Edward Albee Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Mystery surrounds the origins of Edward Franklin Albee III. He was born to Louise Harvey (father unknown) somewhere in Virginia on March 12, 1928 (not in Washington, D.C., as is frequently listed). Almost three weeks later on March 30, Albee was given up for adoption to Reed A. and Frances Albee (twenty-three years younger than her husband). He was taken to Larchmont, New York, where he was raised in luxury. The name Edward was taken from Reed’s father, wealthy theater magnate Edward Franklin Albee, who owned part of the Keith-Albee Theater Circuit until businessman Joseph P. Kennedy forced him out in 1929. Despite several efforts, the playwright has never been able to trace his natural parents. He did discover, after his adoptive mother’s death, that his birth name was Edward Harvey.

Albee grew up in a large, luxurious stucco Tudor house. He was surrounded by servants, horses, toys, tutors, and chauffeured limousines. His winters were spent in Palm Beach, Florida, or Arizona and summers sailing in Long Island Sound. Albee developed a love for horses and riding from his adoptive mother, whom he adored as a child; she was a tall, beautiful woman who once modeled for Bergdorf Goodman. He was quite close to his grandmother. It was her trust fund that later enabled Albee to leave home and sustain his efforts as a writer.

Albee’s love for the theater developed very early, fueled by his frequent trips to Broadway matinees (in a Rolls-Royce) and by the visits of famous theatrical guests to the Albees’ sprawling estate. Excited by meeting such show business personalities as Ed Wynn, Jimmy Durante, and Walter Pidgeon, Albee began writing plays at an early age. He penned his first play at the precocious age of twelve—a full-length sex farce titled Aliqueen, about passengers on an English ocean liner.

Albee suffered from a troubled childhood despite his apparent social, economic, and cultural advantages. Keenly aware that he was adopted, the future dramatist harbored a deep-seated resentment against his biological parents for abandoning him. That resentment resonated throughout his plays. Albee’s hostility, however, was not reflected toward his adoptive parents. Still, he gave them enough concern about his disruptive behavior that his mother enrolled the eleven-year-old boy in a strict boarding school in Lawrenceville. It would be the first stop of many schools, including Valley Forge Military Academy...

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Edward Albee Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Albee has for almost fifty years remained one of America’s most important playwrights. A prolific dramatist, he produces work that is original, significant, controversial, contradictory, and full of absurdist humor. What remains unique about Albee is his stunning integrity: He will not compromise his artistic ideals, and he resists efforts to become commercially successful. Albee continues following his own inner visions, and each new effort is different from its predecessor. Regardless of his popularity, however, Albee’s place in theatrical history is secure. On June 5, 2005, Albee was awarded the prestigious Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, a well-deserved capstone to a distinguished literary career in the American theater.

Edward Albee Biography (American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

Early Life

Edward Franklin Albee was adopted when he was two weeks old by the prosperous Reed Albee, an active partner in the Keith-Albee chain of vaudeville houses, and Frances Albee, a former fashion model. Albee, something of a problem child, attended a procession of private schools, finally being graduated from Choate in 1946. He enrolled in Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and attended it for three semesters. He became a Western Union messenger in New York, where Thornton Wilder, whom he had met while a student at the Lawrenceville School where Wilder taught, encouraged him in his writing career. During this period, he came to know W. H. Auden, who also supported his writing efforts.

The 1960’s

Albee published and produced his absurdist play, The Zoo Story, in 1959. The Death of Bessie Smith, The Sandbox, and Fam and Yam were all produced in 1960, followed in 1961 by The American Dream and Albee and James Hinton, Jr.’s libretto for Bartleby, based on Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener.”

Albee’s greatest triumph in the 1960’s, however, was the production in 1962 of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a dazzling play that questions many of America’s most cherished values and traditions, such as beliefs about the family and the child-parent relationship. The play received the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Tony Award for best play of the year. The drama jury awarded it the Pulitzer Prize, but its vote was overturned by the advisory board of Columbia University, which administers the Pulitzer Prize, because of the play’s strong language and general iconoclasm. This decision caused John Mason Brown and John Gassner to resign from the drama jury.

Ironically, Albee subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for A Delicate Balance (produced 1966, published 1967), although the play was not equal to the standard Albee had set in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, one of the most thought-provoking and insightful plays of the twentieth century.

In one decade, Albee saw eleven of his plays produced professionally, including, besides those already mentioned, The Ballad of the Sad Café (pr., pb. 1963), based on Carson McCuller’s novel; Tiny Alice(pr. 1964, pb. 1965), a play in which a church barters a soul for a donation; Malcolm (pr., pb. 1966), adapted from James Purdy’s novel; Everything in the Garden (pr. 1967, pb. 1968), based on Giles Cooper’s play; and Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (pr. 1968; pb. 1969).

