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Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh Hardcover – September 22, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 784 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (September 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393021246
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393021240
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,299 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Offers plenty of backstage anecdotes and high private drama…. But Mr. Lahr, ever the critic, keeps the plays themselves front and center…. The book has already won enthusiastic advance notice…along with blurbs from a kick line of A-list ‘theatricals’ including Helen Mirren, John Guare and Tony Kushner.” (Jennifer Schuessler - New York Times)

“Intricately detailed… gripping.” (Janet Maslin - New York Times)

“A masterpiece.” (Hilton Als - New Yorker)

“Scintillating on the backstage and bedroom dramas and almost intrusively perceptive on the autobiographical nature of Williams’ art.” (Charles McNulty - Los Angeles Times)

“A crucial contribution to the arguments that should always rage around a man who was one of the greatest American playwrights of his tempestuous century.” (Chris Jones - Chicago Tribune)

“This is by far the best book ever written about America's greatest playwright. John Lahr, the longtime drama critic for the New Yorker, knows his way around Broadway better than anyone. He is a witty and elegant stylist, a scrupulous researcher, a passionate yet canny advocate… He brings us as close to Williams as we are ever likely to get.” (J.D. McClatchy - Wall Street Journal)

“Raises the curtain on Tennessee Williams.” (Elissa Schappell - Vanity Fair)

“There is only one word for this biography: superb.” (Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review)

“Brilliant… [Lahr’s] achievement is not likely to be surpassed.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Could this be the best theater book I've ever read? It just might be. Tennessee Williams had two great pieces of luck: Elia Kazan to direct his work and now John Lahr to make thrilling sense of his life.” (John Guare, author of Six Degrees of Separation)

“Splendid beyond words. It would be hard to imagine a more satisfying biography.” (Bill Bryson)

“Swear-to-god, it's the most original, insightful, thrilling biography I've ever read!” (Elizabeth Ashley)

“This is a masterpiece about a genius. Only John Lahr, with his perceptions about the theater, about writers, about poetry, and about people could have written this book. What a marvelous read.” (Helen Mirren)

“Unsurpassable…An eloquent, spellbinding narrative that emerges as an instant classic.” (Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Washington: A Life)

“It is a MAGNIFICENT work. Mesmerizing, illuminating, and heartbreaking.” (André Gregory)

“Brilliant and seamless. A labor of the profoundest love, and it comes from the heart and mind of one of our greatest theater writers.” (André Bishop, artistic director of Lincoln Center Repertory Theater)

“A splendid book, one of the finest critical biographies extant.” (Robert Brustein)

“There's never been an American critic like John Lahr. His writing exalts, honors, and dignifies the profession and, more importantly, the art.” (Tony Kushner)

“The singular achievement of John Lahr’s magisterial book, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh is that it’s one betwitching writer’s journey into the lives—public and private—of another.” (Jeremy Gerard - Deadline Hollywood)

“Magnificent…one of the best written and most extraordinary biographies I’ve ever read, in any field.” (Mike Fischer - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

“At once sensitive and magisterial, and it fulfills the ultimate test for a literary biography by convincing you that the works cannot be understood without it. Once you have read it, it becomes part of their meaning.” (John Carey - Sunday Times (UK))

“It is a masterpiece on several levels: of synthesis and analysis (an amazing life apprehended afresh, with great learning lightly borne and a strong streak of showbiz savvy; a page-turner that is almost embarrassingly devourable).” (Paul Taylor - The Independent)

“Scintillating on the backstage and bedroom dramas and almost intrusively perceptive on the autobiographical nature of Williams' art.” (Charles McNulty - Chicago Tribune)

“Essential reading for anyone who cares about the theater.” (Wendy Smith - Daily Beast)

“Dazzling… an epic achievement.” (Ann Levin - Associated Press)

“Fascinating… Lahr gives us a sense of the ebb and flow of Williams’s life, exercising a critic’s keen eye on the plays, a novelist’s gift for characterization, and a historian’s awareness of the way a changing American society colored his work… As much a biography of the plays as of the playwright—a book that lets the life illuminate the work and the work illuminate the life.” (Charles Matthews - Washington Post)

“A work that is scintillating on the backstage and bedroom dramas and almost intrusively perceptive on the autobiographical nature of Williams' art.” (Kevin Nance - Chicago Tribune)

“Lahr has managed to capture the complex and at times contradictory qualities—the razor wit and gracious Southern charm, the bottomless drive and uncanny capacity for self-destruction—that characterized one of the 20th century's greatest writers.” (Elyse Gardner - USA Today)

“Excellent… A forceful claim for the playwright’s immortality.” (Laura Collins-Hughes - Boston Globe)

“Lahr’s expansive, polished and keenly observed volume is a major work of American theater criticism and biography.” (Gerald Bartell - San Francisco Chronicle)

About the Author

John Lahr, the author of eighteen books, was the senior drama critic of The New Yorker for over two decades. He has twice won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism and is the first critic ever to win a Tony Award for coauthoring the 2002 Elaine Stritch at Liberty.

More About the Author

John Lahr writes for The New Yorker, where he was for 21 years the Senior drama critic of the magazine. A veteran of all aspects of the theatre, Lahr has contributed behind-the-scenes portraits, reviews, and Profiles, and has expanded the magazine's drama coverage beyond Broadway to include the work of international theatre and regional companies.

A former theatre critic at The Nation, The Village Voice, and British Vogue, among other publications, Lahr has published seventeen books on the theatre and two novels, "The Autograph Hound," and "Hot to Trot." His book "Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilization," won the 1992 Roger Machell Prize for best book on the performing arts. His other works include "Light Fantastic: Adventures in Theatre," (1996) and "Show and Tell: New Yorker Profiles," (2000). In 2001, he edited "The Diaries of Kenneth." His expanded New Yorker article on Frank Sinatra was made into a book with photographs, "Frank Sinatra: The Artist and the Man." Lahr's most recent book is "Honky Tonk Parade: New Yorker Profiles of Show People," published in 2005.

