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Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog Paperback – August 9, 2016
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“A portrait of Tennessee Williams that is richer, more enthralling and, yes, stranger, than any heretofore. . . . This is an extraordinary work. Not only for those who love theater, but also for those who would seek an understanding of the mind of the artist.” —New York Journal of Books
“Amazing and quite wonderful. . . . A unique and stirring examination of the profound effect of numerous talented actresses on Williams’ memorable work. . . . Grissom’s book is among the most surprising and provocative journeys into the soul of a writer.” —Peter Bogdanovich
“Grissom magically captures the vein and even voice of Tennessee in this beautifully written book about the actresses in his plays. Would that I had been one of them! There is no greater American playwright and Follies of God reveals why.” —Jane Alexander
“There have been plenty of books written about Williams over the past three decades, but few weave so many voices into an original and compelling portrait. Grissom honors the life and achievement of his doomed correspondent.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A unique personal blend of road trip and literary history. . . . Philosophical, pragmatic, funny, and devastating. . . . Grissom has succeeded in creating a kaleidoscope meditation on the people who entered Williams’ imagination—‘the fog’—to become his signature characters.” —Publishers Weekly
“Imagine: a great playwright nearing the end of a troubled life charges a young writer with the quixotic task of tracking down the playwright’s favorite actresses and finding out if he mattered to them. It sounds the stuff of fantasy. But young James Grissom took up Tennessee Williams’ request and decades later has produced the result of that quest in an original, hypnotic, sui generis, bound-to-be-controversial document that becomes the history of his education as well as the illumination of ours. Thank you, James Grissom, for honoring the promise.” —John Guare, author of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation
“Extraordinary. . . . Grissom manages the remarkable feat of unlocking the creative process of America’s foremost dramatist. . . . A highly idiosyncratic journey into the nature of creativity.” —James Fisher, Theatre Library Association
“A great work. . . . It takes a humane artist to capture the quality of another, and Grissom is surely that.” —Gay City News
“Memorable. . . . Provides new and valuable insights into the playwright’s psyche and life.” —Library Journal
“Grissom had amazing access to Tennessee Williams—and to the great actresses who starred in his plays. His revelations about these remarkable talents coping with the passage of time are moving and often shocking in their truths. A dazzling piece of writing.” —Lee Grant
“Always thoughtful, sometimes stunning, I see Follies of God as a kaleidoscope for viewing Tennessee Williams, and his time and place in American theater. A little turn, a new surprise, another view forms itself. There’s nothing like it.” —Lois Smith
“Grissom’s electrifying and wonderfully readable book is the real thing. He has caught the voice, the man, the artist, exactly as I remember him. . . . Few people have captured so well Tennessee’s strange mixture of fear and admiration for women, his profound understanding (rare among men) of what drives them, their dominating presence in all his work, and his miraculous ability to work the magic of their strengths and weaknesses into some of the most powerful roles in the American theater.” —Michael Korda, author of Clouds of Glory
“Grissom’s book is peerless . . . in both what it says about the creative sources of America’s greatest playwright and in the way that it says it. . . . A magisterial summing up of a tormented soul for whom salvation was to be found only through language. . . . Reveals Williams to us fully as artist and human being—a flawed, fearful, self-destructive, achingly vulnerable, gallant, forever questing pilgrim: a genius and a visionary who tragically could never seem to take the measure of his own unparalleled gifts. This is an unexpected masterpiece.” —Foster Hirsch, author of Otto Preminger and The Dark Side of the Screen
About the Author
JAMES GRISSOM studied at Louisiana State University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has written for HBO, Showtime, CBS, and NBC. He lives in New York.
Top Customer Reviews
The actresses who came out of his personal fog included Lillian Gish, Jessica Tandy, Julie Harris, Geraldine Page, Kim Hunter, Kim Stanley, Marian Seldes, Mildred Natwick, Francis Sternhagen, Katherine Hepburn, and more. In many cases we get to hear their opinions of each other personally and professionally. Williams tells of his deep personal friendship with Maureen Stapleton and his long, intimate relationship with playwright and competitor William Inge. Considerable light is shed on the success and failure of Actor’s Studio, and had Lillian Hellman been a part of this story, we would have record of the three great American playwrights working in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Unexpectedly, we even get to hear Williams’ admiration for the plays of John Guare and Edward Albee. The most curious omission is of any mention of Williams’ last great play, “The Night of the Iguana,” especially since it starred two women mentioned respectfully elsewhere: Margaret Leighton and Bette Davis. Considering that there are so many interviews that had to be edited and connected, Grissom is deserving of a standing ovation. The value of this remarkable work is that Grissom has preserved not only the voice of Tennessee Williams, but so many theatrical legends who are now gone.
Comparisons to Lahr's biography on Williams are irrelevant. This is not a traditional, chronological biography, but yet it is biographical in the highest sense because no book I have read helps you to understand William's psychology and process as this one does. The section on Jessica Tandy and the evolution of "Streetcar" is revelatory. Williams has always been one of my favorite playwrights and I now have a much greater understanding of his intentions, creative process and the neurotic tendencies that drove him to write in that singularly unique voice that he found within himself.
Grissom's writing ties the disparate parts together with a musicality and directness that complements Williams' writing. It is easy to discern that Grissom took great pains to document all the interviews as carefully and truthfully as possible. His detail and precision makes the scattered, often fragmented mind of Williams clearer and more comprehendible. And in doing so, Grissom gives Tenn the wings to finally fly, knowing that his work will always matter, resonate and endure.