A Streetcar Named Desire, the winner of 12 Academy awards including Best Picture in 1952, is also a Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway Play, written by Tennessee Williams. He wrote the play while he was living in New Orleans French Quarter. The title comes from a real New Orleans streetcar line that no longer exists.
Tennessee Williams was living in an apartment on Toulouse Street in New Orleans’ French Quarter when he wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Williams would have heard the continuous rumble and clanging of the electric rail cars moving up and down the old Desire Streetcar Line, only a half-block away. But in the few short years between the time Williams wrote the play and the release of the motion picture, the Desire Streetcar Line shut down. Buses replaced the streetcars in 1948.
Behind the scenes at the historic new orleans collection
The Historic New Orleans Collection owns the apartment building on Toulouse Street where Tennessee Williams lived during one of his stays in the French Quarter. The Collection has put together an exhibit which takes you through various stages as Williams wrote Streetcar for Broadway. The typewriter and desk used by Williams is also part of the exhibit. Photographs from both the motion picture and the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire hang in the gallery. You can also view the 1952 Best Actress Oscar given to Vivien Leigh for her performance in the movie. One unique display features the handwritten notes of Elia Kazan, who directed both the Broadway and film productions. Exhibit curator Mark Cave explains, “You can kind of go in by character and you could see what Kazan envisioned in that character.”
The real streetcar named desire
The Desire Line ran through New Orleans’ French Quarter. The rail line started at Canal Street and headed down Bourbon Street to Desire Street in the city’s 9th Ward. From there, the streetcars would loop back toward Canal Street, traveling up a parallel rail on Royal Street. “The big thing about Desire was that it ran the length of the French Quarter,” explains historian and author Ed Branley. “It was the streetcar that people who lived in the quarter used to go places.” Branley, a former history teacher, calls himself the Nola History Guy and publishes his New Orleans stories online.
no desire line, but the movie streetcar still runs
The opening scene of the movie features an aerial few of wharves and the railroad along the New Orleans Riverfront. Within minutes, the leading lady, actress Vivien Leigh, boards the Desire streetcar. It’s an actual New Orleans street car, Number 922, which still runs today on the Historic St. Charles Streetcar Line.
streetcar featured on TV
The exhibit “Backstage at A Streetcar Named Desire” runs through July 3, 2022. It’s one of many New Orleans themed exhibits at the Collection. THNOC has exhibits at its Louisiana History Galleries and the Williams Gallery in the 500 block of Royal Street. You can also visit the Williams Research Center at 410 Charters Street. Phone: (504) 523-4662