Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Clifford Odets’s banner year was 1935, when he catapulted from the obscurity of acting with the Group Theatre to being the toast of Broadway. Odets became a founding member of the newly formed Group Theatre in 1931 after brief acting stints elsewhere.
His rise to fame began in 1935 with Waiting for Lefty, an agitprop play he wrote in three days late in 1934, rushing to enable its entrance in a New Masses contest. It was presented the following January at a New Masses benefit. Waiting for Lefty consisted of six vignettes around a central theme: a strike by taxicab drivers.
The play transfixed audiences. At the end, with the revelation that Lefty, the union organizer, has been killed, the audience is asked what the cab drivers should do. There is a collective cry of “Strike, Strike, Strike.” Few plays have caught the public imagination as quickly as Waiting for Lefty. Within two months, it played all over the Western world, and it won Yale University’s George Pierce Baker Drama Cup.
Meanwhile, the Group Theatre, seeking to capitalize on Odets’s celebrity, quickly staged Awake and Sing! (pr. 1935) , an adaptation of his 910 Eden Street, which had never been produced. Meanwhile Odets dashed off a short play, Till the Day I Die (pr. 1935), to create a...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Clifford Odets essentially became a rebel without a cause. His considerable talents as a playwright were not lost, as his last three plays attest, but the anger that he played out with such conviction in his plays of the 1930’s had cooled by the end of the decade. When the economic crisis against which he had railed had played out, Odets could find little left to replace it. Despite that, he remains one of the most inventive American dramatists of the twentieth century.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Clifford Odets was born in Philadelphia to a twenty-year-old Lithuanian immigrant, Louis J. Odets, and his nineteen-year-old wife, Pearl Geisinger Odets, who had come to the United States from Romania, often called “Austria” by the Geisingers. Odets was the first of three children, and he was closer in many ways to his Aunt Esther and her husband than he was to his sickly, chronically depressed mother and somewhat combative father. “Tante Esther,” as he called her, had been just enough older than her sister Pearl when they arrived in the United States that she remembered Yiddish and was able to speak it. Her husband, Israel Rossman, read Yiddish newspapers, and in the Rossman household, the young Odets was exposed to cadences of language that were absent from his parents’ home and that he was to use effectively in dialogue throughout his career. Indeed, Odets was more successful than any playwright of his time in capturing the speech cadences and intonations of Jewish Americans.
Odets’s father rose quickly to middle-class status. By the early 1920’s, Louis Odets was owner of a print shop in the Bronx. As the fortunes of the family improved, however, Odets began to feel spiritually alienated from the bourgeois values of his parents. He was moving gradually into what would be his vocation by affiliating himself with such theatrical groups as the Drawing-Room Players, Harry Kemp’s Poets’ Theatre, the Mae Desmond Stock Company, and, for a...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Clifford Odets (oh-DEHTS) touched an exposed nerve in theatergoing Americans with his agitprop drama Waiting for Lefty, which he wrote in three days in January, 1935, as an entry in a New Theatre-New Masses drama contest. In a United States gripped by the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Odets cast the spotlight on the Depression’s resultant labor strife, depicting the unrest of taxicab drivers gathered in a union hall waiting for their organizer, Lefty. Odets presents brief, poignant vignettes of people from all walks of life who, in order to survive, have had to become cabdrivers. In the end, it is revealed that Lefty will not arrive: He has been shot in the head outside the union hall. When Agate, one of those waiting for Lefty, receives the news, he rises and asks the cabbies what to do. Aroused theater audiences join the cabbies in the strident chant, “Strike, Strike, Strike!”
So affecting was Waiting for Lefty that Odets, son of a moderately successful businessman, Louis Odets, was catapulted to fame. From 1931, the young playwright had pursued a career as an actor with the Group Theater, where he had honed his playwriting skills. Before 1935 ended, Odets had three plays besides Waiting for Lefty on Broadway. Odets immediately wrote a short play, Till the Day I Die, which focuses on Communists in Adolf Hitler’s Germany, to play on a twin bill with Lefty; it was too short for a full...
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Odets was born on July 18, 1906, in Philadelphia. Odets’s father, Louis, was a printer who owned his own printing plant by the time Odets was twelve. Odets’s father also eventually owned a lucrative advertising agency. When Odets quit high school in 1923 to pursue poetry and then acting, his father was infuriated. However, he eventually gave his permission for Odets to try to be an actor.
