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Adamson, Harold Campbell (10 December 1906–17 August 1980), lyricist, was born in Greenville, New Jersey, the son of James H. Adamson, a building contractor, and Marion Campbell. During his childhood Adamson wrote poetry for his school newspaper and skits for school shows. While studying at the University of Kansas, he wrote songs and worked with a local professional theater company during vacations. From Kansas, Adamson moved on to Harvard University, where he wrote shows and songs for Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club. Following his graduation from Harvard in 1930, Adamson entered show business as a lyricist for both stage and screen....

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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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Zoë Akins. Photograph by Arnold Genthe. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0608-C-001).

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Akins, Zoë (30 October 1886–29 October 1958), playwright and screenwriter, was born in Humansville, Missouri, the daughter of Thomas J. Akins, a postmaster, and Elizabeth Green. During Zoë’s childhood, the family moved to St. Louis, where Thomas Akins was postmaster as well as a member of the Republican national committee. At age twelve, Akins was sent to Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, and later to Hosmer Hall in St. Louis....

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Anderson, Garland (1886–31 May 1939), playwright and minister, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Little is known about his parents, although his mother is said to have been an active reformer and a poet. Garland completed four years of school (the only formal education he ever received) before his father moved his family to California to take a job as a janitor in the post office. The following year Garland’s mother died, and at age twelve he left home to become a newsboy, selling the ...

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Maxwell Anderson. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112706).

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Anderson, Maxwell (15 December 1888–28 February 1959), playwright, was born James Maxwell Anderson on a farm near Atlantic, Pennsylvania, the son of William Lincoln Anderson, a lumberman and later a railroad fireman and Baptist preacher, and Charlotte Perrimela Stephenson. His restless parents moved the family to Andover, Ohio, in 1890; to Richmond Center and then Townville, Pennsylvania; and in 1895 to Edinboro, Pennsylvania, where Anderson first went to school. They lived in McKeesport, New Brighton, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; moved to Jefferson, Ohio, in 1901; then to Algona, Iowa; and in 1904 to New Hampton, Iowa, where Anderson first attended high school. In 1907 they moved again, to Jamestown, North Dakota. A year later Anderson graduated from high school and entered the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, graduating in 1911. That same year he married Margaret Ethel Haskett; the couple had three children....

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Andrews, Regina (21 May 1901–05 February 1993), librarian and dramatist, was born Regina M. Anderson in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, Illinois, to Margaret Simons Anderson, a clubwoman and ceramics artist, and William Grant Anderson, an attorney. Regina grew up in an upper-middle-class family because of her father’s success as a defense attorney, which earned him the nickname “Habeas Corpus.” Her views about race were no doubt shaped by her father’s fighting for racial justice for his clients and his collaboration with the antilynching advocate ...

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Ardrey, Robert (16 October 1908–14 January 1980), anthropologist, playwright, and novelist, was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Robert Lesley Ardrey, an editor and publisher, and Marie Haswell. Ardrey earned a Ph.D. in the natural and social sciences from the University of Chicago in 1930. After taking a writing course taught by ...

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Armstrong, Paul (25 April 1869–30 August 1915), playwright, was born in Kidder, Missouri, the son of Richard Armstrong, a steamship businessman, and Harriet Scott. Armstrong’s family settled in Bay City, Michigan, where he finished high school. By the age of twenty-one he had become a licensed master of steam vessels on the Great Lakes. He eventually became the purser of a steamship....

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Arnold, Elliott (13 September 1912–13 May 1980), writer, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Jack Arnold, a singer with the Metropolitan Opera, and Gertrude Frank. Arnold was raised and educated in New York City. He graduated from New York University in 1934. Before college, when he was only fifteen years old, he had started his first career, as a newspaper reporter for the ...

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Sholem Asch. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-112710).

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Asch, Sholem (01 November 1880–10 July 1957), Yiddish novelist, dramatist, and short story writer, was born in Kutno, Poland, a small town near Warsaw, the son of Moishe Asch, a cattle dealer and innkeeper, and Malka Wydawski. Asch was raised in a small town and was essentially self-educated. His father taught him the alphabet from the Bible, which was, as Asch later noted, “the first book that I ever held in my hand” (Siegel, p. 3). The Bible served as his grammar, geography, and history textbooks, as well as a storybook of sorts; later the Scriptures became a source of continual literary inspiration. As an adult Asch became a serious collector of rare biblical editions. He attended local schools to train for the rabbinate, studying the Talmud but also reading German classics and Shakespeare. Finally, against his family’s wishes, Asch made up his mind to become a writer....

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Atteridge, Harold Richard (09 July 1886–19 January 1938), librettist and lyricist, was born in Lake Forest, Illinois, the son of Richard H. Atteridge and Anna T. O’Neill. He attended the University of Chicago, graduating in 1907 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (Ph.B). While at the university, Atteridge joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and began writing skits and revues, including two musical comedies, ...

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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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Balderston, John Lloyd (22 October 1889–08 March 1954), dramatist and journalist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Lloyd Balderston, a British doctor, and Mary Alsop, an American. He attended local Philadelphia schools. Early transatlantic travels prefigured his internationally varied career. In 1911 Balderston became the New York correspondent for the ...

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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 ...