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Clifford Odets Biography

(1906–63), Waiting for Lefty, Awake and Sing!, Till the Day I Die, Paradise Lost

American playwright, born in Philadelphia, but brought up in New York City. He left school early to become an actor, initially in radio and later with the Theatre Guild. At 25, he was a founder member of the Group Theatre, together with Harold Clurman, Lee Strasberg, and Cheryl Crawford: for the Group he later wrote his first major work, Waiting for Lefty (1935), which deals with a taxi drivers' strike and the desperation of the strikers' lives. Awake and Sing!, Till the Day I Die, and Paradise Lost were also produced in the same year. Till the Day I Die, written to be performed on Broadway with Waiting for Lefty and sharing with it the characteristics of agit-prop theatre, celebrates communist resistance to the German Nazi Party. Awake and Sing! is a Depression play centred on the Bergers, a poor Jewish family in the Bronx. Jacob Berger commits suicide so that his grandson Ralph may receive the insurance money; Ralph, however, gives the money to his family and dedicates himself to radical campaigning. Subsequently, Odets developed a more realistic style in the successful Golden Boy (1937) and Rocket to the Moon (1938); the former presents the life and death of Joe Bonaparte, who renounces violin-playing for wealth as a boxer, and who dies in a car crash, having lost his talent, his lover, and his integrity. Odets was briefly a Communist Party member, but in the post-war period took a ‘cooperative’ stance in his testimony to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and wrote drama rather less concerned with overtly political themes. These included The Big Knife (1949), The Country Girl (1950)—a commercial success—and The Flowering Peach (1954), a retelling of Noah's story.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography