Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Norma Saldivar's Production of "Summer and Smoke"

                      Summer and Smoke

                                                        By: Tennessee Williams
                                                   Directed By: Norma Saldivar
                                                        November 1-16, 2013
                                                     Dramaturg: Steffen Silvis

“The wanderer later chose this spot of rest
Where marble clouds support the sea
 And where was finally born a hero.
 By that time summer and smoke were past.”
“Emblems of Conduct”—Hart Crane

The opening night of José Quintero’s 1952 production of Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke transformed American theatre. Quintero’s choice of Williams’ play as his second production for the new Circle in the Square Theatre in Greenwich Village was surprising, as Summer and Smoke had been a critical and financial failure on Broadway in 1948. But Quintero sensed that there were layers of the play that hadn’t been properly explored in its Midtown debut, and assigned himself the task of discovering them. His production became the first major triumph of the new Off-Broadway movement, granting the term both geographic and aesthetic significance.

     The unqualified success of Quintero’s opening night caught everyone by surprise, including Tennessee Williams; neither he nor any of his friends had considered attending. Then there were New York’s theatre critics, who found themselves reassessing their initial verdict of Summer and Smoke. John Gassner described Quintero’s production as “a triumph of atmosphere and theatrical poetry.”[1] Brooks Atkinson, one of the kinder reviewers of the original Broadway mounting, wrote that “nothing has happened in the theatre in a long time as admirable as this production,” further arguing that the play was a “finer piece of literature” than Williams’ greatest success, A Streetcar Named Desire.[2] After Williams finally saw Quintero’s production, he embraced the director in a bear hug; Williams’ enthusiasm was such that he didn’t appreciate that he was painfully stabbing Quintero’s foot with his umbrella.[3] The production signaled for Williams that Summer and Smoke would finally be considered a worthy successor to Streetcar and The Glass Menagerie.

                                                         Agent Audrey Wood and her clients, Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers

     The writing of Summer and Smoke was haphazard. Williams began the play in 1946 in a Nantucket cottage he shared with Carson McCullers, who sat at one end of a large dining table reworking her novel A Member of the Wedding into a play, while Williams sat at the other. (Summer and Smoke is dedicated to McCullers.) Interestingly, Williams was working on both Summer and Smoke and A Streetcar Named Desire simultaneously, and the connecting tissue between the two is Williams’ one-act play Portrait of a Madonna, which he had recently re-edited. While the sexual anxiety and madness of Madonna’s central figure, Lucretia Collins, will inform William’s portrait of Streetcar’s Blanche DuBois (Lucretia, too, is led away at the play’s conclusion by a kind psychiatric doctor and stern nurse), her biographical details serve as foundation for Summer and Smoke’s Alma Winemiller. Lucretia, like Alma after her, is a spinster from Glorious Hill, Mississippi, and the daughter of an Episcopal divine. (Alma is also a product of Williams’ 1947 short story “The Yellow Bird,” in which another woman named Alma, also an Episcopal minister’s daughter, embraces dissolution and the demonic in the darker corners of New Orleans.)

     Other than Camino Real, Summer and Smoke is Williams’ most markedly citational drama, informed by the playwright’s allegiance to the Decadent and Symbolist poets he appointed as literary progenitors (a trait and taste shared with Eugene O’Neill in Long Day’s Journey into Night). Summer and Smoke itself functions as Symbolist drama, a fact which, for many critics, militates against its effectiveness: “character is subordinated to symbolic function.”[4] At base is the hoary thematic binary of body/soul, represented by John Buchanan, a sensualist whose connection to the body is literalized by his being a physician, and the spinsterish Alma, whose very name means “soul.” They in turn are symbolically represented by an anatomical chart (the original working title for the play was The Anatomy Chart) and a marble fountain shaped like an angel, whose “blood is mineral water.”[5] But through the gravitational pull of nearby Moon Lake, a site of sensuality and dissipation, Summer and Smoke becomes an allegory of ironic fate, where “the tables are turned with a vengeance.”[6]

     Finally, the confessional, autobiographical aspect of the play must be considered; Williams’ theatricalized self. Much like Flaubert’s famous admission that “Madame Bovary, c’est moi,” Williams informed one cast that “I’m Alma.”[7] In his Memoirs, published in 1975, Williams wrote that “Miss Alma Winemiller may very well be the best female portrait I have drawn in a play. She simply seemed to exist somewhere in my being.”[8] Arguably due to this very identification between writer and character, Williams continually revised the play, completely rewriting it after its Broadway failure and retitling it The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. Williams professed preference for this version, though he was very much alone. By 1975, any mention of Eccentricities vanishes from Memoirs. Conversely, Summer and Smoke retains its enthusiasts and has maintained its rightful place in America’s theatrical repertoire since its Off-Broadway resurrection in 1952.