Later Life

Although his productivity peaked in the 1960’s, Albee continued to write plays in the years that followed. His Seascape (pr., pb. 1975) and Three Tall Women (pr. 1990, pb. 1991), a play of considerable substance, both received Pulitzer Prizes.


Albee, with plays such as The Sandbox, The Zoo Story, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, altered the course of American theater by applying elements of absurdist theater, such as brutal, almost sadistic dialog and frequent non sequiturs, to plays that had broad public appeal. Albee also contributed significantly to the training of future...

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Edward Albee Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born on March 12, 1928, Edward Franklin Albee was adopted at the age of two weeks by the socially prominent and wealthy New Yorkers Reed and Frances Albee. His adoptive father was the scion of the family who owned the Keith-Albee chain of vaudeville houses; his adoptive mother was a former Bergdorf high-fashion model. Albee’s deep-seated resentment of the natural parents who abandoned him finds reflection in the child motifs that pervade both his original plays and his adaptations: the orphan in The Zoo Story and The Ballad of the Sad Café, the mutilated twin in The American Dream, the intensely hoped-for child who is never conceived and the conceived child who is unwanted in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the dead son in A Delicate Balance, the child in search of his father in Malcolm, the prodigal son detested by a haughty mother in Three Tall Women, and the apparently kidnapped child in The Play About the Baby.

Living with the Albees was Edward’s maternal grandmother, Grandma Cotta, whom he revered and would later memorialize in The Sandbox and The American Dream. After his primary education at the Rye Country Day School, Albee attended a succession of prep schools (Lawrenceville School for Boys, Valley Forge Military Academy), finally graduating from Choate in 1946 before enrolling at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he studied for a year and a half. While in high school, he wrote both poetry and plays.

In 1953, Albee was living in Greenwich Village and working at a variety of odd jobs when, with the encouragement of Thornton Wilder, he committed himself to the theater. The Zoo Story, written in only two weeks, premiered in Berlin on September 28, 1959; when it opened Off-Broadway at the Provincetown Playhouse on a double bill...

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Edward Albee Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Few American playwrights have revealed an anger as sharp and sustained as that of Edward Albee (AL-bee) or have imposed such great emotional demands on audiences. When he is compared with such contemporary absurdist playwrights as Jack Gelber, Jack Richardson, Kenneth Brown, and Arthur Kopit, Albee is generally shown to be the most challenging and searching among them. His particular talent lies in writing plays in which human emotions alternate drastically at such breakneck speed that audiences, emotionally drained by what they experience, nevertheless emerge with a renewed vision of human relationships, though self-knowledge remains elusive.

Edward Franklin Albee was born somewhere in Virginia and, before he was two...

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Edward Albee Biography

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“What a dump!” Edward Albee’s reputation in many ways began with those words. The phrase is featured in the opening scene of his groundbreaking work Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The 1962 play shocked audiences with its salty language and frank depiction of a drunken couple mired in a bitter middle-aged malaise. Highly influenced by the absurdist work of playwrights like Samuel Becket, Albee would later craft plays that were increasingly antirealistic. His hallmark as a writer has been the way he balances the realistic and the absurd, packaging big ideas in sharp, often biting dialogue. Albee’s writing is frequently heralded for its intellectuality, and Albee himself has worked as a lecturer and educator, inspiring future generations of dramatists to find their own unique theatrical voices. 

Essential Facts

  1. One of Albee’s best-loved (and harrowing) short plays, The Zoo Story, was reworked by the author more than four decades later into the full-length piece Peter and Jerry.
  2. Fractured family dynamics figure prominently in many of Albee’s plays. That has led some critics to suggest that Albee’s tense relationship with his adopted parents was instrumental in shaping him into the writer he would become.
  3. Albee’s play Seascape features a decidedly Daniel-Pinkwater-ian conceit: two of the main characters are giant lizards.
  4. Albee’s 2002 Tony Award-winning play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? deals with a most unusual subject: the disintegration of an upper middle-class family upon the revelation that the father has been carrying on an emotion and sexual affair with the titular goat.
  5. Albee has received the Pulitzer Prize three times, for A Delicate Balance, Seascape, and Three Tall Women. Tellingly, he did not win it for his most famous and respected work, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee Biography (Drama for Students)

Edward Albee was born on March 12, 1928, in Washington, DC, where he was given the name Edward Franklin Albee III by Reed and Francis Albee,...

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Edward Albee Biography (Drama for Students)

Edward Franklin Albee was born March 12, 1928, probably in the state of Virginia. His place of birth is unknown because Albee was adopted...

(The entire section is 520 words.)

