In ’48 or ’49 Tennessee Williams visited Key West, Florida, where he found a fishing village with a Navy Yard full of beautiful young things. There were many reasons to stay. Despite the homophobia of the day and the random beatings it was worth it to him to tolerate these slights to his humanity.
He wrote well here. He wasn’t wanted but he was undeterred. And the rewards were heaping, from the ocean swims, the routine of writing in the morning, painting in the afternoon and throwing around the fairy dust with the sailors in the bars all night.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, which did not suit him and where he worked as a shoe salesman, there was no looking back once he left.
Whether he knew who he was yet or not one can speculate, but he knew who he was not. He was not staying in St. Louis.
In Philadelphia Tennessee Williams went to a party where he met visionary David Wolkowsky. They would become life long friends, despite that David says, ‘I kept my distance!’ David had a way with Williams where others often found him difficult. The problem was likely he was more intelligent than most people. At that time in Philadelphia Williams was working with Paul Bowles who was scoring music for some of his work. Tennessee Williams’ favorite playwright was Jane Bowles.
By 1962 David Wolkowsky returned to his home of Key West to find his Philadelphia pals already there and the quaint village overflowed with prowling intellectuals. Key West was a party and the news traveled, drawing others like Truman Capote, McGuane, etc.
In 1973 David bought the island Ballast Key and frequently packed Williams off with crates of wine, tapes of Billie Holliday and paint supplies. From these endeavors we have a fascinating collection of paintings housed permanently at the Custom House Museum.
As David says, ‘Tennessee had a feeling about people and it flowed on his canvases’. David adds, ‘He painted with humor.’