With the death of Dakin Williams in May at age 89, the final candle on the cake of St. Louis' most celebrated literary family has been blown out. Dakin's big brother Tom, known to the world as Tennessee, drew more heavily on their mother Edwina and sister Rose as models for the valiant-if-misguided heroines in such early plays as The Glass Menagerie and Summer and Smoke. Onstage Dakin was a mere supporting character — a dissembled version of the oafish Gooper in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and the foolish brother in Suddenly Last Summer. Yet the relationship between Dakin and Tom was more nuanced than these plays would suggest.
At the start of his ascendancy, Tennessee actually hoped to rely on his young brother's legal education, for the playwright was ill equipped to handle the huge sums that suddenly were coming his way. In 1946 Tom wrote Dakin to brag about the large fee accompanying the film sale of The Glass Menagerie and to express the hope that when Dakin got out of the army he would join a law firm in the east: "Then you could protect my financial interests."
Two years later Tom sent his brother to New York "at my expense" to review his finances. In preparing his New York agent for Dakin's arrival, Tennessee rationalized that Dakin was, after all, "the heir to most of my estate." Ever the dramatist, he added, "I must have this double check that my brother can give, for while one side of my nature is trustful as a child, the paranoiac side which is full of nervous apprehensions must also be considered if I am to live in peace among the clouds." Dakin did not find any malfeasance, though he did recommend some changes. He then made the nigh-unforgivable error of requesting a retaining fee for his advice. Their attorney-client relationship abruptly ended.
Dakin eventually practiced law in Collinsville. As Tennessee's visits home became ever more sporadic, Dakin was the dutiful son, caring for their mother during her declining years in St. Louis. Although Tennessee began to take veiled pokes at Dakin onstage, he would still call on his brother in times of non-legal need.
So it was that in 1969 when Tennessee, now heavily drug-dependent, thought he was dying, Dakin was summoned to Key West. Dakin persuaded Tom to return to St. Louis and seek immediate care at Barnes Hospital. While there, Williams suffered several seizures followed by two heart attacks. Despite this near brush with death, Tennessee left Barnes a healthy man and lived for another fourteen years. But because his incarceration had been so traumatic, Williams refused to acknowledge Dakin's role in having saved his life. This is when Tennessee reportedly excised Dakin from his will.
Something else was missing from that will.
Tennessee often told reporters that he hoped his cremated ashes would be strewn in the sea off Key West. Instead he was buried in St. Louis — an act I once described as "cruel, seemingly unforgivable." The ever-affable Dakin then wrote me a note in which he explained, "I had nothing to do with the decision to bury TW instead of cremating his remains. The co-trustees, Lady St. Just and John Eastman (attorney) made the decision. In none of TW's many wills did he say anything about cremation. When I arrived at Campbell Funeral Home [in New York], Mr. Frank Campbell, the director, took me aside and advised: 'We are shipping him to Waynesville, Ohio, to bury TW next to his maternal grandparents.' All I did was request a change in site from Waynesville to St. Louis" — so that Williams' "host of admirers" would have easier access to the grave.
Now the immediate family — Edwina, Rose, Tom and Dakin — have been reunited, this time at Calvary Cemetery. Surely there's ample time for forgiveness all around.
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