1. Gassner, John. “Broadway in Review.” Educational Theatre Journal , Vol. 4, No. 4 (Dec., 1952), pp. 323-328.

2. Quoted in Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985. Page 179.

3. Ibid. Page 181.

4. Bigsby, C.W.E. Modern American Drama: 1945-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Page 50.

5. Williams, Tennessee. Summer and Smoke. Tennessee Williams: Four Plays. New York: Signet Classics, 1976. Page 111.

6. Ibid. Page 119.

7. Spoto, page 318.

8. Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. New York: Doubleday, 1975. Page 78.

University Theatre's Production of Summer and Smoke:

Theater and Dance
Tennessee Williams' tale of a missed love, 10/31-11/16, UW Vilas Hall-Mitchell Theatre, at 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 pm, Sundays. $23. 608-265-2787

Cost: $23
Call: 608-265-2787


More Information:

Summer and Smoke
UW-Madison University Theatre presents Summer and Smoke, Tennessee Williams’
simmering Southern romance. Professor Norma Saldivar directs this tale of lust, betrayal and the passions that divide two lovers during one fateful summer.

Williams masterfully crafts the story of Alma and John, who are coming of age in turnof-the-century Mississippi. While Alma is proper and reserved, John is passionate and carefree.
Drawn to each other during a long, hot summer, the two must navigate through both newfound freedoms and the restrictions of a small Southern town. This unique love story depicts two young people at odds with family and tradition, attempting to understand themselves – and each other.

Written by Tennessee Williams in 1945, Summer and Smoke debuted in 1948 and has
become a notable addition to the dramatic canon and a classic of American drama. Summer and Smoke displays many of the characteristics that have made other Williams plays such as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roofso deservedly beloved. Two powerful central characters, a lushly realized Southern setting and Williams’ lyrical, elegant dialogue make this
an evening at the theatre that will stay with you long after the curtain call.

Performers include Trevor Rees(John Buchanan), Chelsea Anderson (Alma Winemiller), Alejandro Ortiz (Gonzales), Beeshoua Lee (Rosa Gonzales),Bill Bolz (Dr. Buchanan), Amanda Connors(Nellie Ewell), Brendan Getches(Roger Doremus), Celeste Lindstrom (Mrs. Bassett), Cody Luck (Archie Young), Doug Greenberg (Vernon), Isabella Virrueta (Rosemary), Jim Buske (Rev. Winemiller), Heather Pickering (Mrs. Winemiller), and Steve Ripley (Dusty). The production team is comprised of both faculty and MFA lighting, set, and costume design
students, including Christa Lewandowski (costume design), Shuxing Fan (set design), Robert Stepek (lighting design) and Rob Sayre (sound design).

Summer and Smoke opens Friday, November 1st and runs through Saturday, November
16th with matinees on Sunday, November 3rd and Sunday, November 10th. Performances will take place in the Mitchell Theatre, 821 University Avenue. Evening performances begin at 7:30 PM and matinees begin at 2PM. A post-performance talkback with the cast will be held on November 14. Individual tickets for all performances are $23 (general public) or $16 (UW students). Discounts are available for senior citizens and Friends of University Theatre.

Purchase tickets by phone at (608) 265-ARTS (2787), in person at the Vilas Hall Box Office, 821 University Ave or order on-line at

7:30 pm (2:00 Sunday matinees)
10/31, 11/1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16
Mitchell Theatre, Vilas Communication Hall, 821 University Ave, Madison
Adult $23
608-265-2787 (also

Friday, October 18, 2013

Summer and Smoke Production History

               Production History of Summer and Smoke

Summer and Smoke first premiered at Margo Jones' Theatre '47 in Dallas, Texas, in 1948 under Jones' direction. Having been an early supporter of Tennessee Williams, and having worked as the assistant director on the premiere of The Glass Menagerie, Jones had gained Williams' confidence, and he was happy to give her the rights to stage Summer and Smoke. The famed theatre critic for the New York Times, Brooks Atkinson, made the journey to Dallas to see the premiere. While complimentary of Williams' writing, Atkinson wrote that the piece was in need of rewriting, recognizing, too, that Jones' directing was problematic.

