Partner Edward Albee

Queer Places:
17215 Warrington Dr, Detroit, MI 48221
238 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014

William Flanagan Pictured with Virgil Thomson and Ned RoremWilliam Flanagan (August 14, 1923 – September 1, 1969) was an American composer of the mid-twentieth century. On a six-month trip to Europe in 1952, Edward Albee became romantically involved with Flanagan, and on their return to New York they shared an apartment. He and Flanagan socialized with aspiring composers, writers, and artists at various haunts in Greenwich Village, especially gay bars, where they drank heavily.

William Michael Flanagan was born in Detroit, MI, the son of James P. Flanagan. In the 1940s he was a student working at J. L. Hudson Department Store.

William Flanagan and Edward Albee were known in the Greenwich Village of the 1950s as “The Sisters Grimm,” and most evenings they glowered their way through clandestine, Mafia-run gay bars with names like Goody’s and Mary’s and Lenny’s Hideaway. They lived to drink from 11pm to dawn and slept until 4 in the afternoon; in between times, they took odd jobs and ran telegrams for Western Union. Flanagan was a sharp, fast talker, and Albee was his younger protégé, a kind of silent sponge, drinking everything in. “Edward is widely reputed to be a mysterious number,” Flanagan said later on. “He’s been exorcising ghosts all his life.” 

Albee's first play, The Zoo Story, was first staged in Berlin in 1959 before eventually premiering Off-Broadway in 1960. Before Albee left for Germany, he and Flanagan separared after seven years together, also because Albee had met Terrence McNally in February 1959 at a party, beginning a relationship lasting five years. The relationship ended in 1963 when McNally became involved with actor Robert Drivas.

Drawing on his life in New York and the people Albee met while delivering telegrams, he made an imaginative leap in The Zoo Story. Some people would naturally come to the conclusion that Jerry was based on Albee, or, to those who knew them both, on Flanagan. Physically, the character, as a once-handsome man going to seed, seemed closer to Flanagan. From Albee's point of view, both characters were based on himself. They were, he said, ''the two Edwards, the one who lived back in Larchmont, and the one who lives in New York City,'' and by indirection the play was an attack on the life he led, and could have continued to lead, if he had not left home. The first person to read the play was Flanagan, who said: ''There was no preparation for that sudden emergence of a full-blown talent. He arrived with nothing coming before. I was overpowered by it. It's as if he didn't exist creatively before he was 30.'' Asked what triggered the creativity, Flanagan said: ''A sense of his own mindlessness, having reached a crisis in his sense of disinvolvement. He was vitiating his emotional resources. For a number of reasons related to his family, he was running into an area of personal turmoil.''

With Flanagan's help, Albee began sending the play around. In retrospect, it is astonishing how short-sighted the initial criticism was. Remembering Thornton Wilder's encouragement of him at the MacDowell Colony, and the older man's suggestion that he move from poetry to playwriting, Albee sent him a copy of the play. Wilder responded by saying he was ''much impressed'' by the play, that it had ''many far-plunging insights.'' He offered his congratulations, and then he began to tear it apart: ''I don't think it would play half as well as it reads -- the men -- the concrete men there -- would get in the way . . . The trouble is that your content is real, inner, and your own, and your form is tired old grandpa's.'' He added that the play had no style and no irony. Despite Wilder's dismissal, Albee continued to admire the older playwright's work. After diverse reactions from Aaron Copland, William Inge and others, Flanagan suggested that Albee send a copy to the composer David Diamond in Florence. Diamond was a close friend of Flanagan's as well as one of his teachers. But Albee had had the testiest of relationships with Diamond, and it was with trepidation that he sent him the play. The response came three weeks later. Diamond was unhesitating in his enthusiasm and ignored their past differences. For Albee, it was the equivalent of Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter to Walt Whitman, greeting him at the start of a brilliant career, and it came from a most unlikely and unexpected source.

Flanagan was a great admirer of Maurice Ravel, David Diamond,[1] and Aaron Copland, who became something of a mentor to Flanagan. His best work was in the realm of vocal music. Although little known today, as well as unsuccessful and undervalued in his time,[2] a number of his brief vocal compositions, including Horror Movie and The Upside-Down Man, have been recorded. He is best known today as having been the long-time lover of playwright Edward Albee, with whom he wrote an opera after Bartleby, the Scrivener. He composed music for the 1960 premiere of Albee's play The Sandbox as well as Albee's adaptations The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1963 from the Carson McCullers) and Malcolm (1966, from the James Purdy novel).[3] In 1963 Albee wrote one act of The Ice Age, a libretto for Flanagan, but the opera was never completed.[4] Flanagan committed suicide in 1969, after which Copland eulogized him in a memorial concert given by Albee and Ned Rorem.[2] At the concert, Albee "announced that he was planning to open a writers' colony in Montauk to be called the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center.[2] Some of Flanagan's scores and papers are in the William Flanagan Papers collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.[5]

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