my articles. Lately though, I’ve been sticking pretty close to home. Kenneth Shephard with a good “eater…

Local ties to Tennessee Williams presented

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TennesseConnection

By Emily Banks Wooten
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Livingston native and internationally acclaimed theater director Margo Jones and her colleague, noted playwright Tennessee Williams, were the subjects of the program presented to the Rotary Club of Livingston Thursday, by Rotarian Debra Jenke and Diana Throckmorton, Dean of the School of Arts and Education at Angelina College.

“One of my first memories of coming into Livingston was of the Margo Jones home. The house appeared huge and pink, and I can remember trying to read the marker from what is now US 59 Business,” Jenke said.

“Born in 1911, she graduated from Livingston High School at the age of 15. Her older sister died when she was 11 and some biographers say it was the impetus for her to get out of Livingston. She went to Girl’s Industrial College of Texas, now Texas Women’s, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in speech in 1932 and a master’s in psychology and education in 1933. That means by the time she was 22, she had a bachelor’s degree and double master’s degree,” Jenke said.

“By 1935, at 24, she was traveling the world seeing theater – Japan, China, India, Africa, Europe – and meeting influential theater people. In 1939, at 28, she was named by Stage Magazine as one of 12 outstanding theater directors outside of New York – the only woman on the list. From 1942 to 1944, she taught theater and directed plays at the University of Texas. In 1942, she met Tennessee Williams and they began their personal and professional camaraderie,” Jenke said.

“She helped bring Tennessee Williams into the national limelight in 1943. One article said she ‘discovered him,’ though I don’t believe that. While directing one of Williams’ plays, she formulated an idea to change the scope of theater in America – a network of non-profit, professional resident theaters, outside of New York, to present new plays as well as classics. She co-directed the original production of Williams’ The Glass Menagerie in 1944 and its commercial success got her big-money backing from wealthy Dallasites, including the founder of Texas Instruments.

“Her theater opened in the Magnolia Lounge – Magnolia Petroleum Company, later Mobil Oil Building – the first professional arena theater, or theater in the round, in America and the first modern non-profit professional resident theater. The name was Theatre 47 and the name was to change each New Year’s Eve, to reflect the date of the next year,” Jenke said.

“She wanted to decentralize Broadway and was inspired by FDR’s Depression-era Federal Theatre Project. Theatre 47 became the model of how to build regional theaters. She became the key to actors, writers and technicians not having to face the hardships of Broadway. Her theater in the round allowed audiences to sit on three sides of the stage. Her start-ups were not expensive – no heavy drapes or massive scenery or sets.

“From 1947 to 1955, under her management, 70% of the plays she produced were world premieres, where young actors, including Larry Hagman, got their start. In 1953, she started an amateur black theater, Round Up Theatre. She invited a mixed-race audience in what was still a very segregated Dallas. Those who knew her recalled that she was very at ease among her black actors and audience, at a time when that was not often the case,” Jenke said.

“A play labeled too controversial, she was willing to take on ‘Inherit the Wind’ in 1955 based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, whether schools could teach the theory of evolution. It had been turned down by eight Broadway producers. She did it, successfully, in the fundamentalist deep south.

On July 17, 1955, she invited friends to a party, where she spilled paint on her carpet. Her secretary had the carpets cleaned, but the solvent was carbon tetrachloride, causing uremic poisoning. She was dizzy, taken to the hospital and knew she was dying, although not the cause, and began plans for an elaborate funeral, including how she was to be dressed and groomed.

“The Texas Historical Commission declared the pink house a state landmark. Her legacy lives on through the SMU Margo Jones Theatre and the Margo Jones Award given annually to a producing manager whose policy of presenting new works continues in her tradition.

Following Jenke’s introduction regarding Margo Jones, Throckmorton, a scholarly expert on Tennessee Williams, took over, telling more.

“The Glass Menagerie was his first very successful one which is where Margo fits in with this. It was produced in Chicago and made it to Broadway and Margo directed. He was in the limelight, then came ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and that cemented him. Then my favorite, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ ‘Suddenly Last Summer, ‘Night of the Iguana,” Throckmorton said.

“He wanted commercial success. All of the fame, all of the glory – that was his life. The connection between him and Margo was very significant. I agree with Debbie, she didn’t discover him. They were the same age. He had lied about his age because he wanted to submit something to a publication and wasn’t old enough,” Throckmorton said, adding that he was the first to use an onstage narrator.

“His father’s family was from Tennessee. He had a very southern accent. Tennessee was his nickname, and it probably came from his college buddies. He put his life in his plays. William Faulkner said, ‘write what you know.’ That’s a smart thing to do and that’s how he made his fortune,” Throckmorton said of Williams, adding that he also, thematically, explored topics that others did not. “Sexual excess. He trotted that out in a time when that was not accepted. Mental illness. Tennessee Williams left to get away from an overbearing father and a hysterical mother and he always felt guilty for leaving his sister Rose, who was later lobotomized at 22 and following the procedure, had the mental capabilities of a 6-year-old. Tennessee Williams felt ‘what have I done?’ even though it wasn’t his responsibility.

“He had a very rural, southern upbringing. He grew up with his maternal grandparents. His parents were a different dynamic for Tennessee as a boy. He had diphtheria and his mother bought him a typewriter and he began writing. I can pick out his family in any play. There are so many parallels,” Throckmorton said, adding that next week is the 24th annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival.

 

 

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