Robert Anderson Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Robert Woodruff Anderson was born in New York City in April, 1917, to James Hewston and Myra Grigg Anderson. His father was a self-made man who twice made his way from poverty to financial success. Perhaps as a consequence, James Anderson had great respect for the so-called “manly” virtues of self-reliance, determination, and physical courage but shared none of the aesthetic values that his wife instilled in young Robert. The resultant unhappy relationship between a husband and wife unable to appreciate each other’s values has been mirrored in several of Anderson’s plays, notably All Summer Long, Tea and Sympathy, and I Never Sang for My Father. The strained relationship between a father with a purely materialistic bent and a son whose artistic and literary bent embarrasses and bewilders his father forms a secondary motif in several of Anderson’s plays and provides the central conflict in I Never Sang for My Father.

Anderson was educated in private elementary schools; at Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he wrote his first plays; and at Harvard, where he wrote plays, theater reviews, and a senior honors thesis entitled “The Necessity for Poetic Drama.” He completed his undergraduate work at Harvard in 1939 and his work for the master’s degree in 1940, and continued work toward a Ph.D. there until he entered the U.S. Navy in 1942. While a graduate student at Harvard, he served as a teaching assistant and also taught drama courses in several small local colleges. During his Navy service in World War II, Anderson wrote several...

(The entire section is 657 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207669-Anderson_R.jpg Robert Anderson in 1953 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

His ability to dramatize the human need for worth and understanding made Robert Woodruff Anderson one of the most popular American playwrights of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Like most of his characters, he came from a well-to-do family. His father, James Hewston Anderson, was an executive for the United Verde Copper Company and later, after the 1929 stock market crash, an agent for the Northwestern Life Insurance Company. If through his father Robert Anderson was exposed to the value of competition and economic success, his mother, Myra Ester Griff, instilled in him a love of the arts and the theater.

Anderson attended good schools: a private grade school in New Rochelle, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and Harvard University, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1939. While at the university, he met his future wife, Phyllis Stohl, a woman ten years his senior, who convinced him that his destiny lay in the writing of drama. He had already written more than twenty one-act and full-length dramas, few of which survive. Yet this output formed his theatrical apprenticeship.

During the World War II, Anderson served as an officer in the Navy, seeing duty in the South Pacific on board the cruiser Alaska for which he was awarded a Bronze Star. While on board ship, he wrote Come Marching Home, which won for him an Army-Navy prize for the best drama written by a serviceman. After the war, it was produced at several small theaters. This work and other scripts earned for him a National Theater Conference Fellowship, enabling him and Stohl (whom he had wed in 1940) to live in New York, where he devoted himself full-time to playwriting. Anderson lived in New York until his death on February 9, 2009 at age 91.

Anderson earned extra money by writing radio plays, adaptations of famous American works, and by teaching playwriting. He once remarked that it was teaching that helped him learn how to become a playwright and that working on radio and television scripts made him “a professional...

(The entire section is 835 words.)