Edward Albee Biography

At a Glance

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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(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...

(The entire section is 109 words.)