Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Samuel Nathaniel Behrman was the third child of Joseph and Zelda (Feingold) Behrman and was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. The first two children in the Behrman family, Hiram and Morris, were born in Eastern Europe (in or near Vilna, Lithuania). Because no official record of the writer’s birth date was ever recorded in Worcester, he arbitrarily selected his own “birthday” as June 9, 1893. In The Worcester Account, Behrman humorously described the circumstances of his search for his true date of birth and concluded that “common sense tells me that 1893 must be reasonably close.”
Readers interested in the details of Behrman’s youth and schooling should turn to The Worcester Account, a colorful but by no means sentimentalized review of his adventures, the chapters originally written as short narratives for The New Yorker. From these pieces one learns that, although poor, Behrman’s family enjoyed some distinction among the other Jewish residents of the neighborhood because the father was a Talmudic scholar. From him, Samuel learned “the Old Testament stories as if they had taken place recently—as if they constituted his personal past.”
In 1899, Behrman entered Providence Street School, and in 1902, he heard a political speech delivered by Eugene V. Debs, then the Socialist Labor Party candidate for president. That chance occasion, as he later remarked, began in his life “an orientation it would...
(The entire section is 1365 words.)
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Samuel Nathaniel Behrman (BEHR-muhn) was one of the leading creators of American stage comedies in the 1930’s. He was born to Joseph and Zelda Feingold Behrman, Orthodox Jews, who together with their two oldest sons had fled persecution in Lithuania three years earlier. Joseph Behrman, a grocer, was a Talmudic scholar who taught his children Hebrew and recounted Old Testament stories as if they had occurred in his recent past. The most profound influence on young Behrman was his urbane friend Daniel Asher, seven years his senior, who took him to his first play in 1904. Asher encouraged him to write and helped revise his early efforts.
After high school, Behrman toured the vaudeville circuit in a comic sketch he had written, until bad health forced him to return home. He began to attend Clark College, but when he was suspended for refusing to attend physical education classes, he transferred to Harvard University, where he studied playwriting under George Pierce Baker. After graduating from Harvard and failing to find newspaper work, Behrman earned a master’s degree in English from Columbia University. With the advice of Asher, he turned down a teaching offer from the University of Minnesota and worked for The New York Times for two years, progressing from typist of classified advertisements to book reviewer; he also published several short stories during this time.
In 1922, Behrman began collaborating on stories and plays with J....
(The entire section is 800 words.)