Before Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Glass Menagerie, there were Beauty is the Word and Hot Milk at Three in the Morning. And before he went by Tennessee, playwright Thomas Lanier Williams was an MU student. This weekend kicks off campus-wide celebrations of Williams’ 100th birthday, and to join in the festivities, we’re featuring two manuscripts of his earliest plays.
Beauty is the Word was Williams’ very first play. It was submitted for the MU Dramatic Arts Club’s Dramatic Prize Plays contest in 1930. The play was produced on stage as part of the competition, but it appears not to have won an award in the contest. Over the course of one act, two young and worldly aesthetes visit their austere and forbidding missionary relatives somewhere in the South Pacific. When the natives revolt and threaten to burn down the mission, the young couple saves the day by appealing to the natives with dance and music rather than fear of damnation.
Hot Milk at Three in the Morning was Williams’ sophomore submission to the Dramatic Prize Plays contest. The play focuses on an argument between a young married couple who are trapped by poverty and illness. It was staged in 1932, and like Beauty is the Word, it received an honorable mention. Williams revised the play in 1940, titling it Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry. It was included in a compilation of the best plays of 1940 and was the first of Williams’ plays to be published.
Both manuscripts are a part of the University of Missouri Collection, which features official publications along with the works of faculty, staff, and distinguished alumni.