Heart of Louisiana: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

“A Streetcar Named Desire” was an academy award-winning movie and Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway play. It was written by Tennessee Williams.
Published: Jun. 5, 2022 at 4:36 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WAFB) - “A Streetcar Named Desire” was an academy award-winning movie and Pulitzer prize-winning Broadway play. It was written by Tennessee Williams while he was living in the New Orleans French Quarter.

It was only a brief appearance, but New Orleans Streetcar No. 922 had a starring role in a major Hollywood motion picture. The movie was 1951′s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” written by playwright, Tennessee Williams.

“Between the time Williams wrote the play and they produced the movie, the Desire streetcar line was gone,” said Ed Branley.

New Orleans historian and author Ed Branley said the old Desire streetcar line ran from Canal Street down Bourbon to Desire Street in the Ninth Ward and then back up Royal Street through the French Quarter to Canal.

“The big thing about Desire was that it ran the length of the French Quarter. It was the streetcar that people who lived in the quarter used to just go places,” explained Branley.

At one time, Tennessee Williams was living in the French Quarter, a half-block from the Desire streetcar line. The building is now owned by the Historic New Orleans Collection, which is featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the Williams movie and Broadway play.

“We have multiple drafts of the play that allows people to kind of trace his, uh, creative process, um, how he developed the play over several years,” said Mark Cave, curator with the Historic New Orleans Collection.

Cave showed the typewriter and desk where Williams wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The Oscar won by Vivien Leigh for best actress in the movie. You can see photographs and movie clips of Marlon Brando on stage and on screen. And you can electronically flip through director Elia Kazan’s handwritten stage notes.

“We’ve created this really cool interactive, where you can kind of go in by character and you could see what Kazan, uh, envisioned in that character,” added Cave.

What influences can you see that New Orleans had on Tennessee Williams in the things that he was writing?

“New Orleans and the French Quarter, in particular, was, um, sort of a perfect environment for Williams. Um, you just kind of go out in the morning and you just have all these wonderful experiences with all sorts of different people. And I think that happened to Williams where he, uh, just loved the social engagement and the stimuli of living in the French Quarter,” explained Cave.

Following the movie’s release, visitors to New Orleans might have seen the old street car on display.

“They put it up in a caged area in the French Market. They put the Desire sign on it and it was the streetcar named Desire. Well, it wasn’t really the one in the movie, but you came to New Orleans, you got to see the, the streetcar in the French Quarter,” noted Branley.

The dilapidated old car is now in storage, but if you do get a chance to ride the historic St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, look for the No. 922. It’s the one that has been taking movie goers on an emotional journey to New Orleans for more than 70 years.

Backstage at Streetcar Named Desire at the Historic New Orleans Collection continues through July 3.

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