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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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Brackett, Charles William (26 November 1892–09 March 1969), writer and motion-picture producer, was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, the son of Edgar Truman Brackett, a lawyer and state legislator, and Mary Emma Corliss. For a time, he seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a prominent lawyer in Saratoga Springs. Brackett did, indeed, pursue such a career in his college studies, first taking a B.A. from Williams College in 1915 and then receiving an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1920. While at Harvard, Brackett interrupted his studies in 1917 to serve in World War I, positioned in St. Nazaire, France, as a second lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Forces and serving as vice-consul and assistant liaison officer to the French general. His efforts were acknowledged with the awarding of the Medaille d’Honneur en Argent....

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Denby, Edwin Orr (04 February 1903–12 July 1983), poet, dance critic, and actor, was born in Tientsin, China, the son of Charles Denby, II, an American diplomat, and Martha Orr. Denby lived in Austria and Detroit, Michigan, with his parents before attending Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, where he earned distinction as class poet. In 1919 he enrolled at Harvard University but left as a sophomore and went to England for a year. When he returned to the United States, he lived and worked on a farm in New Hampshire for five months, then tried Harvard once more before moving to Greenwich Village. He received no college degree. In 1923 Denby returned to Austria, where he underwent psychoanalysis for depression with Dr. Paul Federn, a colleague of Sigmund Freud’s. With Federn’s encouragement, Denby enrolled in 1925 at the Hellerau-Laxenburg School, where he earned a three-year degree in gymnastics and specialized in ...

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Dithmar, Edward Augustus (22 May 1854–16 October 1917), journalist, was born in New York City, the son of Henry Dithmar and Anna (maiden name unknown). His father was foreman of the composing room at the New York Evening Post. Dithmar’s public school education ended at seventeen when he joined his father at the ...

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Gassner, John Waldhorn (30 January 1903–02 April 1967), critic, educator, and author, was born in Szeged, Hungary, the son of Abraham Gassner, a furrier, and Fanny Weinburger. Until age eight he was educated at home while the family moved to Budapest, Vienna, and Rotterdam, emigrating to the United States in 1911....

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Gibbs, Wolcott (15 March 1902–16 August 1958), drama critic, editor, and author, was born Oliver Wolcott Gibbs in New York City, the son of Lucius Tuckerman Gibbs, an electrical engineer and inventor, and Angelica Singleton Duer. When Gibbs was six years old his father died, and his alcoholic mother lost custody of Gibbs and his sister. ...

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Hapgood, Norman (28 March 1868–29 April 1937), journalist, critic, and reformer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Charles Hutchins Hapgood, a farm implement manufacturer, and Fanny Louise Powers. He grew up in wealth in Alton, Illinois. In 1890 he graduated with an A.B. from Harvard University, where he was strongly influenced by Professor ...

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Isaacs, Edith Juliet Rich (27 March 1878–10 January 1956), editor and theatre critic, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the daughter of Adolph Walter Rich and Rosa Sidenberg. Her father, a Hungarian immigrant, owned a shoe factory. Isaacs graduated from Milwaukee-Downer College (now a part of Lawrence University) in 1897, with a bachelor of arts in English composition. She was literary editor for the ...

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Louis Kronenberger Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1955. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 640 P&P).

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Kronenberger, Louis (09 December 1904–30 April 1980), writer and critic, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Louis Kronenberger, Sr., a merchant, and Mabel Newwitter. From 1921 to 1924 he attended the University of Cincinnati, but he left without completing a degree; instead, he moved to New York City to become a writer. He took a clerical job at the ...

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Krutch, Joseph Wood (25 November 1893–22 May 1970), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Edward Waldemore Krutch, a businessman, and Adelaine Wood. From 1911 to 1915 he attended the University of Tennessee, where his initial interests were science and mathematics. However, after becoming a habitual theatergoer and the editor of the university’s student magazine, he decided to major in English. He continued his studies at Columbia University, where he received his master’s degree in 1916 and his Ph.D. in 1924. The Van Dorens were important influences on Krutch’s scholarly life. ...

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Mary McCarthy Photograph by Dick DeMarsico, 1963. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114725).

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McCarthy, Mary (21 June 1912–25 October 1989), writer and critic, was born in Seattle, Washington, the daughter of Roy McCarthy, a lawyer, and Therese Preston. McCarthy was the oldest of four children and the only girl. Her parents died of the flu during the epidemic of 1918. In ...

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George Jean Nathan, c. 1939–1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-116934).

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Nathan, George Jean (14 February 1882–08 April 1958), drama critic and editor, was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the son of Charles Narét-Nathan, a landowner and businessman, and Ella Nirdlinger. Nathan was raised in a well-to-do family with international connections and social prominence; his father, a world-traveler, had prominent relatives in Belgium and France, where he owned vineyards; his mother’s family were among the founders of Fort Wayne. Members of the extended family had interests in the theater and journalism. After graduating from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, where the family had moved in 1888, Nathan attended Cornell (1900–1904). There he attained prominence of his own as editor of the campus newspaper and literary magazine and as an award-winning fencer. His midwestern upbringing was leavened with frequent summer excursions to Europe, and following his graduation he spent a year at the University of Bologna....

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Gilbert Seldes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1932. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 1019 P&P).

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Seldes, Gilbert Vivian (03 January 1893–29 September 1970), critic and writer, was born in Alliance, New Jersey, the son of George Sergei Seldes, a pharmacist, and Anna Saphro, who died when Gilbert was three. His only sibling, George Seldes, became a distinguished journalist known for his coverage of European affairs between the world wars. Their father, a freethinker of Russian Jewish descent, sought to convert his farm into an anarchist utopian colony. When that did not succeed, he entered the drugstore business. He enjoyed friendships with ...

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Walton, Lester A. (20 April 1882–16 October 1965), diplomat, journalist, civil rights activist, and theater producer, was born Lester Aglar Walton in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Benjamin A. Walton, Sr., and Olive May Camphor Walton. After graduation from Sumner High School, Walton began his career as a journalist at the ...

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Stark Young Photograph by Al Aumuller, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117540).