Lahr served as literary adviser to the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in 1968, and as Literary Manager of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre from 1969 to 1971. He was the co-producer of the 1987 film "Prick Up Your Ears," based on his Joe Orton biography of the same title, and was the editor of "The Orton Diaries." Lahr has also written numerous movie scripts. His short film "Sticky My Fingers. . . Fleet My Feet" (directed by John Hancock) was nominated for an Academy Award in 1971.

Lahr is a two-time winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. In 1968, he became the prize's youngest recipient; he was honored again in 1993. Lahr has written many stage adaptations, which have been performed in England and the United States, including:"Accidental Death of an Anarchist," "The Manchurian Candidate," "The Bluebird of Unhappiness: A Woody Allen Revue," and "Diary of a Somebody," which began at the Royal National Theatre, played the West End, and later toured England. He co-authored the Tony Award-winning "Elaine Stritch at Liberty," which won the 2002 Drama Desk Award for outstanding book of a musical. Lahr, who was the first drama critic to win a Tony Award, is the son of the comedian Bert Lahr, whom he wrote about in his biography "Notes on a Cowardly Lion." He divides his time between New York and London and maintains a Web site at www.johnlahr.com.

Customer Reviews

The book combines discussions of many of Williams works, with a discussion of Williams' life.
Robin Friedman
John Lahr's biography, "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrim of the Flesh,"is the best theatre book I've read in a lifetime as actor, teacher, director and writer.
Joe Stockdale
This is both a biography and a work of interpretative criticism, but it reads like a great, great novel.
Joel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Joe Stockdale on October 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
John Lahr's biography, "Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrim of the Flesh,"is the best theatre book I've read in a lifetime as actor, teacher, director and writer. I was already hooked on theatre when I served aboard the USS Wyoming dry-docked in New York harbor for an overhaul and I picked up a freefer at the Stage Door Canteen forWilliams's play, "The Glass Menagerie."

That single performance is burned into my emotional memory as the most memorable of a lifetime. Taylor's acting and Tennessee's writing have been the most lasting influences of my own study, teaching and work in the theatre.

I've seen most all the original Williams productions in New York; had the opportunity to direct several in both college and AEA professional regional theatres; read everything published (plus a few original drafts) but this biography by John Lahr is the definitive last word. A labor of love some twelve years in the making, it is extensively researched, beautifully written and clearly told. It clarifies and contradicts exaggerations and outright fabrications
already out there. The emphasis here is a detailed study of Tennessee himself via an insightful empathetic analysis of his characters--Amanda, Blanche,Stanley-you name them--in order for you to know, understand and appreciate the playwright himself, his tragedy,courage and determination as an artist. For anyone interested in humanism and understanding you will find no more definitive portrait of our greatest American writer than in the page-turning book by Mr Lahr. For your own sake, hie yourself to the nearest bookstore, or your computer, and order it. You're in for one hell of a great read.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Philip L. Tudor on September 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have always wanted to read a biography of Tennessee Williams after I saw "Summer and Smoke" many years ago in the early morning hours. A few years ago, I made my first try by starting "Tom", which was supposed to be the first of two comprehensive books about Williams' life. Unfortunately, the author died before Book Two could be completed; and, in addition, I found "Tom" to be one of the driest books I had ever read, full of facts but not written in a way that I wanted to turn to the next page. Thus, I gave up after a few pages.

John Lahr was supposed to pick up where the author of "Tom" left off, and thankfully decided to write an entirely new and excellent biography. This book not only covers Williams' life in a readable way that engages the reader; but also analyzes each of Williams' works as they related to events of, and the psychology of, Williams own life and emotions. It also provides, through letters and remembrances of the people involved, the inside dealings of Broadway and Hollywood. The reader feels like she or he is actually present as the plays and films are created.

Although to the dismay of some gay liberation groups, Williams' "coming out" as a statement was far from dramatic, the book shows that Williams was a pioneer of gay liberation long before there WAS a gay liberation movement. Williams never attempted to hide his sexuality, even when he was the object of intense public focus after he became famous. He simply lived his life, which happened to include a gay lifestyle, and those around him accepted him for who he was.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Joel on September 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book not because of any great interest in Tennessee Williams or his work, but because of my huge esteem for John Lahr as a critic. And having now fallen into the world of Tennessee Williams, I find myself, somewhat to my surprise, hugely interested in it. What Lahr has done with this book is to make Williams come fully alive, as if in flesh and blood - I don't know that I've ever read a biography that has accomplished this improbable feat so skillfully. And the complicated and fascinating relationship between the life and the creative impulse and the often anguished realization of that impulse on the page and then on the stage (with the crucial intervention of producers, directors and actors) is clarified in a mesmerizingly absorbing narrative. This is both a biography and a work of interpretative criticism, but it reads like a great, great novel.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Who better to chronicle the life of one of America's greatest playwrights than John Lahr the Senior Drama critic for The New Yorker for 21 years. He's not only a fine journalist but an astute historian, able to mix fact with variations on themes and come up with a biography of a very controversial subject as Williams that reads like a novel - and just about as lurid in parts as Williams' colorful life.

Time changes perceptions and what was once considered to be material only the crude would applaud has now moved from the legitimate theater to the movie house and to the opera houses. Lahr very expertly takes us through the maze that was Williams' life, and for once he reveals far more that the gossip columnists teased the public's attention. Williams for all the controversy was a gifted writer and his impossibly important works will likely remain active o the stages around the world for many years. This biography is thorough and exceedingly entertaining. Grady Harp, October 14
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