     Undaunted by criticism, Jones took her production to New York, where it opened at the Music Box Theatre on October 6, 1948 with a set by Jo Mielziner, who designed the original sets for Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as well as Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The incidental music was composed by Paul Bowles, the composer and novelist who also wrote the music for The Glass Menagerie, going on to also compose the incidental music for Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth and The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore.

                                                                           Paul Bowles, circa 1930s

The original Broadway cast, as listed on the Broadway Internet Database was as followed:

Tod Andrews as John Buchanan, Jr. 

Monica Boyar as Rosa Gonzales 

Sid Cassel as Papa Gonzales 

Marga Ann Deighton as Mrs. Winemiller 

Donald Hastings as Young John 

Anne Jackson as Nellie Ewell 

Ellen James as Rosemary 

Spencer James as Vernon 

William Layton as Dusty 

Betty Greene Little as Mrs. Bassett 

Arlene McQuade as Young Alma 

Earl Montgomery as Roger Doremus 

Hildy Parks as A Girl 

Margaret Phillips as Alma Winemiller 

Ralph Theadore as Dr. Buchanan 

Raymond Van Sickle as The Reverend Winemiller 

Ray Walston as Archie Kramer  
 The play was a critical and financial failure, running for only 102 performances, versus the still running Streetcar Named Desire, which would close after 855 performances.

The revival of Summer and Smoke at the Circle In the Square Theatre in New York City, under José Quintero's direction, opened on April 24, 1952, and was a surprise hit,  running for 356 performances. The production established Off-Broadway as a serious contender to Broadway, and made a star of Geraldine Page, who played Alma. The ensemble cast also included Lee Richard, Walter Beakle, Estelle Omens, Lola D'Annuzio, Kathleen Murray, Bill Goodwin, Jason Wingreen, Gloria Scott Backe, Duncan Bancroft, Emilie Stevens, Robert Randall, Sydney G. Stevens and Bernard Bogin.
 Nine years later, Page recreated the role of Alma in the 1961 film version, directed by Peter Glenville.
                                           Danish poster for the 1961 film version of Summer and Smoke

The cast of the film included the following:

Laurence Harvey as John Buchanan, Jr
Rita Moreno as Rosa Zacharias
Una Merkel as Mrs. Winemiller
John McIntire as Dr. Buchanan
Thomas Gomez as Papa Zacharias
Pamela Tiffin as Nellie Ewell
Malcolm Atterbury as Rev. Winemiller
Lee Patrick as Mrs. Ewell
Max Showalter as Roger Doremus (as Casey Adams)
Earl Holliman as Archie Kramer
Pepe Hern as Nico  

Trailer for the 1961 film:

                                                               Spanish film poster for Summer and Smoke

There was a Broadway remounting of Summer and Smoke in 1996, which opened, and rapidly closed, at the Criterion Center Stage Right. The Roundabout Theatre production starred Harry Hamlin as John and Mary McDonnell as Alma. The reviews of David Warren's production were brutal, with Ben Brantley, writing in The New York Times, calling the production a "shrill, oddly boisterous interpretation of a work that, like so many of Williams's emotionally crippled characters, begs only to be treated gently."

The rest of the cast of this production was as follows:

