Albee spent the 1950s living in Greenwich Village in a number of apartments and working a variety of odd jobs (for example, a telegram delivery person) to supplement his monthly stipend from a trust fund left for him by his paternal grandmother. He met and became involved with William Flanagan, who had come east from Detroit to study music and was the music critic for the Herald Tribune and other publications. In 1952 Albee moved in with Flanagan, his first long-term gay relationship. Although he had had a few heterosexual experiences, had even been unofficially engaged to a socialite whose parents were friends of his parents, Albee had also had gay experiences as early as age 13, and frequented gay bars while he was in college. Flanagan was, however, more than a lover to the young Albee; he was also an artistic and intellectual mentor. He was the leader of a group of young composers and musicians who socialized together and sometimes with painters, sculptors, and other artistic persons in the Village who were part of the various avant-garde movements. According to Albee’s biographer Mel Gussow, Greenwich Village in the Fifties was like Paris in the Twenties when Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other writers and artists and intellectuals lived, wrote, and socialized on the Left Bank. Flanagan and his entourage, of which the only writer was Albee, attended the theatre, art exhibits, and other cultural events, as well as frequenting lower Manhattan nightspots. During this time Albee saw Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh and T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party on Broadway. Thus, in his twenties Albee experienced the equivalent and perhaps even better of a college and graduate school education.In his early adulthood, Albee was still bent on becoming a writer, though not making much progress. On his first trip abroad to Italy and France with Flanagan, he searched for inspiration and wrote a great deal, but nothing came to fruition. He submitted to The New Yorker but was rejected. Over a ten-year period, Albee wrote, according to Gussow, “nine plays, dozens of stories, and more than 100 poems,” none of which were published or produced. During the early part of the Fifties he was concentrating on poetry, but after showing his poems first to W.H. Auden and then to Thornton Wilder, whose Our Townand The Skin of Our Teeth he had seen on Broadway, Albee took Wilder’s advice and started writing plays, of which a few survive in manuscript. The two scholars who have read these apprentice plays and commented upon them in print have agreed with Albee that they lack his distinctive voice, especially his sense of humor, which was first heard in The Zoo Story in 1958. The famous story of how Albee wrote what was to be his first produced play has him approaching his thirtieth birthday with a sense of desperation that he would never be a writer. Thus, he “liberated” a typewriter from the Western Union office where he worked and wrote The Zoo Story (which for years he claimed was his first play) in three weeks as a birthday present to himself. Although it took some time to get it on the stage, both Albee and Flanagan knew that he had taken a giant step forward. Gussow reports that upon listening to a staged reading of The Zoo Story at the Actors Studio, novelist Norman Mailer stood up and proclaimed it the best one-act play he had ever seen.The Zoo Story was initially staged in 1959 in Berlin with German actors speaking a German translation of Albee’s dialogue. Critics’ reaction to this first production and the subsequent American premiere in 1960 were mostly positive, but as Albee himself has noted for years and Gussow’s biography confirms, his plays have always received mixed reviews, rather than the usual description of his career as going from universal acclaim for early works to progressive condemnation for later ones. The Zoo Story was a critical and commercial success and launched Albee’s career as a professional playwright in spectacular fashion: it won him the Obie (the Off-Broadway equivalent of the Tony award) and other awards; got him an agent at William Morris by whom he is still represented; partnered him with his longtime producer Richard Barr; and earned him fame if not fortune, the latter coming with the enormous commercial success of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?In Albee’s personal life, right before he left for the German premiere of The Zoo Story, he and Flanagan separated, and soon after his return from Europe he began living with Terrence McNally, a young actor who was later to become a famous playwright himself. (edwardalbeesociety.org)
William Flanagan (August 14, 1923 – September 1, 1969) was an American composer of the mid-twentieth century.
Flanagan was a great admirer of Maurice Ravel, David Diamond, 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, 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 the music for Albee's adaptation of Carson McCullers' novel, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, as well as his adaptation of James Purdy's Malcolm. Flanagan committed suicide in 1969, after which Copland eulogized him in a memorial concert given by Albee and Ned Rorem. 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. Some of Flanagan's scores and papers are in the William Flanagan Papers collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.