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Adams, Franklin P. (15 November 1881–23 March 1960), newspaper columnist, humorist, and radio personality, was born Franklin Pierce Adams in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Moses Adams, a dry-goods merchant, and Clara Schlossberg, both German-Jewish immigrants. During his childhood he was an avid reader of the classics, history, nineteenth-century fiction, and light verse. He studied mathematics and science at the Armour Scientific Academy in Chicago, graduating in 1899. He attended the University of Michigan for less than a year, during which he studied literature and after which he began to earn his own living....

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James Agee Photograph by Walker Evans, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103100).

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Agee, James Rufus (27 November 1909–16 May 1955), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Hugh James Agee, a construction company employee, and Laura Whitman Tyler. The father’s family were poorly educated mountain farmers, while the mother’s were solidly middle class. Agee was profoundly affected by his father’s death in a car accident in 1916. He idealized his absent father and struggled against his mother and her genteel and (he felt) cold values. “Agee’s mother wanted him to be clean, chaste, and sober,” the photographer ...

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Aiken, George L. (19 December 1830–27 April 1876), actor and playwright, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Lemuel G. Aiken, an actor, and Susan A. Wyatt. His “first remembrance [was] of a theater,” and it was not long before his services were enlisted in children’s roles at Boston’s Tremont Theatre. Douglas Jerrold’s ...

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Aldrich, Richard (17 August 1902–31 March 1986), theatrical producer, manager, and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Irving Aldrich, a rubber company executive, and Mary Pickering Joy. Both parents were members of wealthy, prominent New England families. Aldrich in childhood formed a lifelong love of the theater, which he fostered in school productions and summer student performances. He did further stage work while he attended Harvard College, both with a touring student group called the Jitney Players during summers and with the Harvard Dramatic Club, which he served as president. Though tall and well-featured, Aldrich consistently preferred to work behind the scenes as producer and business manager rather than to perform on stage. He completed his education at Harvard in 1925....

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Allen, Steve (26 December 1921–30 October 2000), comedian, author, songwriter, was born Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York City, the son of vaudeville comedians Carroll William Allen and Isabelle Donohue, who performed under the stage names Billy Allen and Belle Montrose. Literally born into show business, Allen toured the vaudeville circuit with his parents from infancy until his father died suddenly when Allen was only eighteen months old. Because his mother chose to continue her career, she left her young son in the care of her eccentric family in Chicago. In his first autobiography, ...

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Steve Allen Used with the permission of Bill Allen, Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc.

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Angelou, Maya (4 Apr. 1928–28 May 2014), writer, performer, and activist, was born Marguerite Ann Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri, the second child of Bailey Johnson, Sr., a doorman and Navy dietitian, and Vivian Baxter, a registered nurse, cocktail hostess, and Merchant Marine. Her brother, Bailey, Jr., nicknamed her Maya, and the name stuck. After their parents’ divorce, the two young children were sent alone on a train from San Francisco to Stamps, Arkansas, to be met and raised by their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, and their father’s brother, Uncle Willie, who was disabled. Grandmother Henderson had managed to build and own a general store with living quarters in the back, and it was also a safe black community gathering place in the segregated town. Uncle Willie provided a steady stream of good reading and high scholastic expectations, and their grandmother, “Momma,” taught them no-nonsense life skills, took them to church, and loved them....

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Arnold, Eve (21 April 1912–04 January 2012), photojournalist, was born Eve Cohen in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the seventh of nine children of the Ukrainian Jewish immigrants Vevel (William) Sklarski, a rabbi, and Bosya (Bessie) Laschiner. Although Eve’s parents were poor she received a good basic education. Eve first considered a career as a writer or a dancer, then settled on medicine, but she gave this up to move to New York City. During World War II she got a job at America’s first automated photographic film processing plant in Hoboken, New Jersey, although she knew little about photography then. It was only in 1946 when her then boyfriend gave her a forty-dollar Rolleicord camera that she took up photography as a hobby. The boyfriend did not last long, but her love of photography grew into a highly successful and fulfilling career....

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Bacon, Frank (16 January 1864–19 November 1922), actor and author, was born in Marysville, California, the son of Lyddell Bacon, a rancher, and Lehella Jane McGrew. A few years after Frank’s birth, the family moved to San Jose, California. Bacon received little formal education and by the age of fourteen had left school to work in a photography studio. Until his early twenties, Bacon was intermittently employed as a photographer, a newspaper advertising solicitor, and a journalist. He started newspapers in Mountain View and Mayfield, California, and was for a time co-owner of the Napa ...

