Dinner With Tennessee’s Brother

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

Being invited to have dinner with Tennessee Williams’ brother would ordinarily be considered to be a great honor – and it was. Only, anyone 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 wasn’t a shy man. The semi-retired St. Louis lawyer often wore a gold jacket with loud-colored pants, and always traveled with an entourage since he was convinced there was a conspiracy to kill him. Theatrically, he had been known to wear a woman’s slip and to forcefully recite lines from his brother’s plays.

Dakin Williams believed until the day he died that his brother, about whom the New York City Coroner had ruled accidental choking from inhaling a medicine cap as the cause of death, had actually been murdered as part of some sort of backstage intrigue to control his estate. Subsequent investigations never supported Dakin’s contention, but he persisted. And that’s why, he believed, he was a target.

Had there been a killer on the loose, Dakin’s entourage could not have done much to stop him. At various times his group consisted of his wife, who was a nice but feeble woman; his adopted daughter, an attractive lady who drew lots of attention; a former cop, who was also his driver; a young man with long brown hair, whose role in the entourage was unclear but who was totally passive; and another man, we’ll call him Farley, who had great stories to tell. Among Farley’s tales were those of his father, whose insurance business in Memphis specialized in the needs of rhythm and blues performers. One of his clients was Elvis Presley. Because of Presley’s stature, Farley’s dad would open his office on Sundays to deal with the performers’ needs while sparing him the inevitable groveling from a waiting room crowd. Farley, who was a kid, would go to the office with his dad. Elvis would get restless while the older man was processing forms so to pass the time he would wrestle on the lawn with Farley. They became friends, and Elvis would invite Farley to parties at Graceland.

Eventually Farley stopped going, he lamented to me, as drugs became more a part of the scene.

Oh for the simple days of just wrestling with Elvis.

Dakin was a man of some wealth, and his dinners, always held at an upper-end French Quarter restaurant, were lavish affairs where food and booze flowed. The honor of being there was tempered only by Dakin’s tendency to, on the days of the dinner, invite just about anyone whom he met that day, providing they were not trying to shoot him. On this particular night, Dakin had returned from an afternoon at Harrah’s. The expanded guest list included the members of a band he met there. There must have been about 20 guests, including a few who might have actually heard of Tennessee Williams.

So I sat at the end of the table opposite Dakin and heard stories from Farley about Elvis. Dakin’s wife tried to be gracious, despite this really not being her type of crowd. Meanwhile a local attorney who was ogling Dakin’s daughter had gotten himself invited and continued his pursuit. The kid with the long hair ate quietly. The band members gobbled up the grub. The setting could have provided characters for a play.

Dakin was in his glory. He lived in the shadow of his brother but always cast his own light.
 

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