Maxwell Anderson

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

James Maxwell Anderson was born the son of a Baptist minister in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, on December 15, 1888. The family moved frequently, but in time, Maxwell enrolled at the University of North Dakota, where he wrote poetry and drama. Following graduation, in 1911, he married Margaret Haskett. After two years of teaching high school, he enrolled at Stanford University, where he earned a master’s degree in 1914. After having taught for five years, Anderson went into journalism, working for the Chronicle and the Bulletin in San Francisco. In 1918, he moved to New York, where he worked on the editorial staffs of The New Republic, New York Evening Globe, and New York World.

Anderson’s playwriting did not begin until 1923, when, at the age of thirty-five, he wrote the verse tragedy White Desert. Although that play flopped, it impressed fellow playwright Laurence Stallings enough to begin collaborating with him. In 1924, the two collaborated on What Price Glory?, a realistic antiwar play that was well received.

Following this success, Anderson began to broaden his techniques, writing in both verse and prose. After subsequent collaborations with Stallings did not prove successful, Anderson parted company with him. He was to write six more plays before he achieved another success, with Elizabeth the Queen in 1930.

Through the 1940’s and 1950’s, Anderson devoted much of his time to matters outside the theater and produced fewer plays than he had during the 1930’s. In 1940, he campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie against Franklin D. Roosevelt. Two years later, he helped to raise money to buy High Tor, which in 1943 was given to the state of New York for a park, thus saving the real mountain from the unhappy fate it suffered in Anderson’s play of the same title. Anderson spent part of 1943 touring army bases in the eastern United States, England, and North Africa. The following year, he helped run a successful campaign against the U.S. congressman from his New York home district. He toured Greece in 1947 and wrote several essays about the political situation there.

Anderson married three times. Two years after his first wife died in 1931, he married actress Gertrude Maynard. Years later, they became estranged, and in March, 1953, she committed suicide. The following year, Anderson married Gilda Oakleaf, with whom he established a new home in Stamford, Connecticut.

Burdened with tax problems during the 1950’s, Anderson wrote three plays primarily to bring in money. However, of these plays, only Bad Seed (1954) proved to be a commercial success. After suffering a stroke at his home in Stamford, Connecticut, he died on February 28, 1959.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207668-Anderson_M.jpg Maxwell Anderson in 1956 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

James Maxwell Anderson was born near Atlantic, Pennsylvania, on December 15, 1888, the son of Baptist lay minister William Lincoln Anderson and Charlotta Perrimela Stephenson. During the first few years of Anderson’s life, the family moved frequently from parish to parish in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He started high school in 1904 but had already begun to receive an informal education through constant reading—a habit that was to stay with him throughout his life. By the time he graduated from Jamestown High School in North Dakota in 1908, he had discovered John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Shakespeare, and other great poets. He had also begun to write poetry, which became a lifelong avocation.{$S[A]Michaelson, John Nairne;Anderson, Maxwell}

During his ensuing college days at the University of North Dakota, Anderson became increasingly involved in poetic and dramatic studies. He was a charter member of a theatrical group organized by professor Frederick H. Koch; he edited the school yearbook, and he wrote the class play in 1911. These formative experiences prepared Anderson to pursue a theatrical career and, especially, to focus on poetic drama for the modern stage.

After marriage to classmate Margaret Haskett, Anderson...

(The entire section is 2,117 words.)