The dramatist William Gibson, who is best known for writing The Miracle Worker, was born to lower middle-class parents. His mother’s family were vaudevillians. His father worked for the post office and later in the mail room of a major bank. Both of Gibson’s parents were musical. His mother played the mandolin and his father the piano. Gibson’s father was a Protestant, but Gibson and his sister were brought up in the Roman Catholic religion of their mother, even though she was not able to take communion for thirty years, having been married in a civil ceremony. Gibson writes about his family, childhood, and early adulthood in A Mass for the Dead.
From 1930 to 1932, Gibson attended City College of New York, but he did not take a degree. He became a communist for a short time. Gibson sold his first writing, a short story, in the mid-1930’s. After his first marriage ended in divorce, he married the psychiatrist Margaret Brenman in 1940; they had two sons. Until he was able to support himself through his writing, he taught music and literature, gave piano lessons, worked in community theaters, and sold an occasional story or poem.
Gibson first won recognition as a poet. In 1945, he won the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize for a group of his poems. In 1950, he attended a playwrights’ seminar held by Clifford Odets, whom Gibson later cited as a major influence. His novel The Cobweb, which is set in a psychiatric hospital, was a best-seller in 1954; he also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation.
In 1958, Gibson had a Broadway production of his play Two for the Seesaw, which ran for 750 performances. A...
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