Edward Albee Biography (Drama for Students)

Edward Albee was born in 1928 somewhere in Virginia. Two weeks after his birth, Reed and Frances Albee, who lived in Larchmont, New York,...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

Edward Albee Biography (Drama for Students)

Edward Albee was adopted in Washington, D.C., two weeks after his birth on March 12, 1928, by Reed A. Albee (who, after retiring from his...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

Edward Albee Biography (Drama for Students)

Edward Albee Published by Gale Cengage

Born in 1928, Albee was adopted by Reed and Frances Albee, a wealthy couple involved in the theater. He was a precocious writer, composing poetry at the age of six and a play at twelve. As a teenager, he left home when his parents disapproved of his sexual preference; this confrontation would appear later in his plays, in particular Three Tall Women.

Albee’s first one-act play, The Zoo Story, (1958), garnered comparisons with the works of Tennessee Williams and Eugene Ionesco. Subsequent works such as The Death of Bessie Smith (1960), The Sandbox (1960), and The American Dream (1962) earned Albee a place among the top avant-garde writers of the day.

Without doubt, Albee’s best-known work is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf(1962). In this three-act drama, a middle-aged, hard-drinking couple argues and complains about their miserable lives. Critics suggested autobiographical motives in Albee’s depiction of George and Martha, the feuding husband and wife, and welcomed the play as an invigorating exploration of the troubled lives of American families. The play was turned into a film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1966. That same year, Albee earned the first of three Pulitzer Prizes for A Delicate Balance.

During the 1970s and 1980s, he produced a string of notable failures that included Box and Quotations from Mao Tse-Tung (1969), All Over (1971), and The Lady from Dubuque (1980). The only play during this period that received a generally favorable response was Seascape, for which he won a second Pulitzer Prize in 1975.

While his plays remained popular on university stages and in regional theaters around the country, Albee seemed like a professional outcast. During this time he continued to write, and taught the craft of playwriting at the University of Houston in Texas. Then, in the early 1990s, he earned his third Pulitzer Prize as well as widespread critical and popular acclaim for Three Tall Women. In 1993 the Signature Theatre in Manhattan devoted an entire season to Albee’s plays.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of the Arts for his distinguished career. Critic Robert Brustein noted in The New Republic, ‘‘His late career is beginning to resemble O’Neill’s, another dramatist who wrote his greatest plays after having been rejected and abandoned by the culture. Happily, unlike O’Neill, he may not have to wait for death to rehabilitate him.’’

Edward Albee Biography (Drama for Students)

Edward Albee at Boston Published by Gale Cengage

Edward Albee, numbered among the United States's most acclaimed and controversial playwrights, was born March 12, 1928. As the adopted son of Reed and Frances Albee, heirs to the fortune of American theater manager Edward Franklin Albee, he had an early introduction to the theatre. He began attending performances at the age of six and wrote a three-act sex farce when he was twelve. Albee attended several private and military schools and enrolled briefly at Connecticut's Trinity College from 1946-47. He held a variety of jobs over the next decade, working as a writer for WNYC-radio, an office boy for an advertising agency, a record salesman, and a messenger for Western Union. He wrote both fiction and poetry as a young man, achieving some limited success, and at the age of thirty returned to writing plays, making an impact with his one-act The Zoo Story (1959). Over the next few years Albee continued to satirize American social values with a series of important one-act plays: The Death of Bessie Smith (1960), the savagely expressionistic The Sandbox (1960), and The American Dream (1961).

Albee came fully into the national spotlight with his first full-length play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962). The play quickly developed a reputation as one of the most challenging works of the contemporary American theatre, even if some critics faulted it as morbid and serf-indulgent. Albee has yet to make as large an impact with any of his subsequent plays, many of which have failed commercially and elicited scathing reviews. At the same time, however, the playwright has been commended for his commitment to theatrical experimentation. Albee's 1966 play A Delicate Balance, in which a troubled middle-aged couple examine their relationship during a prolonged visit by two close friends, earned him a Pulitzer Prize which many felt was a belated attempt by the Pulitzer committee to honor Albee for Virginia Woolf. Albee won a second Pulitzer for his 1975 play Seascape, in which two couples—one human, the other a pair of intelligent lizard-like creatures that have been driven from the sea by the process of evolution—discuss the purpose of existence. Albee has also continued to write experimental one-acts, including the paired plays Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1968), and his 1977 work Listening: A Chamber Play. He received a third Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his play Three Tall Women.

Albee has also adapted many works of fiction for the stage, including the novels The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Early in his career, he also collaborated on the opera Bartleby, based on a story by Herman Melville. Albee has applied his theatrical talents to directing productions of his own plays and has also served as co-producer at the New Playwrights Unit Workshop, co-director of the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, founder of the William Flanagan Center for Creative Persons in Mountauk, NY, and member of the National Endowment for the Arts grant-giving council. He has lectured extensively at college campuses and visited Russia and several Latin American countries on cultural exchanges through the U.S. State Department.