Ken Jenkins as The Reverend Winemiller 

Roberta Maxwell as Mrs. Winemiller 

Celia Weston as Mrs. Bassett 

 Chad Aaron as Young John 

Carl D'Amore, Ensemble 

Geoffrey Dawe, Ensemble 

Emilio Del Pozo as Papa Gonzales 

Todd Lawson, Ensemble 

Adam LeFevre as Roger Doremus 

Lisa Leguillou as Rosa Gonzales 

Will McCormack, Ensemble 

Nathalie Paulding as Young Alma 

James Pritchett as Dr. Buchanan 

David Reilly, Ensemble 

Hayley Sparks as Nellie Ewell 

Todd Weeks as Dusty/ Vernon/ Archie Kramer 

Elizabeth Zambetti as Pearl/ Rosemary 


 There is a University of Wisconsin-Madison connection to Summer and Smoke. Composer Lee Hoiby (1926 –2011), who is pictured above, was a native Madisonian and graduate of UW-Madison, Class of 1947. Hoiby, a child prodigy, went on to study with Darius Milhaud and Gian Carlo Menotti upon leaving Madison upon graduation. In 1970, Hoiby, working with playwright/librettist Lanford Wilson, transformed Williams' play into an opera. Hoiby's Summer and Smoke premiered at the St. Paul Opera, Minnesota, in 1971, and is considered Hoiby's masterpiece, one which is frequently staged.

                     Anna Viemeister as Alma in the 2010 Manhattan School of Music production.
One of the most recent stagings was in 2010 at the Manhattan School of Music under the direction of Dona D. Vaughn. The production provided a new recording of the piece, which was reviewed in Opera News' issue of November 2011 by David J. Baker:

"The Manhattan School of Music has provided a great service by reviving and recording Lee Hoiby's Summer and Smoke, a movingly apt adaptation of the play by Tennessee Williams. Created in 1971, it is an opera, above all, that captures the tortured refinement of Williams's heroine and shares something of her fragility."

See the full Opera News review:

Listen to two excerpts from the Manhattan School of Music production:


Norma Saldivar's production of Summer and Smoke will be the third produced by

University of Wisconsin-Madison's University Theatre. The previous productions were as


1954 at the Play Circle Theatre, April 13-14.

1961 at the Main Stage Theatre, July 20-22.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Summer and Smoke: Medicine in Mississippi

               Summer and Smoke: Medicine in Mississippi:

In the first entry on health in Mississippi during the period that Summer and Smoke is set, Dr. Deanne Stephens Nuwer of the University of Southern Mississippi has generously granted us permission to post an article she wrote on hookworms, which first appeared in "Mississippi History Now," the online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society. Dr. Nuwer's piece provides insight into one of the more common sources for illness that Dr. John Buchanan and his son would have faced as physicians in Glorious Hill, Mississippi, in the years prior to America's entry into World War I.

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Hookworm prevention booklet Hookworm prevention booklet distributed to school children by the Mississippi State Board of Health. Booklet courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

Hookworm prevention booklet

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Feature Story

The Importance of Wearing Shoes: Hookworm Disease in Mississippi

In the late 1800s and early 1900s many homes in Mississippi and other rural American states did not have indoor plumbing and had inadequate sanitary facilities. Families could rarely afford to install indoor plumbing. Many Mississippians simply did not know how proper sanitary waste disposal and clean-living conditions could prevent diseases. As a result, they were often plagued with diseases that were directly linked to improper sanitary facilities. Hookworm was one such disease.

Threadlike worms

Hookworms live only in sandy or loamy soil like that found in many regions of Mississippi and other southern states. See map. They cannot exist in clay or muck. For hookworms to survive, rainfall averages must be more than forty inches a year, and the average temperature must exceed 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If these conditions exist, then the hookworm eggs hatch. After hatching, the larvae undergo two molts and transform into threadlike worms about one half of an inch long. They can then infect unsuspecting humans by boring into their bare feet or occasionally in their hands as the victim walked on or worked in the larval infested soil.
The hookworm species infecting people and found in Mississippi is Necator americanus or American Killer, a species that is distributed worldwide. See map. Doctors believe this species was introduced into the United States when slaves from Africa were brought into this country. The slaves carried the hookworms in their intestines.
The hookworm life cycle begins and ends in the human intestinal tract. Females may lay from 5,000 to 20,000 eggs a day after mating with the male in the host’s intestines. The eggs are then discharged in bowel movements. Sanitation practices at the turn of the 20th century were not ideal, and most rural Americans used the open outdoors as a toilet. Therefore, hookworm eggs constantly entered the soil in very large numbers.
The larva can move from side to side and is most active when dew is on the ground and temperatures are warm. While moving, if the larva haphazardly made contact with a person’s bare foot or hand, it quickly bored its way corkscrew-like into the skin and began its journey to the intestinal tract. At the site of entry, often a rash erupted which caused itching. This symptom was called “ground itch” or “dew itch.”
Since many Southerners did not wear shoes in summer months, hookworm larva usually penetrated between people’s toes. After making its way through the victim’s respiratory tract, the larva eventually found its way to the small intestine about one week later. Necator americanus has a pair of curved cutting plates in its mouth that allow it to attach to its host’s intestinal walls. It will live there, sucking the victim’s blood, about four to five years.