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Baker, Benjamin Archibald (04 April 1818–06 September 1890), playwright and theater manager, was born in New York City. Little about Baker’s early life is known; rumor has it that he ran away from home, arriving in New Orleans as a harness maker, later repairing cavalry gear for ...

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Barnes, Charlotte Mary Sanford (1818–14 April 1863), playwright and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of John Barnes and Mary Greenhill, British actors who achieved success on the New York stage as early as 1816. At age three Charlotte appeared on stage in her mother’s arms in ...

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Barrymore, Maurice (21 September 1849–25 March 1905), actor-playwright, was born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Hunter Blyth in Amritsar, India, the son of William Edward Blyth, a deputy commissioner, and Charlotte Matilda de Tankerville. At age ten, following the tradition of prominent Anglo-Indians, Herbert sailed for England to prepare for a direct appointment to the East India Company’s service. Bright, spirited, athletic, and strikingly handsome, he opted instead for the less restrictive pleasures of London, becoming, to the horror of his proper Victorian family, the middleweight boxing champion of England in 1872. That same year, going from bad to untenable in the estimate of his relatives, he made his acting debut on 1 April at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, as Cool in ...

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Beatty, Bessie (27 January 1886–06 April 1947), radio broadcaster, journalist, and author, was born Elizabeth M. Beatty in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Thomas Edward Beatty and Jane Mary Boxwell. Her parents had immigrated from Ireland to the Midwest and then to Los Angeles, where Thomas Beatty became a director of the first electric street railroad in the city. In 1903 Bessie Beatty matriculated at the Highland Park campus of Occidental College, determined to be a writer. She was active in campus literary societies and wrote several articles for student publications before taking a position in her senior year as a reporter for the ...

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Belasco, David (25 July 1853–14 May 1931), playwright and director, was born in San Francisco. His Portuguese Jewish parents, Humphrey Abraham Belasco and Reina Martin, were émigrés from England, where his father had been a harlequin in pantomimes. In North America his parents become shopkeepers. Raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Belasco claimed to have been educated at a monastery but actually attended the Colonial School and the Anglican Collegiate School. As a child he acted professionally, including portraying the Duke of York during Charles Kean’s farewell tour of ...

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Robert Benchley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108029).

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Benchley, Robert (15 September 1889–21 November 1945), humorist, drama critic, and actor, was born Robert Charles Benchley in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Charles H. Benchley, the mayor’s clerk, and Maria Jane Moran. After the death of his older brother Edmund in the Spanish-American War, an event that stunned Benchley’s family, Edmund’s fiancée, Lillian Duryea, largely financed Robert’s education. Benchley attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where his bent for satire early revealed itself when his assigned essay on “a practical subject,” embalming, earned an ...

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Bernard, John (1756–29 November 1828), actor and playwright, was born in Portsmouth, England, the son of John Bernard, a naval lieutenant, and Ann (maiden name unknown). From childhood, Bernard was fascinated with the stage. After seeing a play in London when he was seventeen, he ran away from home to join what he calls in his autobiography “a band of dramatic desperadoes.” By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he had worked his way through the theatrical ranks in touring and small resident companies to become a popular low-comedy actor in London’s Covent Garden Theater company. His repertoire, much of which would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life, included parts in ...

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Bernstein, Aline Frankau (22 December 1880–07 September 1955), set and costume designer and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Frankau, an actor, and Rebecca Goldsmith. Joseph Frankau, who was of German-Jewish ancestry, first named his daughter Hazel, but her mother changed it to Aline. Educated in the New York public schools and raised in the theater, as a child Aline wanted to be an actress, but her father encouraged her talent for drawing instead. After the early deaths of her parents (both had died by 1897), Aline became the ward of her aunt, Rachel, a drug addict. She attended Hunter College as a student of fine art. Tom Watson, a family friend and a member of the board of directors of the New York School of Applied Design, arranged for her to study drawing on scholarship at the school. She later studied portrait painting with ...

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Boucicault, Dion (27 December 1820–18 September 1890), dramatist, actor, and man of the theater, was born Dionysius Lardner Boursicault in Dublin, Ireland, possibly the illegitimate son of the Reverend Dr. Dionysius Lardner and Anna “Anne” Maria Darley, the wife of Samuel Smith Boursiquot, a wine merchant. After desultory schooling, supported by Lardner, at age fifteen he wrote his first play. He began work as a peripatetic actor in 1838 under the pseudonym of Lee Moreton, alternately adulated and attacked by critics, his strong Irish brogue by turns an asset and a liability. By 1839 his first play for the professional stage, ...