Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.
THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Tennessee Williams’ first published standalone work was a story in the pulp magazine, Weird Tales!
Tennessee Williams is one of the most celebrated playwrights of the 20th Century (and one of the most celebrated American playwrights without qualification).
Between 1944 and 1960, he wrote some of the most famous plays in the history of American Theater…
And his first professional standalone work?
It appeared in the pages of Weird Tales magazine!
(The qualifier, by the way, is because a year earlier Williams had won third prize in an essay contest in Smart Set, so since there was a monetary prize for his winning essay, I suppose that sort of counts as his first professional work – but this was a work published on its own accord and not part of a contest)
Weird Tales magazine was a fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine. Its most famous contributors were H.P. Lovecraft, who debuted his Cthulhu stories in the pages of the magazine, and Robert E. Howard, who did not introduce Conan in the title, but you could argue that Weird Tales was where the character was popularized. Edmund Hamilton was another notable contributor.
But you also have to add young Tennesse Williams to the picture, who had a story published at age 16 in the August 1928 edition of Weird Tales (the same issue that Howard introduced his Solomon Kane character)…
The story was called “The Vengeance of Nitocris,” and it was about the sister of a pharaoh getting revenge on those that have betrayed (and murdered) her brother. Her revenge is pretty lurid (an elaborate death trap that allows her to view them as they die) and it is followed (Spoiler Alert! ) with her graphically taking her own life when she realizes she cannot escape retribution for her acts.
If you would like to stretch, you can even see some similarities between the story and his later, adult work (but it’s a pretty big stretch).
That was the beginning of Tennessee Williams’ pulp fiction career, but it was also the end. Soon he would go away to college, and while in school he began to devote his time exclusively to becoming a playwright which, obviously, worked out pretty well for him.
But imagine if he had gone the other route…who knows what tawdry tales lurked in the mind of Tennessee?!?
The legend is…
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