Pot belly and angel’s wings

People infected with hookworms often experienced a lack of energy but were not aware of the type parasite they had. In addition, coughing, wheezing, and fever sometimes developed in the victim as the larval migration traveled through the lungs. Infected people could also have stomach pains, pale yellowish-colored skin, feet that “go to sleep,” head and joint aches, weakness, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. Two classic visible signs of hookworm disease are a “pot belly”– an extended stomach – and “angel’s wings” – shoulder blades extended outward because of the host’s slumping, emaciated body. Blurred vision and a “fish-eye” stare characterized severe cases.
The primary danger of hookworm disease was anemia because the worms lived on the host’s plasma and excreted the red blood cells. The severity of the disease depended on the number of worms in the person’s gut. Death could result from secondary infections because of the host’s weakened condition. Hookworms were totally dependent on humans as hosts and on humans’ unhygienic practices to continue their life cycle.
Before 1900, few American physicians knew of hookworm disease. However, a zoologist from Hartford, Connecticut, Dr. Charles Wardell Stiles, studied medical zoology in Europe in the late 19th century and learned about hookworms while helping with animal autopsies and studies. Certain hookworm species live in specific animals.
When Stiles returned to the United States, he worked for the Bureau of Animal Industry of the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., and taught at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He continually lectured his students about hookworms and the species that infect humans. Stiles helped spread information about the parasite and health problems associated with the worm, particularly in the South.

Rockefeller Sanitation Commission

In 1910, with a $1,000,000 philanthropic donation from the Rockefeller Sanitation Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease, Dr. Waller S. Leathers, director of public health in Mississippi, began a three-staged plan to cope with hookworm disease. Hookworm disease had been identified in Mississippi only a few years prior to the Rockefeller donation. Leathers decided that the best way to combat the disease would be through the combination of health education, patient treatment, and community cooperation.
Public education on the disease was most important since large numbers of Mississippians were infested because of Mississippi’s soil and climatic conditions. As a result, areas in the state known as the Long Leaf Pine and Short Leaf Pine districts, the Coastal region, and the Central Prairie were the sections where Leathers and other doctors began their campaign against hookworm because they were the areas most heavily infested.
Leathers started his program by having hookworm exhibits at the 1910 Jackson State Fair and the Harrison County Fair. He knew that thousands of Mississippians who attended the fairs would see the hookworm information and learn how to control the spread of the worms through proper sanitation.
The Mississippi State Board of Health under Leathers’s direction also began distributing literature about hookworm disease to school children throughout the state. Students between the ages of six and eighteen were tested in the most heavily infested regions. Doctors discovered heavy hookworm infestations among the school children. They sent instructions home to parents on how to take proper health measures such as the need to wear shoes and how to build sanitary privies, or outhouses.

Build better outhouses

The State Board of Health provided instructions on how to build better enclosed outhouses so that waste products would not flow out into the surrounding soil and animals could not break in and distribute the waste. The State Board of Health even helped schools build new privies for the children. Before privies were provided, many schoolchildren in the state simply had as a school bathroom facility one side of the nearby woods for girls and one side for boys.
Better health standards were stressed for all who lived in the infected areas. Mississippians of all ages reacted positively to Leathers’s efforts and they sought treatment or either improved their sanitary facility or constructed new ones.

