Saturday, September 24, 2016

Tennessee Williams: The Human Instinct

Photograph by Gerard Malanga/1974

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

(Something I deleted from Follies of God, and wish I hadn't, for here we are again.)

The human instinct is brutal and selfish. There are schools of thought about that tell us to return to our basic sweetness and equity, but I find this utter fantasy. We do not return to kindness: we are elevated to kindness. The enlightened person behaves well; is kind; is fair; is generous. The natural person is perpetually replacing the nipple for which he cried the moment he was pulled into the world and slapped on the ass. Is this not just the perfect introduction to the world? It lets the newborn know what is coming.

We want our shelter and our food and our carnal comforts, and the animal instinct, which is our natural instinct, tells us--in a paranoid and persistent voice--that someone, a group, an ideology is out to take these things away from us. Be aware. Protect your women and your crops and your body. Someone is after it, and whether this is true or not--and it is mostly untrue, because we are looking for own shelters and comforts--it leads to fear and carnage.

The revolution comes when people feel ignored, when even their most paranoid utterings are dismissed. Lacking talent or elevated behavior, they resort to violence and slander; rage and destruction. Take the long view as you age and you will see this recurring phenomenon. The rise of the ignored, the people who never sought to rise only to appear risen by lowering everyone else.

Protect yourself. Elevate yourself. Be kind, strong, and ever-present.

The animal instinct appears as a primary character in all of my work, because it is a primary character in all of our lives.

©  2016  James Grissom

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tennessee Williams on Edward Albee: Love and Love Denied

From Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog
By James Grissom (Knopf/Vintage)

"The love that I feel for Edward Albee extends far beyond his work," Tenn told me, returning to the bed and leaning against a small pile of pillows. "I think that his is the most extraordinary talent to emerge in the last thirty years. I have admired other plays, and other writers, but his work is emotionally dangerous and stunningly beautiful. I can't think of any other writer who has managed to combine the lean and the lapidary. He understands to a shocking degree the ravages both of love and of love denied. His command of the language is far beyond me. My words come from some instinctual dictionary that responds to fear and rage, but he has a full command of the language and can therefore achieve more with less effort.

"You can see that I feel it is important that his work be studied. His is work from which you can learn, but the love of which I spoke derives from the fact that Edward remains the only playwright who truly acknowledged me and my work, and that is a great honor, especially considering his greater abilities. That I should have been noticed by this man, that I should have been of some aid, means a great deal to me. While others write my obituary and perpetually recalculate my worth and my gifts, he has always been loyal in his respect, and he has waved at me across some rocky seas."

EDWARD ALBEE  1928-2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Katharine Hepburn on Happiness

Interview with Katharine Hepburn
Conducted by James Grissom

I don't wake up in the morning hoping to be happy. I wake up in the morning hoping to be useful, to let the world, the earth, know that I'm here and I'm giving to it what I can. Happiness, you know, is like becoming famous or becoming rich: It might be what you were hoping for, but it's like giving birth to a unicorn. At first you marvel at the thing, but then it's terribly, terribly hard to train it or feed it or keep it under control, and then you want to find a new home for it. Some things happen to show up, but I always show up, and that makes me happy.

© 2016 James Grissom

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Marian Seldes on Teaching

Interview with Marian Seldes
Conducted by James Grissom

I am no different, really, when I am teaching or when I am acting. I am always engaged in loving my partners; learning about them, sharing with them; and learning as much as I can about myself and others. We change all the time, I think. The world and its people and its history will do that to you, if you are awake and sensitive and proactive. Our basic natures might remain the same, but we change shape a lot: We just come to realize that we were wrong about certain things. We come alive with what a particular writer or actor or musician does to us. I find this very exciting--this changing and waking up and coming alive.

Teaching was perfect for me, in that it allowed me to be involved in helping people I loved wake up and come alive. Those students were my children, of course, but also my peers. When a student discovers Sheridan or Shakespeare or Albee or Williams, I rediscover it, and I see it in an entirely new way: I see it through the young eyes of my beloved students. I would become jaded about plays and playwrights: I might have thought that their time had passed. But then the play comes to me through these passionate children of mine, and I'm in love all over again.

