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    The Tennessee Williams Underwood Portable Typewriter on which Summer and Smoke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were written. The term "playwright" is commonly associated with someone who writes plays but actually, the real meaning is deeper. "Wright" is an old English word for a craftsman or builder. Tennessee Williams defines this term. His plays, which total more than 70, were meticulously crafted with scenes of high dramatic tension and brilliant, emotional dialogue. Many of his characters were either modeled on people from his own life or were autobiographical in nature. Frustrated about not being able to address his own homosexuality openly, Williams often incorporated the pains and pleasures of his own experiences into his heterosexual dramas. Tennessee wrote the 1948 play Summer and Smoke on this Underwood Portable. It tells the story of a lonely, unmarried minister's daughter who is courted by a former love, a wild and undisciplined doctor. It was made into a movie in 1961 that was nominated for several Academy Awards. The other play known to be written on this typewriter was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1955. It is one of Williams' most popular dramas- about a Southern family in crisis, focusing on the turbulent relationship of a wife and husband, Maggie and Brick Pollitt. The central theme of the play is mendacity or the tendency to be untruthful and Brick uses it to describe his disgust with the world: "Mendacity is a system that we live in. Liquor is one way out an' death's the other." This play was also made into a movie starring Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor who were both Oscar nominated for their powerful performances.

    The typewriter on which so much brilliant prose was typed is rather unassuming. It is an Underwood Portable, manufactured in 1935 based on the serial number of 717166, and in fine working order. To Williams, a typewriter was to be one of the most important things in his life- his mother gave him his first one when he was only thirteen. Williams got his college degree and set out to be a writer. When he decided to go to New Orleans the day after Christmas in 1938, he traveled by bus with a wind-up phonograph, a suitcase, and a portable typewriter. A typewriter was a key prop in The Glass Menagerie. Williams always had a typewriter with him and often spoke of its use: "I have always been pushed by the negative. The apparent failure of a play sends me back to my typewriter that very night, before the reviews are out. I am more compelled to get back to work than if I had a success."

    The story of how the consignor got this typewriter is recounted in Donald Spoto's book The Kindness of Strangers- The Life of Tennessee Williams. In 1982, Williams was living in Key West, Florida. One day (September 8), he left his house and boarded a bus headed north, getting off in Key Largo and ending up in a bar. While sitting there, he noticed a couple having coffee across the aisle. At first, they spoke casually but, when Williams found out that the man was a writer, the conversation became more serious. The couple introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Steven Kunes. Tennessee Williams introduced himself and requested that they call him Tom. After a while, Steven and his wife ended up driving him back to his Key West home where the conversation continued with Williams asking Kunes about his novel in progress. "And that's when it happened. Williams went into another room and emerged with a square black case, telling me to look inside. It was an Underwood typewriter... 'I used it for Summer and Smoke and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. It needs a new ribbon, and perhaps some oil... Write a play, Steven. Just write a play. I know you can hit the core... Don't be flattered when I say this. You can flatter me by using this old machine to do the job.'" Four months later, Kune sent him the first draft of his novel written on this typewriter, but received no reply. One month after that, Tennessee Williams was dead.

    This vintage Underwood is in extremely fine condition and includes the original hard case and a cover. Also included is a copy of the above-mentioned Williams biography. Who knows what future "great American novel" could be written on this machine. If you are the winning bidder and use it for its intended purpose, please let us know. We're sure the consignor would love to know about it.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    December, 2005
    15th-16th Thursday-Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,106

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