Dispensary opens in Columbia

The first dispensary for treating hookworm disease opened December 18, 1910, in Columbia, Mississippi. People could go there for testing and treatment. Treatment involved a single dose of thymol to kill the worms, followed later by an enema, usually of epsom salts, to rid the body of the dead worms. Later, tetracholorethylene became the preferred treatment to kill hookworms. Dr. Charles C. Bass and Dr. Hector H. Howard organized the Columbia clinic. Their dispensary was so successful that it became the model for others throughout the state and the South. By 1912, eleven southern states had dispensaries based on the one in Columbia.
The Rockefeller Sanitation Commission continued to provide funds for free clinic treatments to Mississippians until 1915. Over the five-year period, 166,623 people in 78 counties were examined in the state. The infection rate among adults was 34.1 percent and 36.7 percent among school children. Mississippians had also learned during this time to practice proper sanitary methods to prevent the spread of hookworm eggs. With these combined efforts, progress was made toward eliminating hookworm disease in Mississippi.
However, hookworms continued to be a health problem in Mississippi as late as 1981 when sixty-nine cases were reported to the State Board of Health. As late as the early 1980s, some Mississippians still did not have adequate sanitary facilities; therefore, hookworms still maintained a niche in the sandy, loamy soil environment in the original heavily infested regions in the state.
At the turn of the 21st century, hookworm disease is virtually unheard of in Mississippi because of education, proper sanitation disposal, and good medical practices.
Deanne Stephens Nuwer, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Posted September 2002

Suggested Further Readings

Clark, Thomas D. The Emerging South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Savitt, Todd and James Harvey Young, eds. Disease and Distinctiveness in the American South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988.
Savitt, Todd. Medicine and Slavery: The Diseases and Health Care of Blacks in Antebellum Virginia. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978.
Williams, Greer. The Plague Killers, New York: Charles Scribe’s Sons, 1989.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Summer and Smoke: Literary Citations

               Summer and Smoke as a Citational Drama

Other than his experimental Camino Real, Tennessee Williams invested Summer and Smoke with more literary citations and allusions than in any of his other major plays. Following are some of the most important sources for these:

William Blake:

Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827), the mystic, prophetic British poet, is represented by his poem "Love's Secret," which itself works as a prophetic text within Summer and Smoke, quietly signaling the play's denouement:

NEVER seek to tell thy love, 
  Love that never told can be; 
For the gentle wind doth move 
  Silently, invisibly. 
I told my love, I told my love,         5
  I told her all my heart, 
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears. 
  Ah! she did depart! 
Soon after she was gone from me, 
  A traveller came by,  10
Silently, invisibly: 
  He took her with a sigh.

The poem, in Alma's rendition, is slightly altered from the original. The gender of the pronouns has been changed for a heterosexual woman's recitation. Other changes include a single "fear" in line 7. Line 8 appears as "Did my love depart," while Line 9 and 10 read "No sooner had he gone from me/ Than a stranger passing by." There is no information on why Williams might have chosen these subtle changes.

Williams might have had the poet in mind when he named the travel company that the fallen Reverend Shannon worked for in Night of the Iguana: Blake Tours.

Hart Crane:

Crane (July 21, 1899 – April 27, 1932), an American poet, was one of Williams' favorite writers. Like Williams, Crane was an open homosexual at a time when it was dangerous to be so. His relationship with his native country was often contentious, and he died by drowning at sea as he was returning to New York from Mexico. Although there was no note left behind, his death is widely considered a suicide. Crane's high reputation among his fellow writers and poets rests on two books of his poems: White Buildings (1926), his first collection with a preface by Eugene O'Neill and Allen Tate (O'Neill struggled with his responses to the poems and asked poet Tate to finish the introduction), and The Bridge (1930), Crane's more positive response to Modernism which was inspired by his reading of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland.

Williams' title, Summer and Smoke, comes from Crane's poem "Emblems of Conduct," which appears in White Buildings:

"Emblems of Conduct"

By a peninsula the wanderer sat and sketched
The uneven valley graves. While the apostle gave
Alms to the meek the volcano burst
With sulphur and aureate rocks…
For joy rides in stupendous coverings
Luring the living into spiritual gates.

Orators follow the universe
And radio the complete laws to the people.
The apostle conveys thought through discipline.
Bowls and cups fill historians with adorations–
Dull lips commemorating spiritual gates.

The wanderer later chose this spot of rest
Where marble clouds support the sea
And where was finally born a hero.
By that time summer and smoke were past.
Dolphins still played, arching the horizons,
But only to build memories of spiritual gates.


Marsden Hartley's Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane (1933)
See also:

Williams, who was writing A Streetcar Named Desire in tandem with Summer and Smoke, used Crane's last poem, "The Broken Tower," as his epigraph for that play, while the poem's images serve as metaphors throughout Streetcar ("The Broken Tower" has also been used as the title for James Franco's film on Hart Crane).

