It was my first Broadway play. I was playing that crazy bitch, Blanche DuBois, and Franklin - Stanley Kowalski. He was perfect for the part. He had that air of brooding, dangerous sexuality, that chiselled body which, in the tight, sweat-stained vest, made the play come alive.
At the little coffee shop round the corner from the theatre, Franklin and I always seemed to be sitting together, or opposite each other, our legs casually interlinked. The café was small, the booths smaller. Everyone was leaning against each other somehow. There was nothing sexual about it, not then.
Franklin was a brilliant actor. When he stepped off-stage, he shed the skin of Stanley Kowalski like a dirty overcoat. He was the kindest man you could hope to meet. Intelligent, funny and generous - what was not to like? Of course, I fell for him. Everyone did. The other men in the cast tried hard not to like him, but that was impossible. He was such a nice man, they couldn’t even be jealous of him.
His wife had died in childbirth about five years before we were cast together in that awful play. Losing his wife like that only made Franklin more attractive. If he hadn’t been—who knows, perhaps if another actor had played the part it wouldn’t have happened.
If it wasn’t Franklin’s fault, then it was the play. It was that damn play’s fault. I don’t care if Tennessee Williams wrote it, or that it’s an iconic piece of theatre, I hate it.
Perhaps everything began to fall apart when, in the middle of Scene 10 - the infamous scene, Franklin asked me to dinner. The temperature from the lights was making us all a little hot and sweaty. This rehearsal, it was feeling less like a play and more - real. The tension was rising with every line. He’d tossed the table over, his hand was gripping my wrist painfully, bending me backwards, his other arm wrapped around my hips forcing them against his. I could feel the hardness of his body against mine. He leaned over me. If he’d let me go I would have fallen, hard.
“We’ve had this date with each other from the beginning,” he growled, and for just a moment he was Stanley Kowlaski. My heart was pounding, beating erratically against my ribs. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. The heat of lust was pouring off him in waves. Was this real or was it part of the act? I couldn’t tell. The rest of the cast, the stage, the lights, none of it existed. It was just me, this hard, dangerous man with his dark, scowling face above me, and the terrified bird in my heart. I could feel the panic begging to be let out, to get away from him.
I sank to my knees. Suddenly his hands gentled, the shadowed, red light in his eyes faded and the familiar soft smile pulled at the one corner of his mouth. He was once more the lovely Franklin Settler. My fear subsided slightly. He leaned a little closer and dropped his voice so only I could hear him, “Have dinner with me. Tonight,” he whispered.
He yanked me up into his arms and once again my heart began to pound. I knew if he wanted to keep me there, I’d never be able to break free of him. In quick, hard strides he carried me through the curtain into the bedroom section of the set for the imagined climax of the rape scene. He dropped me on the bed, the springs screaming in protest. He grabbed the prop vase and threw it on the floor, smashing it into a million pieces. One of the stage hands gasped in fright. Unseen by everyone else, he bent his head and kissed me. It was the softest, most caressing kiss I’d ever had. I could feel myself slipping deeper and deeper into him. The hammering in my heart picked up speed again. Part of me was begging for him to kiss me again. Part of me wanted to run out the backstage door and never come back.
“Great! Excellent! Well done you two. Back on stage everyone for notes,” Stephen, the director, yelled out. The cast broke out into applause as soon as we came through the curtain again. “Nice work, Stanley, Blanche! Listen to me! A testament to your skills, you two. You completely made me forget you’re only playing those parts, so well done.” The cast clapped once more. Franklin blushed and looked down at his feet, then shot a quick grin at me and shrugged.
“It’s easy when you get to act with someone as talented as Celia,” he said. Everyone laughed, knowing better. I tried to smile, but my lips were quivering so much I had to bite the lower one to stop them.
“There was just a moment, just one, yes? When it slipped. Keep the drama high all the time, alright?” Franklin blushed again and nodded. Stephen moved on to notes for the rest of the cast.
Our inevitable affair lasted until opening night. We were standing outside on the pavement getting some fresh air just before dawn. Without warning, Franklin pulled me into his arms. “Marry me. I can’t say goodbye when the play ends. I love you.”
I stared at him. The reckless grin on his face scared me. Terrified me. Just like that night at rehearsal.
After a while, he realised I wasn’t going to say anything at all. His arms dropped. Confusion, heart-break, I could see it in his eyes. He turned away and stepped blindly into the road. Neither of us had seen the car coming.
I never married, and after Franklin, I never did another Tennessee Williams play ever again. One was fate, the other deliberate. I was never sure which. The woman writing my memoirs wants to know.
That’s her car now.