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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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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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Foreman, Carl (23 July 1914–26 June 1984), producer and screenwriter, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Isidore Foreman and Fannie Rozin, milliners. Foreman studied at the University of Illinois (1932–1933), Northwestern University (1935–1936), and the John Marshall Law School (1936–1937). During his schooling he supported himself as a newspaper reporter, press agent, radio writer, fiction writer, little theater director, and carnival barker. He dropped out of law school in 1938 to pursue a career in motion pictures and moved to Hollywood, where he found work as a story analyst and film laboratory technician while continuing to write. In 1940 he broke into the movies at Monogram Pictures, a low-budget studio, where he collaborated on a series of Bowery Boys pictures. He served as a writer-producer in the Army Signal Corps from 1942 to 1945, during which he worked for a while as a writer for ...

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Gleason, James (23 May 1886–12 April 1959), film and stage actor and writer, was born in New York City, the son of William Gleason and Mina Crolius, both actors. Theater was always the center of Gleason’s life. Born just a few blocks from Broadway, he was first seen by audiences at the age of two months, carried in his mother’s arms in Aristophanes’ ...

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Hawks, Howard (30 May 1896–26 December 1977), film director, was born Howard Winchester Hawks in Goshen, Indiana, the son of Frank Hawks, a hotel company executive, and Helen Howard. When Howard was two, the family moved to Neenah, Wisconsin, and then, eight years later, to Pasadena, California. Hawks attended a series of elite schools: Throop Polytechnic Institute, Phillips Exeter Academy, and Cornell University, graduating with a mechanical engineering degree conferred in absentia in 1918. During World War I he served in the U.S. Army as a flight instructor. After the war he raced cars and flew airplanes, directed one-reel comedies, and produced independent feature films. In 1923, with the encouragement of his future brother-in-law ...

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Huston, John (05 August 1906–28 August 1987), film director and screenwriter, was born in Nevada, Missouri, the son of Walter Huston, an actor, and Rhea Gore Huston, a journalist. When Huston was three years old, his parents separated, divorcing three years later, and he was raised by his mother. He did not finish high school, although he later studied at the Art Students League in Los Angeles. In 1924 he went to live with his father, who was about to star in the first New York production of ...

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Kalmar, Bert (16 February 1884–18 September 1947), vaudeville entertainer, lyricist, and writer for the musical stage and films, was born in New York City. Nothing is known of his parents. Born into a poor community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as a child Kalmar became known as “the marvel of the neighborhood” for parlor stunts, hat juggling, and sleight-of-hand tricks. He ran away from home at the age of ten and entered the world of entertainment in tent shows, initially as a magician. Kalmar created and performed good-natured parodies of the popular songs of the day, the high point of many comic acts. His professional breakthrough occurred when he was hired by Mortimer Theise to imitate ...

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Kanin, Garson (24 November 1912–13 March 1999), author and director, was born in Rochester, New York, one of two sons of David Kanin, a builder, and his wife Sadie Levine Kanin. When Kanin was twelve, the family moved to Brooklyn, where he attended James Madison High School, dropping out in 1929. Before enrolling in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, Kanin had his own jazz band (Garson Kay and His Red Peppers), toured as a vaudeville comedian, narrated radio programs, and appeared in summer theater. He graduated in 1933 and was soon receiving good notices for high-energy comedy roles on Broadway. His appearances in the madcap farces ...

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Loos, Anita (26 April 1893–18 August 1981), author and child actress, was born Corinne Anita Loos in Sissons (now called Mount Shasta), California, the daughter of Richard Beers Loos, a newspaper owner and editor, and Minnie Ellen Smith. “In my youth I never kept a diary, feeling that a girl who could sell her words for money had other fish to fry,” Loos (pronounced Lohse) wrote in her 1974 autobiography, ...

