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AFTERWORD I BY GREGG BARRIOS The Kindness of Strangers After the success of The Glass Menagerie, Thomas Lanier Williams, later known as Tennessee, spent time in Mexico in late 1945. “I feel I was born in Mexico in another life,” he wrote in a letter from Mexico City. Over the years, other writersfrom Katherine Anne Porter to Williams’ mentor, Hart Crane had expressed the same sentiment. But luck was with Williams as he crossed la frontera at Piedras Negras/Eagle Pass: He met Pancho Rodriguez, a young Mexican American. The tale of that meeting would later be embellished with Williams’ car breaking down and a border guard’s son helping to rescue a manuscript that border guards had confiscated. The rising 34-year-old playwright was immediately smitten with the 24year-old Panchothe border guard’s sonand invited him to New Orleans as his live-in muse. The rest, as they say, is history. But the chronicle of their relationship was forgotten and, to a large extent, whitewashed from Williams’ life story. I met Pancho Rodriguez in the mid1970s, when I was teaching summer classes at Loyola University in New Orleans. I knew that he had been a close friend of Williams, but Pancho and his brother Johnny were more interested in news of relatives in the Eagle Pass/Crystal City area, where I used to live. Years later, I was a neophyte playwright with a few credits to my name and a fellowship to write Tejano stories for the theater. While exploring the possibility that the Williams-Rodriguez affair had the stuff for good theater, I came upon My Life, Elia Kazan’s autobiography. Kazan, who directed both the stage and film versions of A Streetcar Named Desire, writes about his difficulty understanding the love hate relationship between Stanley and Blanche in a play now considered among the best of the 20th century. But it all became clear when he witnessed an altercation between Williams and Rodriguez: “If Tennessee was Blanche, Pancho was Stanley.” That became my mantra as I traveled to interview those who had known the two during the years they lived together Orleans. Coincidentally, their relationship ended when Streetcar opened on Broadway. By then Williams had a new muse, Frank Merlo. At first it seemed I was going nowhere. Regulars at the annual Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans shrugged. Some asked if I was confusing Pancho with Merlo. Others felt there was nothing of import to be gleaned. Finally, through friends at Loyola, I reconnected with Pancho’s brother Johnny. At first he declined an interview; he had promised Pancho he would never reveal details of the painful affair. Then he warmed up after I reminded him of our Texas connection. We did two short phone conversations, but Johnny died before we could do a sit-down interview. I did, however, hear from Virginia Spenser Carr, a biographer of Katherine Anne Porter and Carson McCullers. Carr had interviewed Pancho at length about the summer of 1946, when he and Williams entertained McCullers at their Nantucket bungalow, which Williams had dubbed “Rancho Pancho.” Both writers worked together during that summer: McCullers on a stage version of her novel, The Member of the Wedding, and Williams on a rewrite of Summer and Smoke, which now included a Mexican family in Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras named Gonzalez Even through poetic language, it was easy to identify the play’s inspiration. In its final scene, a traveling sales man asks Miss Alma Winemiller if she speaks Spanish. Poquito, she answers, to which he replies, “Sometimes poquito is enough.” Searching in other critical and biographical works proved more daunting: Pancho’s name wasn’t even listed in the index of Tennessee Williams: Memoirs. The playwright informed his readers that he couldn’t use his former lover’s name for fear of legal action. Nevertheless, he managed to tell their story by renaming Pancho as “Santo.” Other writers have also referred to “Santo” and to Williams’ other sobriquet for Rodriguez: the Princess. These clues led me to Tennessee Williams’ Letters to Donald Windham: 1940-1965. I then received an e-mail from Williams collector Joe De Salvo of Faulkner House, the famed bookstore in Pirate’s Alley in New Orleans. Johnny left all the materials from Pancho’s estate to a nephew. For the most part, the family had been in the dark about Rodriguez’s relationship with Williams; the nephew showed little interest. But a sister, whom neither Pancho nor Johnny had ever mentioned, then called. “I have the letters, photos, and other items that might interest you,” she said, tantalizing me. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to come together. A friend of Windham’s informed me that Williams and Pancho had made several cheap, personal recordings at the Pennyland Arcade on Royal Street back in the 1940sand that they were now part of the New York Public Library theater collection. One featured Williams as reporter Vanilla Williams interviewing the visiting Princess Rodriguez Street. “Oh Princess, don’t cruise there,” Vanilla warns. “But I thought that was where the action was,” the Princess retorts. Other discs feature Pancho singing in Spanish and Williams reciting 38 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 13, 2006