"To Begin With, I Turn Back Time": A Look at the History of The Glass Menagerie

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08 May 2014

Tennessee Williams
Tennessee Williams

Playbill.com looks at the history of Tennessee Williams' famed memory play The Glass Menagerie, which was revived on Broadway this past season, earning seven Tony nominations, the first time the play has ever been recognized by the Tony Awards.

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In the opening scene of The Glass Menagerie, Tom Wingfield mentions "the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for." While Wingfield is referring to the long-awaited Gentleman Caller his family has been longing for, the play itself has finally achieved a long-delayed accomplishment of its own, earning its very first Tony Award nominations.

It may be surprising to some that Tennessee Williams' memory play — one of his most well-known works — has never before been nominated for a Tony Award. The autobiographical story of a struggling family, The Glass Menagerie premiered in Chicago in 1944, where it was championed by several midwest critics. It then moved to Broadway, where it opened in 1945, starring Laurette Taylor as Amanda, Eddie Dowling as Tom, Julie Haydon as Laura and Anthony Ross as The Gentleman Caller, Jim.

Taylor's performance as the dominating matriarch Amanda has been widely acclaimed for decades and became the subject of theatre lore — the New York Times said of her performance, "Miss Taylor's picture of a blowsy, impoverished woman who is living on memories of a flower-scented Southern past is completely perfect. It combines qualities of humor and human understanding" — and the production was honored with the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best American Play in 1945. But The Glass Menagerie's Broadway bow did not receive any Tony Awards because it opened two years before the awards were created.

The play's success elevated Williams from obscurity to fame; the Times said, "Mr. Williams has a real ear for faintly sardonic dialogue, unexpected phrases and an affection for his characters... The Glass Menagerie, like spring, is a pleasure to have in the neighborhood." A Streetcar Named Desire soon followed, and between 1948-59 seven of Williams' plays had been produced on Broadway.



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