One of Williams' last plays, a one-act titled Steps Must be Gentle (1980) is a "ghost play" on the relationship between Crane and his mother. But prior to that, Crane is mentioned by the character Hannah Jelkes in Williams' The Night of the Iguana (1961):

"When the Mexican painter Siqueiros did his portrait of the American poet Hart Crane he had to paint him with closed eyes because he couldn't paint his eyes open--there was too much suffering in them and he couldn't paint it."

That painting appears above: "Hart Crane" by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1931).

Finally, in Williams' Memoirs he writes: "A codicil to my will provides for the disposition of my body in this way: Sewn up in a clean white sack and dropped over board, twelve hours north of Havana, so that my bones may rest not too far from those of Hart Crane."

Tennessee Williams reading Hart Crane's poem "Eternity":

(Film courtesy of Don Yorty).

Ernest Dowson:

Dowson (2 August 1867 – 23 February 1900), one of the principal writers in the British Decadent Movement, was another of Williams' favorite poets. Dowson's work has certainly been mined for titles, having supplied both for the teleplay and film The Days of Wine and Roses and for Margaret Mitchell's novel (as well as its film adaptation) of antebellum and the post-bellum South, Gone with the Wind. Dowson is slyly referenced in Summer and Smoke by the character of Mrs. Bassett, who has a habit of confusing poets (see below). First, Mrs. Bassett confuses William Blake with Arthur Rimbaud, and then compounds the error by assigning to Rimbaud the line "bought red lips." The line is Dowson's, though even here Mrs. Bassett is confused as the image in Dowson's poem, "Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae," is of a "bought red mouth":

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,
Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;
Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

The poem is referenced in two other works of drama, though they are quite different from each other: Eugene O'Neill's autobiographical tragedy Long Day's Journey into Night and Cole Porter's musical version of Taming of the Shrew, Kiss Me Kate.

Arthur Rimbaud:

Rimbaud (20 October 1854 – 10 November 1891) is one of the most influential poets in French literature, whose work had a major impact on 20th century literature, and was one of the pivotal writers to influence Williams' own poetry, particularly Rimbaud's poems in The Drunken Boat (1871). Rimbaud's appearance in Summer and Smoke is again through Mrs. Bassett's comical mangling of literature and literary figures. She confuses William Blake with Rimbaud, referencing him with the French symbolist poet, Paul Verlaine (1844-1896), who was Rimbaud's lover: "I just don't see why we should encourage the writings of people like that who have already gone into a drunkard's grave...He traveled around with that Frenchman who took a shot at him and landed them both in jail!"

                        Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in a painting by Henri Fantin-Latour (1872)

Verlaine, "in a drunken rage," fired a revolver at Rimbaud after a quarrel. Rimbaud, then 18-years-old, was wounded in the left wrist. Mrs. Bassett's withering line to the confused Rosemary is wonderfully ironic: "There's nothing like contact with culture!"; Mrs. Bassett's contact, of course, is nothing less than tenuous.

In his Memoirs, Williams wrote that "a poet such as the young Rimbaud is the only writer of whom I can think, at this moment, who could escape from words into the sensations of being, through his youth, turbulent with revolution, permitted articulation by nights of absinthe. And of course there is Hart Crane. Both of these poets touched fire that burned them alive."

Oscar Wilde:

Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) would still have been considered a highly questionable personality in the pre-war setting of Summer and Smoke due to his imprisonment at Reading Gaol after being found guilty of sodomy in 1895. This is evinced when Alma is "taken aback" after discovering  that she's quoted one of Wilde's most famous aphorisms:

Alma: Who was it that said that--oh, so beautiful thing!--"All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars!"

John: Mr. Oscar Wilde.

Alma: Well, regardless of who said it, it's still true.

A Wilde allusion appears in Act II when John is talking with Rosa Gonzalez on the eve of their marriage. While analyzing the depth of his dissipation, John says: "And there isn't a sign of depravity in my face." This immediately conjures up the image of the portrait of Dorian Gray from Wilde's novella of that name.

Albert Lewin's 1945 film version with Hurd Hatfield as Dorian examining the portrait by painter Ivan Albright