Columbus woman followed Tennessee Williams since the first act

March 23, 2011 10:10:00 AM

Garthia Elena Burnett -


It was the summer of 1935 in Memphis, Tenn., just before Ann Palmer''s 16th birthday. 


Tennessee Williams, then about 25, was in town visiting his grandparents, Walter and Rose Dakin, who lived on Snowden Avenue. 


Palmer lived two blocks away, on University Boulevard. 


"Then Tennessee Williams was nobody. He was just a new boy in town," Ann, now 92, recalled, sitting in her living room, Tuesday afternoon. "I felt sorry for him, he was so timid and quiet." 


Another neighborhood girl, Bernice Shapiro, saw something else in Williams. 


"She suggested he write a play and have it produced by The Garden Players, and so he did," Palmer said. 


"The Garden Players was a neighborhood and very amateurish group, but they had a lot of fun," Palmer said. 


Palmer''s future husband, Ed, was performing a bit piece in the Williams production of "Cairo, Shanghai and Bombay." Williams also took a small role in the play, which focused on the antics of a group of sailors at port. 


At the time, Palmer had a date with Ed''s first cousin, Palmer Miller. 


"I was more interested in the two of them than I was in Tennessee Williams," Palmer admitted. 


Still, Palmer recalls the humor and sadness of the play, which may have been Williams'' first amateur play. 


"When the ship (docked), sailors were all around causing a lot of fun and a lot of noise," Palmer laughed. "It was rather boisterous." 


"It was a lot of laughter and fun," she said. "It had its sad moments, (too). I think anything connected with Tennessee Williams has its sad moments." 


Saturday marks what would have been Williams'' 100th birthday. He was born in Columbus, where his grandfather was rector at St. Paul''s Episcopal Church. Coincidentally, Ed Palmer''s career brought him to Columbus in 1954. He was hired to oversee human resources at United Technologies, then Bosch American. 


Before his death in 1988, Ed Palmer took his wife to various productions of Williams plays. 


"Without me really being aware of his interest in Tennessee Williams, we went to see ''Glass Menagerie'' (starring) Helen Hayes in New York," Ann Palmer remembered. 


Their lives continued to intersect with Williams'' works. Later, the couple took a trip to Europe; after five weeks, they longed for hamburgers and the English language. When in Vienna, Austria, the concierge at their hotel told them they could get their English fix with upcoming performances from the English Theater. The theater was putting on four one-act plays, written by Tennessee Williams. 


Palmer keeps a small collection of Williams'' books and publications of his letters and memoirs. 


Columbus is holding various events throughout the week in honor of Williams. The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library is hosting a display of Tennessee Williams memorabilia through April 30.