EDIT NOTE: This week, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in New Orleans recalls the early years of the festival when Tennessee’s brother Dakin was a frequent attendee. He has generated many stories by his presence, including these:
Being invited to dinner with Tennessee Williams’ brother would normally be considered a great honor and it was. Only, everyone who knew Dakin Williams knew that with him things could be different. Dakin was an annual visitor to the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival. He was not a shy man. The semi-retired St. Louis lawyer often wore a gold jacket with brightly colored pants and always traveled with an entourage because he was convinced there was a plot to kill him. Theatrically, he was known for reciting lines from his brother’s plays, including occasionally wearing a woman’s underpants when reciting as Stella.
Dakin Williams believed until the day of his death that his brother, whom the New York coroner ruled accidental choking from inhaling a drug cap was the cause of death, had in fact been murdered as part of some kind of backstage intrigue to control his estate. . Subsequent investigations never supported Dakin’s claim, but he persisted. And that’s why, he believed, he was a target.
If there had been a killer on the loose, Dakin’s entourage couldn’t have done much to stop him. At various times, his group consisted of his wife who was a weak woman; his adopted daughter, a pretty lady who attracted much attention; a former cop who was also his driver; a young man with long dark hair whose role in the entourage was unclear but who was totally passive, and another man, we will call him Farley, who offered no physical protection but had great stories to tell . Among Farley’s stories was that of his father whose insurance business in Memphis specialized in the needs of rhythm and blues artists. One of his clients was Elvis. Due to Presley’s stature, his father would open his office on Sundays to accommodate the needs of artists while sparing the king the inevitable crawling of a waiting room. Farley, who was a child, went to the office with his father. Elvis fidgeted while the older man was processing forms, so to pass the time he was fighting on the lawn with Charley. They became friends and Elvis would invite Farley to parties at Graceland. Eventually, Farley stopped going, he lamented to me, as drugs became more of a part of the scene.
Oh, for simple days of wrestling with Elvis.
Dakin was a fairly wealthy man and his dinner parties, always held at an upscale restaurant in the French Quarter, were lavish affairs where food and booze flowed. The honor of being there was tempered only by Dakin’s tendency to, on dinner days, invite just about anyone he met that day, provided they did not try to to shoot on. That night Dakin had returned from an afternoon at Harrah’s. The expanded guest list included members of a band performing at the casino. There must have been around 20 guests in total, a few of whom might have heard of Tennessee Williams.
So I sat at the end of the table across from Dakin and heard stories from Farley about Elvis. Dakin’s wife tried to be graceful although it really wasn’t her type of crowd. Meanwhile, a local lawyer who was ogling Dakin’s daughter had invited himself in and continued his pursuit. The long-haired kid ate quietly. The band members wolfed down the food. The decor could have provided characters for a play.
Dakin was in his glory. He lived in his brother’s shadow but always cast his own light.