I was devastated when I was asked to teach. I thought it meant I was no longer viable as an actress. I thought I was moving into my older years, cast aside. I was so wrong. It changed my life completely, and I am more in love with life and people and the theatre than I ever thought I could be.

You love a student, then you teach the student to love and take care of himself. You have to be kind to yourself, husband yourself.  We can never let anyone we love devalue himself. We have to lift them up; we have to let them how valuable they are. I also try to impart to students that they should stop thinking of things too much and feeling things a bit more. If something moves you, as Tennessee [Williams] told you--as Harold Clurman believed--own it. Stand up for it. Make it yours. It may not be as powerful to you in ten or twenty years, but you still love it. It taught you something, gave you something. It is a part of you.

Anyone I teach or work with becomes a part of my life, and I am such a rich woman because of this. I have changed so much and received so much because of all the gifts people have placed at my feet.

 ©  2016  James Grissom

Friday, August 26, 2016

Tennessee Williams: Trying to Find the Door

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

Every thing I've written is autobiographical. The situations were creative, fabricated to house the very real predicaments in which I continually find myself. My writing, like my life, is the persistent act of trying to find the door through which I can escape myself and the unique plots I craft around myself. If I wrote a play about a disoriented astronaut on the moon, it would really be a means by which I was trying to discover if I could live while sober. If I wrote a story about a lost boy trying to find his mother, it could be me grieving for my own mother, or trying desperately to find the next word, the next sentence, the next day in my life.

© 2016 James Grissom

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Elizabeth Taylor: Republicans, Pride, and Love

Interview with Elizabeth Taylor
Conducted by James Grissom
Hotel Carlyle
New York City

You know, Republicans weren't always so bad. Hell, I married one! But now they're growing so pinched and mean, envious and petty, like the extras on the set, giving the evil eye to the star.

If you live your life or craft a philosophy around the idea that you've been unfairly denied something, then you operate out of spite, and you take things away from people that you feel aren't deserving or they've got things that weren't fairly distributed. 

It's how you look at things. I can't sing, God knows, but I benefit from those who can. Would I try to take away the voice of Leontyne Price? The world wins because we have Leontyne Price. Or Olivier. Or Richard Burton. Or Picasso. Or Graham Greene. Is it fair that I can't do what they do? I don't deal with questions like that. I ask, Is it fair that I get to wallow in all that they've given me? Everybody is blessed by their gifts.

No one can take anything away from me, from anyone. But the world is now broken down the middle, with one side believing that their stuff is being purloined by another group.

I want a world, a government, that loves its people and takes care of them. I want a world that recognizes that the cost of ignoring the sick and the hungry and the uneducated is bigger  than any tax. I want a world that is safe, so we listen to those who can show us how to protect it. I want a world that is set, like a perfect gem, on the ideal setting, to display and to remind everyone that this is theirs, this is ours.

I want a world where you get older and have a little something set aside, and then you go out in the world and hold people, read to people, help people on the street. Did you see that yesterday when I helped that woman with her stuff? She didn't know--didn't give a damn--that I was Elizabeth Taylor. I was a pair of arms. I was someone who smelled good and gave a shit.

©  2016  James Grissom

Friday, August 5, 2016

Tennessee Williams: New Ways of Magic

Interview with Tennessee Williams
Conducted by James Grissom
New Orleans

Whatever is magical in the world, whatever brings color and sound and light and joy, was brought into the center of living by those people curious enough--perhaps angry enough--to go to the edge of town, the forest, the river, and see what else was in the world. Someone recognized the boredom, the waste of sitting in the dark and merely living and invented the story and the song. Someone recognized that the mere act of procreation was insufficient, and love and seduction and play was invented.

We think of magic as a myth, a game, a trick, but it is magic that sustains us, and we must always find new ways to bring it into our lives.

©  2016  James Grissom