Tennessee, Not the State
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
One of the subtle, but profound, gifts of life are those moments when, unknowingly, we walk into a situation and the script just writes itself as you perform. All the world's a stage, right?.
I'd been out of work for a couple of years. It was 1977-78. A lot going on. A lot of changes in the wind. I'd graduated Temple University, achieving a Bachelor of Science degree within their R-T-F program (Radio, Television, Film). Now, I found myself living in Massachusetts (long story). After hundreds of letters written to television studios around the country (and many in England), not even an interview was offered. It just wasn't a time for hiring, especially hiring a young, white male. But, one day I noticed an opening at a local TV station for the position of 'production assistant.' Can't remember the call-letters or even the ID number (vague memory that it was the ABC affiliate), but it was a prestigious place and a great launchpad to get a career going. I made the appointment for an interview, and showed up freshly-showered and bushy-tailed. Parked the faded-red VW Rabbit—having to carefully slide by a poorly-parked white limo near the front door—walked into the reception area, signed-in, sat down. Only one other person was waiting. A small reception area. About 6 chairs and a receptionist. This guy, thankfully, wasn't here for the job. A middle-aged gent sat across from me and slightly to my right. He was dressed in a snow white three-piece suit, reading. On the chair to his left rested a white, summer fedora. On the chair to his right, a white miniature all-season poodle who was fidgeting and didn't want to be abandoned on the chair a moment longer. The man left his reading long enough to pick up the poodle, then glanced over, peeking over his glasses. Just a glance—then, back to the book as he held his friend on his lap. I didn't make much of this scene. It was a tv station just outside Boston, after all. I wanted to fit in, so I found a Popular Mechanics on the table and played the part of reading and waiting. "You also a guest on the show today?," the white-suited gentleman asked, his words wrapped in an elegant southern draw. I looked up to confirm he was addressing me. "Oh, no, sir. Just here for a job. That's all. A job." He added only a smiling "I see." We both went back to glancing at our reading material. As soon as I starting absorbing the next paragraph, "So, you live around here? You're from here?" Happy to chat with a stranger in a white suit with a white dog with an out-of-place southern accent in a tv reception room on a Spring day near Boston, Massachusetts, I easily answered, "Yes sir. I live here, but I'm from Pennsylvania. Born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania". At that point, it was off to the conversational races. Most of it was him asking me something, and me answering him as accurately as I could. As a young man in his twenties, I wasn't used to anyone of age and experience wanting to know anything about me. It was always the opposite, although I didn't always possess the grit to start the flow of chat (that's changed during the past 50 years). We talked for another twenty minutes or so until he was summoned to the set (a regional talk show). As he gathered his pup, chapeau, and small valise, that I only now noticed, he started walking through the door, but stopped long enough to turn, "I hope you get the job, young man. I'm sure they'll be lucky to have you." Only as he was leaving through the doorway did I realize who he was, Tennessee Williams, the author. I'd never read anything of his, but I certainly knew a number of his works through film (remember, film major): A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, The Night of the Iguana. I was also a fan of the Dick Cavett Show and had watched at least one interview with him. A stranger couldn't have been more kind. More generous. More elegant. This short episode's lodged itself into my memory all these years. It was natural and perfect. Just a conversation, but so beloved.
Footnote: The interview went well. My potential boss and I weren't that different in age and we seemed to communicate telepathically. But, at the end, he asked me to close the door to his office and sit down. Sullen. He admitted he'd love to hire me, right there, on the spot... but only if I was a woman, or a minority. And, so it goes.
But, hell, I'd met Tennessee Williams. I'm good.
Thomas Lanier Williams III (Tennessee Williams) / 1911-1983