Edward Albee Biography

Edward Albee Biography

Edward Albee’s reputation in many ways began with the words “What a dump!” 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. 

Facts and Trivia

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Albee’s play Seascape features a decidedly Daniel-Pinkwater-ian conceit: two of the main characters are giant lizards.
  • 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 emotional and sexual affair with the titular goat.
  • Albee has received the Pulitzer Prize 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?


(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...

(The entire section is 1375 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 767 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 837 words.)

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,...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

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...

(The entire section is 389 words.)

Edward Albee Biography

(Drama for Students)
Edward Albee at Boston's Colonial Theatre 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...

(The entire section is 515 words.)