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Mankiewicz, Joseph Leo (11 February 1909–05 February 1993), scriptwriter and movie director, was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, the son of Frank Mankiewicz, a language instructor and the editor of Modern Language Studies, and Johanna Blumenau. Mankiewicz studied languages and literature at Columbia University and graduated in 1928. At his father’s insistence he enrolled at the University of Berlin for graduate study, but after arriving in Germany he started working as a correspondent for the ...

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Milestone, Lewis (30 September 1895–25 September 1980), film director, screenwriter, editor, and producer, was born Lewis Milstein in Kishinëv, near Odessa, Russia, the son of Emanuel Milstein, a clothing manufacturer. His mother’s name is unknown. Milestone attended Jewish schools. His family was disturbed when he showed an avid interest in acting, so after he completed high school he was sent to study engineering at a college in Saxony. When his father sent him money to travel home for the holidays in 1913, Milestone instead used the funds to immigrate to the United States with two school friends. They arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, with a mere six dollars among them. Milestone was assisted financially by an aunt for a brief time but ended up working at odd jobs (factory sweeper for a raincoat manufacturer, salesman, photographer’s assistant) until he became an American citizen. With the country’s entry into World War I, he joined the Army Signal Corps to work stateside as an assistant director of training films....

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Muse, Clarence E. (07 October 1889–13 October 1979), actor, producer, and writer of plays and films, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Alexander Muse and Mary Sales. He was educated at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he became interested in music and participated in choral groups; although he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international law in 1911, he immediately embarked on a musical and theatrical career. In 1907 he married Frieda Belle Moore; the marriage was apparently dissolved soon after the birth of their son in 1910....

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Rossen, Robert (16 March 1908–18 February 1966), motion picture director, screenwriter, and producer, was born Robert Rosen in New York City, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Little is known about his parents, except that Rossen claimed that his mother’s family was of the “intelligentsia.” His grandfather was a rabbi and an uncle of his was a Hebrew-language poet. Rossen grew up in a poor neighborhood in lower Manhattan, where he attended public schools. As a teenager he took up boxing, abandoning the ring after several professional bouts. He later said of his New York upbringing that life on the streets “taught him the impact of environment on character.”...

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Schary, Dore (31 August 1905–07 July 1980), film producer, screenwriter, and director, was born Isidore Schary in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Herman Hugo Schary and Belle Drachler. His Russian-born parents operated a successful kosher catering business and banquet facility, but a venture into hotel ownership during the mid-1920s caused them to go bankrupt. At the age of fourteen, Schary left Newark’s Central High School after an argument with a teacher. He worked at various jobs until he returned to Central High School five years later to complete the high school course in ten months....

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Seaton, George (17 April 1911–28 July 1979), film director, screenwriter, and producer, was born George Stenius in South Bend, Indiana, the son of Charles Stenius, a Swedish-born chef and restaurant manager, and Olga Berglund. In early childhood Seaton moved with his family to Detroit, where he attended public schools. He spent his junior year of high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and then returned to Detroit to graduate from Central High School. Long interested in the theater, Seaton enrolled at a drama school run by actress/manager ...

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Sherwood, Robert Emmet (04 April 1896–14 November 1955), writer, editor, and critic, was born in New Rochelle, New York, the son of Arthur Murray Sherwood, a stockbroker and member of the New York Stock Exchange, and Rosina Emmet, an artist and illustrator. He was named for an ancestor, Robert Emmet, the Irish patriot. When Sherwood was one year old, the family moved to New York City. After 1906, summers were spent at Skene Wood, in Westport, New York, on Lake Champlain, “the most beautiful place in the world.” Sherwood’s writing career began at age seven, when he edited a hand-printed magazine called ...

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Preston Sturges Photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1915. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G432-0960).

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Sturges, Preston (29 August 1898–06 August 1959), director, playwright, and screenwriter, was born Edmund Preston Biden in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Edmund C. Biden, a bill collector, and Mary Dempsey, an aspiring musician. His parents soon separated; his mother took him to Paris, where she became close friends with ...