Her father's first wife was Tennessee Williams's first love
January 5, 2018 7:57 PM   Subscribe

That day my mother revealed to me a secret that my father had wanted to keep hidden from my sister and me: He had been married before my mother, for 12 years. This fact was both astonishing and tantalizing. I badgered Mom for every tidbit she might share. She let the story slip out in pieces. Something had gone wrong in my dad’s first marriage. The woman had died in 1951 in some mysterious way, in the company of another man. Her name had been Hazel Kramer before she became Hazel McCabe. Mom added, seemingly as an afterthought, “I know that she used to be Tennessee Williams’s girlfriend.

His Other Life: Searching for My Father, His First Wife and Tennessee Williams is a memoir. The link at the top goes to an essay in the Washington Post by the author, Melanie McCabe.

The picture that emerges has all the elements of a Williams drama, where life can be squandered on an imaginary fortune, blighted dreams, unconsummated desires, and the deadly solace of drug addiction. For the homosexual Williams, Hazel—the woman who would marry McCabe's father, Terence—was the woman he could neither have nor forget. “I never loved anyone as I loved her,” he later wrote. -Kirkus Reviews

In His Other Life, McCabe skillfully creates a dual portrait of her father. She shows him as her loving and protective parent, but also as the younger man she never knew: a lanky aspiring writer with “chiseled cheekbones” who married a high-spirited redhead he met at university. -Foreword reviews

The first chapter was published in Shenandoah, and is available free online.

Mrs. McCabe was my English teacher in high school
posted by 4th number (6 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
In my junior-year high school English Class, Mrs. McCabe taught A Streetcar Named Desire, and we'd do the thing where different students, rotating, read the lines of the various characters and the narration. She'd always read Blanche's lines herself, and she did so with great skill and relish. It was a good teaching choice; a focus on Blanche leads nicely into understanding the themes and the other characters.

She's also a published poet! Here's her web site. Down in the bottom right is a column of links to poems you can read online, like this one.
posted by 4th number at 8:19 PM on January 5, 2018 [4 favorites]

"I've always depended on the web posts of strangers..."
posted by jim in austin at 9:08 PM on January 5, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have an attenuated birth family relative who includes McCabe as a (maiden?) name, strikes me I should follow up on this, given other literary traces scattered over there.
posted by mwhybark at 1:33 AM on January 6, 2018

Why am I so surprised that Mr. Williams had a girlfriend? Maybe because I know something of his boyfriends and never considered that he swung both ways.

I'm going to buy Ms. McCabe's book and reread the bio of Williams that I have.
posted by james33 at 6:16 AM on January 6, 2018

I've been delving in to some family history like this going back to the 50s. No one as famous as Williams, but affairs and unwanted pregnancies and the like. It's sort of strange trying to delve back 60 years and realize that of course people back then were just as complicated as people are today. That the polite veneer of relationships we were taught about our families are not the full story, but rather the story everyone wants to remember.

Williams made a whole career as a playwright exposing the fraught emotional stories of people's lives behind the curtain of politeness. My family is Southern, too, so it's like he's writing for me.
posted by Nelson at 8:15 AM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Why, I cut my teeth on Tennessee Williams. I have a special backless wardrobe closet in my mind somewhere, where Tennessee Williams reality exists, mostly Summer and Smoke, creaking floors, sighs, and fierce love and even fiercer longing, and the saddest realizations...
posted by Oyéah at 10:29 AM on January 6, 2018

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