Follies of God is a book that came a long at just the right time for me. I had been thinking about Tennessee Williams for a while and had just read one of his plays. He has long been a figure that has fascinated me, both the man and his work.
I was watching YouTube videos one evening and came across an interview with a young man who told a story about meeting Tennessee Williams. It seems he got a call one morning and his mother woke him and said there was a man on the phone who says his name is Tennessee Williams. The young man realized that it must be him because he had written him a letter asking for advice on how to be a writer. He took the call. As the young man related the story, Tennessee asked him to come to have lunch with him. Where are you, he asked? I am in New Orleans, Tennessee answered. But I’m, in Baton Rouge. Well, you better hurry. So, the next day James Grissom drove to New Orleans to meet Tennessee Williams for lunch and thus began the amazing story of how this book came about. Well, I was hooked. I ordered the book that night on Amazon and it arrived very shortly thereafter.
James met with Tennessee Williams and was given a mission. To find the women that had meant so much to him, the women who appeared in his plays and movies, and some of whom were his muses and characters he modeled his characters on or wrote for. He wanted to know if he mattered to them. He called these women, The Follies of God. The characters he created for the stage he called, The Women of the Fog. Tennessee described his writing process as one of creating a mental theater in his mind. The fog rolls in across the boards and a female emerges. “I have been very lucky. I am a multi-souled man, because I have offered my soul to so many women, and they have filled it, repaired it, sent it back to me for use.”
This book is the story of that mission and how it came to be. It also gives us deep insight into the mind of one of the most creative geniuses of the American theater. Tennessee Williams needed a witness and young James Grissom was who he chose.
“Good Lord, can I get a witness? Here is the importance of bearing witness. We do not grow alone; talents do not prosper in a hothouse of ambition and neglect and hungry anger. Love does not arrive by horseback or prayer or good intentions. We need the eyes, the arms, and the witness of others to grow, to know that we have existed, that we have mattered, that we have made our mark. And each of us has a distinct mark that colors our surroundings, that flavors the recipe of every experience in which we find ourselves; but we remain blind, without identity until someone witnesses us.”
During the course of fulfilling his mission James Grissom talked to some of the most important figures on the American Theater scene: Lillian Gish, Maureen Stapleton, Marlon Brando, Elia Kazan, John Gielgud, Jessica Tandy, Kim Hunter, Geraldine Page, and Katherine Hepburn, to name a few. This book is the fascinating account of his interviewing these witnesses and the sometime startling things they had to day. And yes, Tennessee did matter, and so he still does.