During the next seven years, Odets acted in a number of roles, but was not very successful, although in 1929 he was hired as an understudy for Spencer Tracy in Warren F. Lawrence’s Conflict. Another member of the play’s cast introduced Odets to the Theatre Guild, which in turn led him to the Group Theatre, which he joined in 1930. As a starving artist and a witness to the effects of the Great Depression, Odets, like others, searched for a solution to the country’s ills. In 1934, Odets briefly joined the American Communist Party, although he left eight months later. In 1935, Odets and the Group Theatre produced the playwright’s first play, Waiting for Lefty, a fiery one-act play that detailed the horrors ordinary union workers faced. The play, which used the 1934 New York City cab strike as its setting, advocated striking and its passion quickly won over critics and audiences, which made Odets a star overnight. Following this success, Odets and the Group Theatre produced another social drama, Awake and Sing! also in 1935.
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Playwright Clifford Odets was born on July 18, 1906, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Louis and Pearl Odets, who were Jewish immigrants of Russian and Austrian descent. While Odets was a young boy, his family moved repeatedly between Philadelphia and New York before settling in the Bronx when he was six years old. By the time Odets entered high school, his father had become a successful printer who owned his own print company in New York. Odets senior wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. However, as a youth, Odets performed poorly in school but was a voracious reader and an ardent moviegoer. Despite his poor academic record, as a student at the Morris High School, Odets was an active member of the drama club. In 1923, at the age of seventeen, Odets dropped out of high school to pursue a career in acting. Odets’s desire to pursue a career on the stage conflicted with his father’s ideas of success and would be a source of conflict from which Odets would draw heavily during his later career as a playwright.
Although he managed to secure a number of minor parts, Odets was unable to find much success as an actor. In 1931, however, Odets’s luck changed when he was cast in a minor role in the first production of Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg’s newly formed Group Theatre, The House of Connelly’ by Paul Green. Odets’s relationship with the Group Theatre would eventually result in the 1935 production of his own Waiting for Lefty,...
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IntroductionWhen theatergoers think of Clifford Odets, the first word that always comes to mind is “strike.” In the climactic finale of his taxi-union drama Waiting for Lefty, the workers unite in chanting, “Strike!” Odets made his name as a playwright for the Group Theatre, an influential collective of theater artists whose work defined drama for the next generation. Odets’s politicized, left-leaning writing epitomized the discontent of the masses during the height of the Great Depression. His work was particularly reflective of the ethnic diversity (and correlating oppression) of lower income residents of urban environments. Odets’s characters stand out in the theatrical canon for their highly political and philosophical reflections of daily struggles.
- Before becoming a playwright for the Group Theatre, Odets tried briefly and unsuccessfully to be an actor.
- Many of Odets’s plays and screenplays were later adapted into stage musicals, including Golden Boy and the Tony Award-winning but short-lived Sweet Smell of Success.
- Following the demise of the Group Theatre, Odets went to Hollywood and became a successful screenwriter.
- Awake and Sing!, Odets’s 1935 play, was revived on Broadway more than seventy years later featuring an all-star cast that included Mark Ruffalo and Lauren Ambrose.
- Like fellow Group Theatre Alumna Elia Kazan, Odets named names when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, resulting in the blacklisting of many of his former colleagues.
Clifford Odets Criticism
Clifford Odets Criticism (Vol. 2)
Clifford Odets Criticism (Vol. 28)
Clifford Odets Criticism (Vol. 98)
Clifford Odets is best-known for his early, Depression-era dramas, particularly Waiting for Lefty, an overt work of propaganda that tells a story of working-class struggle, intended to promote a socialist revolution. His later works were more conventional in style and content and seldom preached a political message. Though his later work often met with critical and commercial approval, he never regained the prominence he enjoyed in the 1930s. He is primarily associated with the left-wing "agit-prop'' (a term defined as political propaganda as proffered through literature, drama, art, and music) theatre of that time.
Odets was born July 18, 1906, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He moved with his family to the Bronx at the age of six. Though he would associate himself with the political causes of the working-class and down-trodden, his early circumstances were decidedly middle-class. Odets rebelled against his father's strong wish that he enter the family printing business, aspiring instead to become an actor. He dropped out of high school in 1923 and entered into a succession of minor jobs in the theatrical world, eventually finding his way to the Group Theater in 1930.
As its name suggests, the Group Theater was a collective, whose members embraced socialist principles and saw their theatrical work as an expression of their political values. Disdaining the "star-system" and commercialism of Broadway,...
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