Clifford Odets Additional Biography


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 short time in 1929, the Theatre Guild. It was not until 1931, however, that he found his spiritual home in the newly formed Group Theatre. His writing was to be shaped by the philosophy of the Group Theatre, in which, as Harold Clurman wrote in The Fervent Years, “there were to be no stars . . . not for the negative purpose of avoiding distinction, but because all distinction . . . was to be embodied in the production as a whole.” Odets’s plays, reflecting this...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 evening’s entertainment.

By mid-February, Odets’s Awake and Sing!, a story of the effects the Depression has on a middle-class Jewish family, opened. In autumn, the Group Theater presented Paradise Lost, Odets’s...

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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...

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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...

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Clifford Odets is best-known for his early, Depression-era dramas, particularly Waiting for Lefty, an overt work of propaganda that...

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