Cherry Jones won the Tony(R) Award for best actress for both The Heiress and Doubt, and received two Tony(R) nominations for her work in A Moon for the Misbegotten and Our Country's Good; she can be seen in the films The Perfect Storm, Erin Brockovich, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and Cold Mountain.
Lula Carson Smith (Carson McCullers) was born in Columbus, Georgia, the daughter of a well-to-do watchmaker and jeweler of French Huguenot extraction. From the age of five McCullers took piano lessons and at the age of 17 she moved to New York to study piano at Juilliard School of Music. However, she never attended the school - she managed to lose the money set aside for her tuition. McCullers worked in menial and studied creative writing at Columbia and New York universities. In 1936 she published in Story magazine an autobiographical piece, 'Wunderkind', which depicted a musical prodigy's failure and adolescent insecurity.
In 1937 she married Reeves McCullers, a failed author. Before the wedding she him told her parents that she did not want to marry him until she first had experienced sex with him. "The sexual experience was not like D.H. Lawrence," she later said. "No grand explosions or colored lights, but it gave me a chance to know Reeves better, and really learn to love him." They moved to North Caroline, living there for two years. During this time she wrote The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a novel in the Southern Gothic tradition. The title, suggested by McCullers's editor, was taken from Fiona MacLeod's poem 'The Lonely Hunter'. Set in the 1930s in a small mill town, similar to Charlotte of the 1930s, the story tells about an adolescent girl with a passion to study music. Other major characters include an unsuccessful socialist agitator, a black physician struggling to maintain his personal dignity, a widower who owns a café, and John Singer, the deaf-mute protagonist, who is confidante of people who talk to him about loneliness and misery. When Singer's Greek mute friend goes insane, Singer is left alone. He takes a room with the Kelly family, where he is visited by the town's misfits. After discovering that his mute friend has died, Singer shoots himself - there is no one left to communicate with him.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was interpreted as an anti-fascist book when it came out. In 1968 it was filmed with Alan Arkin in the lead role. Reflections in a Golden Eye was directed by John Huston (1967), starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Some of the film was shot in New York City and on Long Island, where Huston was permitted to use an abandoned Army installation. Many of the interiors and some of the exteriors were done in Italy. "I first met Carson McCullers during the war when I was visiting Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith in upstate New York," said Huston in An Open Book (1980). "Carson lived nearby, and one day when Buzz and I were out for a walk she hailed us from her doorway. She was then in her early twenties, and had already suffered the first of series of strokes that made her an invalid before she was thirty. I remember her as a fragile thing with great shining eyes, and a tremor in her hand as she placed it in mine. It wasn't palsy, rather a quiver of animal timidity. But there was nothing timid or frail about the manner in which Carson McCullers faced life. And as her affections multiplied, she only grew stronger."
McCullers's marriage turned out to be unlucky. Both she and her husband had homosexual relationships. They separated in 1940. McCullers moved to New York to live with George Davis, the editor of Harper's Bazaar. In Brooklyn McCullers became a member of the art commune February House. Among their friends were W.H. Auden, Paul and Jane Bowles, and the striptease artiste Gipsy Rose Lee. After World War II McCullers lived mostly in Paris. Her close friends during these years included Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.
In 1945 McCullers remarried with Reeves. Three years later McCullers became so depressed she attempted suicide. Reeves killed himself in a Paris hotel in 1953 with an overdose of sleeping pills. McCullers's bitter-sweet play THE SQUARE ROOT OF WONDERFUL (1958) was an attempt to examine these traumatic experiences. THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1946) described the feelings of a young girl at her brother's wedding. The Broadway production of the novella had a successful run in 1950-51. McCullers's best short stories include 'Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland', collected in THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE (1951). The title story, a novella, tells of a strong woman, Miss Amelia Evans, who falls in love with a hunchback, Cousin Lymon. At the end he destroys Miss Amelia's cafe with his lover, her former husband.
Carson McCullers suffered throughout her life from several illnesses - she had contracted rheumatic fever at the age of fifteen and a series of strokes left her a virtual invalid in her early 30's. She died in New York on September 29, 1967, after a stroke and a resultant brain haemorrhage. McCullers's final novel was CLOCK WITHOUT HANDS (1961), which was a bestseller, but received mixed review. SWEET AS A PICKLE, CLEAN AS A PIG (1964) was a collection of children's verse. Her unfinished autobiography, ILLUMINATION AND NIGHT GLARE (1999), McCullers dictated during her final months.
Although McCullers's oeuvre is often described as "Southern Gothic," she produced her famous works after leaving the South. Her eccentric characters suffer from loneliness that is interpreted with deep empathy. In a discussion with the Irish critic and writer Terence De Vere White she confessed: "Writing, for me, is a search for God." This search was not acknowledged by all of her colleagues - Arthur Miller dismissed her a "minor author", but Gore Vidal praised her work as ''one of the few satisfying achievements of our second-rate culture.''
Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917. She died at age fifty in Nyack, New York. She is the author of, among other books, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Clock Without Hands, and The Member of the Wedding.