Partner Tennessee Williams

Queer Places:
Captain Jack's Wharf #6, 73a Commercial St, Provincetown, MA 02657

Kip Kiernan aka Bernard Dubowsky (September 17, 1918 - May 22, 1944) was a dancer who called himself Kip Kiernan, but was actually a Canadian draft dodger named Bernard Dubowsky. In 1940 he met Tennessee Williams and for Williams, Kiernan was the first (and some say the only) great love of his life. He became smitten with the beautiful young man, but the relationship soon ended bitterly and when his lover died tragically soon after of brain cancer, Williams enshrined him in his plays as Brick, Chance and numerous other young men whose external charms concealed an internal decay.

“The bedroom was a small loft with a great window that held in it all one half of the night sky,” Tennessee Williams wrote in Memoirs (1975). “No light was turned on or off as Kip removed his clothes. Dimly, he stood there naked with his back to me. After that, we slept together each night on the double bed up there, and so incontinent was my desire for the boy that I would wake him repeatedly during the night for more love-making.”

Kip Kiernan was an illegal alien from Canada, of Jewish-Russian heritage. He had absented himself from Canada rather than face the draft, as World War II had already begun for the British Commonwealth in the summer of 1940. He sneaked into the United States to escape the draft and to pursue a career as a professional dancer. The summer of 1940 was Kip’s first and only trip to Provincetown. He was one of the models paid to pose for the summer in Hans Hofmann’s art school, located near Captain Jack’s Wharf. Hofmann, who also had a New York school, encouraged his students to follow him to his new Provincetown art school.

Kiernan was studying ballet in Manhattan and modeling for Hans Hofmann in Provincetown. Seven years Williams’s junior, he was to be the first man with whom the playwright fell rapturously in love, though their affair lasted only six weeks until Kiernan broke it off, telling Williams he feared becoming homosexual. “The most significant influence Provincetown had on all Tennessee Williams’s subsequent writing was that he fell in love there,” David Kaplan wrote in Tennessee Williams in Provincetown (2007). “The style and substance of the relationship was something he wrote about directly and indirectly for the next 40 years.”

Early in the summer of 1940, Williams was invited out to the wharf by an acquaintance. He walked into the “two-story shack” to find a youth, “facing the stove, up-stage, preparing clam chowder, New England style, the dish on which he and his young (platonic) friend Joe [Hazan] were subsisting that summer through economic need. He was wearing dungarees, skin-tight, and my good eye was hooked like a fish.” When he turned around, Williams could appreciate Kiernan’s “slightly slanted lettuce-green eyes, high cheekbones, and a lovely mouth,” having already taken in his “callipygian ass.” Hazan and Kiernan invited 29-year-old Williams to room with them, on a cot next to Hazan’s on the first floor. There he stayed until the night of a party in a nearby cabin, during which “Sweet Leilani” played seductively on the radio. Williams managed to get Kiernan alone back in their shack and, “with crazed eloquence,” declared his desire. “He was silent a few moments and then said, ‘Tom, let’s go up to my bedroom.'” Williams would recall three and a half decades later that he wrote The Purification, a short drama in verse, on an upended wooden box in that loft on which he perched his portable typewriter. “In that play I found a release, in words, of the ecstasy of the affair,” Williams later wrote. “And also a premonition of its doom.” The relationship was over in weeks. (Four years later, Kiernan himself was dead, apparently of a brain tumor.)

By August 18, 1940, Williams was back in New York City. He wrote to a mutual friend, Joe Hazan, about his love for Kip: “I think almost continually about Kip. Memories—dreams—longings—little hopes and great desolations. Will he ever come back?” Joe responded to this letter and advised Williams “to seek in meditation what was rationally inaccessible.” Williams replied, “I pray for the strength to be separate, to be austere . . . and for concentrated work. . . . But what an animal I am!” Williams decided to travel to Mexico. Before he left in September, he wrote one last plea to Kip: “I love you (with robust manly love as Whitman would call it) as much as I love anybody, and want you to write!” Kip finally did write, but it was a distant reply. Williams noted, “The heart forgets to feel even sorrow after a while.”

Kip never returned to Provincetown. He married and joined the Hanya Holm Dance Company and performed in several productions. In 1944, at the age of twenty-six, Kip died from a brain tumor. Williams alleged in his Memoirs that he visited Kip in the hospital at that time. He did dedicate his collection One Arm and Other Stories (1945) to Kip’s memory. In this collection, the phrase “mad pilgrimage of the flesh” appears in print for the first time, in the short story “The Malediction.” Many years later, in 1980, Williams wrote directly about Kip in his play Something Cloudy, Something Clear.

In Memoirs Williams described Kip as a beautiful young "Canadian" who was dodging the draft. His actual name was Bernard Dubowsky, "Kiernan" taken from a phone directory to hide an illegal status. Kip's death certificate, filed on May 22, 1944, spells his name as Kipp, lists his occupation as artist and sculptor, and records his birth in Amarillo, Texas, on September 17, 1918—information given by his widow, Robin Gregory Kiernan. The Texas Department of Health, however, has no birth certificate for Kipp Kiernan (or Bernard Dubowsky), nor is the Social Security number listed on his death certificate a valid one. Williams recalled visiting Kip before he died on May 21 at St. Clare's Hospital in New York City (not Polyclinic, as Williams notes in Memoirs) from an apparent brain tumor. There is no evidence of a Bernard Dubowsky death in New York at this time.

My published books:

See my published books