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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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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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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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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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Beach, Rex (01 September 1877–07 December 1949), novelist and scenarist, was born Rex Ellingwood Beach in Atwood, Michigan, the son of Henry Walter Beach, a fruit farmer, and Eva Eunice Canfield, a former schoolteacher. When Beach was nine years old, he and his two older brothers accompanied their parents when they left their ill-paying farm and sailed with two neighboring families on a schooner to Chicago, into and down the Illinois River, to the Mississippi River, and on to Tampa, Florida, where they homesteaded on a farm. Beach attended the preparatory department of Rollins College, at Winter Park, Florida, beginning in 1891, then Rollins College, where he earned his tuition money by managing a laundry. He studied well, played intercollegiate baseball, and edited and managed the school literary magazine. In 1896 he left school short of graduating. Joining his brothers, both lawyers in Chicago, he performed odd jobs for them and studied at the Chicago College of Law. He played football and water polo on teams sponsored by the Chicago Athletic Association—mainly to eat at its training table. He was 6′ 1″, weighed just over 200 pounds, and had a correspondingly large appetite....

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Bessie, Alvah (04 June 1904–21 July 1985), author and screenwriter, was born in New York City, the son of Daniel Bessie, a successful inventor and businessman, and Adeline Schlesinger. Bessie’s rebelliousness was first expressed by his rejection of his father’s values, which placed material achievement above human relationships. In 1924 Bessie was graduated from Columbia College, where he had begun writing poetry. He worked briefly as an actor with the Provincetown Players and as a journalist for the English-language ...

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Bolton, Guy Reginald (23 November 1884–05 September 1979), writer, was born in England, the son of American parents Reginald Pelham Bolton and Katherine Behenna. Bolton’s father was a consulting engineer, which may have helped to determine Bolton’s initial decision to become an architect. After studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the Atelier Masquerey in France, he designed some houses in Manhattan, worked at West Point, and helped design the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument on Riverside Drive. He married four times: to Julie Alexander Currie in 1910 (two children), Marguerite Namara in 1917 (one child), Marion Redford in 1927 (one child), and Virginia de Lanty in 1939. He became an American citizen in 1956....

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Susan Gunter and Elizabeth Archuleta

Burnett, W. R. (25 November 1899–25 April 1982), novelist and screenwriter, was born William Riley Burnett in Springfield, Ohio, the son of Theodore Addison Burnett, an aide to the governor, and Emily Upson Colwell Morgan. Burnett attended the Miami Military Institute at Germantown, Ohio, graduating in 1919. That same year he attended Ohio State University for one semester in the School of Journalism. In 1921 Burnett married Marjorie Louise Bartow and worked as a factory shop steward and insurance salesman. The couple had no children. Later that year he became a statistician for Ohio’s Department of Industrial Relations. During the next six years he wrote short stories, plays, and novels. Overcoming nervous exhaustion caused by rejection of his work and the monotony of his job, he quit in 1927, moved to Chicago, and began writing full time....

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Caspary, Vera ( November 1899–06 June 1987), author, screenwriter, and playwright, was born in Chicago, the daughter of Paul Caspary, a department store buyer, and Julia Cohen. Although most references list her as being born in 1904, Caspary writes in her autobiography that she was “born by accident in the nineteenth century” and that “no one expected her on that November day.”...

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Cassavetes, John (09 December 1929–03 February 1989), actor, screenwriter, director, and filmmaker, was born in New York City, the son of Nicholas John Cassavetes, the owner of a travel business, and Katherine Demitri. Although his father, a Greek immigrant, had a “knack” for making and losing millions, Cassavetes grew up in the affluent Long Island towns of Sands Point and Port Washington, where he went to public schools. He attended Mohawk College and Colgate University, majoring in English. He left college for a brief stint as a sports announcer, but after reading the plays of ...

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Chayefsky, Paddy (29 January 1923–01 August 1981), writer for stage, screen, and television, was born Sidney Chayefsky in the Bronx, New York, the son of Harry Chayefsky, at the time an executive with a dairy, and Gussie Stuchevsky. After school at DeWitt Clinton High School and City College of New York, where he graduated in 1943, Chayefsky was drafted into the army and shipped to Germany. A notoriously sloppy and lazy soldier, Chayefsky earned his nickname, Paddy, when he tried to get out of kitchen duty to attend Catholic mass. After he was injured by a land mine he was shipped to a London hospital, where he and a composer friend wrote a musical, ...

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Clavell, James (10 October 1925–06 September 1994), screenwriter and novelist, was born James du Maresq Clavell in Sydney, Australia, the son of Sir Richard Charles Clavell, a captain in the British Royal Navy, and Lady Eileen Ross. As a child, Clavell listened to the “swashbuckling” stories told by his father and grandfather, also a career military man; these tall tales of the sea and far-flung ports prepared Clavell for his career. Clavell proudly described himself as an “old-fashioned storyteller,” not a novelist; yet it is for his novels, which typically focus on the clash between the West and the Far East, that he is best known....

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Cohen, Octavus Roy (26 June 1891–06 January 1959), fiction writer, playwright, and screenwriter, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Octavus Cohen, a lawyer and editor, and Rebecca Ottolengui. He graduated from the Porter Military Academy, Charleston, in 1908, worked as a civil engineer for a Tennessee railroad company from 1909 to 1910, earned his B.S. in engineering at Clemson College in 1911, and worked for newspapers in Alabama, South Carolina, and New Jersey from 1910 to 1912. He returned to Charleston to study law in his father’s office, passed the bar in 1913, and practiced law for two years. He married Inez Lopez in 1914. The couple lived in Birmingham, Alabama, and had one son. Upon selling his first short story in 1915, Cohen determined to become a full-time professional writer. The Cohens moved to New York in 1935 and to Los Angeles in 1948. Inez Cohen died in 1953....

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Cohn, Alfred A. (26 March 1880–03 February 1951), screenwriter, was born in Freeport, Illinois. Nothing is known of his parents or education. At the age of fifteen Cohn (who was also known as Al Cohn) went to work for a Chicago newspaper, working his way up to the position of reporter. Eventually, he became a newspaper and magazine editor, a columnist, and a publicist....

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Carol J. Oja and Hannah Lewis

Comden, Betty (03 May 1917–23 November 2006), and Adolph Green (02 December 1914–23 October 2002), librettists, lyricists, and screenwriters of the musical comedy duo Comden and Green, collaborated together for six decades, the longest of any writing team in the history of American musicals. Comden was born Basya Cohen in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Leo Cohen, a lawyer, and Rebecca Cohen, a teacher. Comden Americanized her first name as a young child and her last name as a teenager. Green was born in the Bronx, the son of Daniel and Helen Green. Both were children of Jewish immigrants, and both graduated from New York high schools: Erasmus Hall (her) and DeWitt Clinton (him). They met when Comden was studying dramatics at New York University and Green was working as a runner on Wall Street while trying to make it as an actor. When Comden graduated in 1938, the pair began collaborating as part of a group called The Revuers. Comden was entering a profession with very few women. Working as an actress was one thing—many women did that—but it was an entirely different matter to write scripts and lyrics. Up until then only a few women had succeeded in that realm, most notably ...

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Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Color photolithographic poster with halftone on paperboard, 1977, by unidentified artist. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

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Connell, Richard (17 October 1893–22 November 1949), short story author and screenwriter, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, the son of Richard E. Connell, a newspaper editor and congressman, and Mary Elizabeth Miller. A precocious writer, Connell published sports articles at the age of ten in the ...

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Marc Connelly Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103960).