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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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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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Baum, L. Frank (15 May 1856–06 May 1919), children's author, journalist, and playwright, children’s author, journalist, and playwright, was born Lyman Frank Baum in Chittenango, New York, the son of Benjamin Ward Baum, a cooper and sawyer who had made a fortune in Pennsylvania oil, and Cynthia Stanton. He grew up on the family estate, “Roselawn,” outside Syracuse, New York. Suffering from a congenitally weak heart, he was educated at home. A stay at Peekskill Military Academy beginning in 1868—which gave Baum a lifelong antipathy to academics and the military—ended less than two years later in his having a heart attack. Back home, he published a family newspaper and periodicals on stamp collecting and the breeding of fancy chickens. In 1881 he studied theater in New York City and joined a repertory company, then managed an opera house in Richburg, New York, from 1881 to 1882, and, with his father’s financing, toured successfully with ...

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Burgoyne, John (24 February 1723–04 August 1792), British soldier and dramatist, was born in London, England, the son of Captain John Burgoyne, a soldier, and Anna Maria Burneston. The popular belief that he was the natural son of Robert Benson, Lord Bingley, may have been true, but legally he was the son of Burgoyne. Educated at Westminster School, he entered the army at the age of fifteen, joining the Third Regiment of Horse Guards. Three years later he became a cornet in the Thirteenth Regiment of Light Dragoons and was promoted to lieutenant in 1741. In 1743 Burgoyne eloped with fifteen-year-old Lady Charlotte Stanley, daughter of Edward Stanley, earl of Derby; they had one child, who died at the age of ten. Lord Derby disapproved of the marriage; he gave his daughter only a small dowry and refused to see her or her husband. With Lady Charlotte’s money, Burgoyne purchased a captaincy in the Thirteenth Dragoons, and for three years the couple lived in London. After that time gambling debts forced Burgoyne to sell his commission. He and his wife retired to a quiet life in the French countryside near Chanteloup, where they lived for seven years on Lady Charlotte’s money and the proceeds from the sale of Burgoyne’s captaincy....

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Burrows, Abe (18 December 1910–17 May 1985), author, comedian, and theatrical director, was born Abraham Solman Borowitz in New York City, the eldest of three children of Louis Borowitz, a businessman, and his wife Julia Saltzberg Borowitz. Burrows's high school education was spread among New York's boroughs. While working as a runner on Wall Street, Burrows attended City College of New York, New York University's school of finance, and the Pace Institute of Accounting....

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Bynner, Witter (10 August 1881–01 June 1968), poet and playwright, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Thomas Edgarton Bynner and Annie Louise Brewer. His parents separated when he was seven as a consequence of his father’s alcoholism, and he and his younger brother lived for three years with his mother and her family in Norwich, Connecticut. After his father’s death in 1891, the family moved to Brookline, Massachusetts, to live with his father’s sisters....

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Connelly, Marc (13 December 1890–21 December 1980), playwright, screenwriter, and journalist, was born Marcus Cook Connelly in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, the son of Patrick Joseph Connelly and Mabel Fowler Cook. The elder Connelly, as a young man, had been an actor and the manager of a theatrical company. His wife, who had dared the wrath of her parents to elope with him, acted in his company. While they were on tour, their first child, a daughter, died of pneumonia. Believing that this melancholy event might not have occurred had they had a regular home life, they left the stage and settled in McKeesport, where the senior Connelly bought a hotel. Connelly’s first experience of theater came at age seven, when his parents took him to nearby Pittsburgh to see ...

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Cullen, Countée (30 May 1903?–09 January 1946), poet and playwright, was the son of Elizabeth Thomas Lucas. The name of his father is not known. The place of his birth has been variously cited as Louisville, Kentucky, New York City, and Baltimore, Maryland. Although in later years Cullen claimed to have been born in New York City, it probably was Louisville, which he consistently named as his birthplace in his youth and which he wrote on his registration form for New York University. His mother died in Louisville in 1940....

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Custis, George Washington Parke (30 April 1781–10 October 1857), playwright, was born in Mount Airy, Maryland, the son of John Parke Custis, a wealthy landowner, and Eleanor Calvert. His father, the son of Martha Washington from her first marriage, died when George was very young, and the boy was brought up in one of the most famous homes in the nation, Mount Vernon. He studied the classics at Princeton (but received no degree) and was commissioned (but never served) in the U.S. Army in 1799 with the rank of colonel. In 1804 Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh and lived with her on his own estate in Arlington, Virginia. Here, while he managed his 8,000 acres and 300 slaves, Custis devoted himself to literary pursuits, which included writing a column for the ...

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Feuchtwanger, Lion (07 July 1884–21 December 1958), author, was born in Munich, Germany, the son of Sigmund Feuchtwanger, owner of a margarine factory, and Johanna Bodenheimer. After graduating from the Wilhelms-Gymnasium in Munich, supplemented by private instruction in Hebrew and Jewish religion, Feuchtwanger attended the universities of Munich and Berlin, majoring in German philology and history. He obtained his Ph.D. in Munich in 1907, writing a dissertation on Heinrich Heine’s unfinished historical novel, ...

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Gillette, William Hooker (24 July 1853–29 April 1937), actor and playwright, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the youngest of six children of Francis Gillette, a politician who once filled out an interim term as a U.S. senator, and Elizabeth Daggett Hooker. He early displayed histrionic abilities and was a leading orator in high school. Some uncertainty exists about his subsequent education. He claimed at one time or another to have studied at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, and the City College of New York, but records show he was graduated from none of these. In his later years he did receive several honorary degrees, however, including one from Yale....

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Green, Paul (17 March 1894–04 May 1981), playwright and champion of human rights, was born Paul Eliot Green on his family’s farm in Harnett County, North Carolina, the son of William A. Green and Bettie Lorine Byrd. The farm lay along the Cape Fear River, and cotton was the principal crop. The Greens also had tobacco acreage, raised hogs commercially, and grew corn for feed. Usually three or four black tenant families helped with the farm, and Paul’s closest childhood friend was a tenant boy. When the boy died, Paul felt it like a death in the family but realized that his father looked on the death as merely the loss of useful farm labor. Awareness of this difference between himself and his father was an early step in the development of his identity....

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Hart, Moss (24 October 1904–20 December 1961), playwright and stage director, was born in New York City, the son of Barnet Hart, a tobacconist, and Lillian Solomon. Hart claimed that he “grew up in an atmosphere of unrelieved poverty with … the grim smell of actual want always at the end of my nose.” As a teenager, he worked as an office boy for the theatrical road producer Augustus Pitou in Manhattan. Under a pseudonym, in 1923 Hart wrote a play called, variously, ...

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Jeffrey Brown Martin

Hecht, Ben (28 February 1894–18 April 1964), writer, was born on New York City’s Lower East Side, the son of Joseph Hecht, a tailor and designer of women’s dresses, and Sarah Swernofsky. Hecht attended schools in New York and later in Racine, Wisconsin, where the family moved when he was six. In 1910 he moved to Chicago and began working as a picture stealer (purloining victims’ pictures from family homes for use in the newspaper) and factotum for the ...

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Inge, William (03 May 1913–10 June 1973), playwright, was born William Motter Inge in Independence, Kansas, the son of Luther C. Inge, a traveling salesman, and Maude Gibson. The youngest child, “Billy” was called a “mama’s boy” because his mother pampered him in his father’s frequent absence. His peers also called him a “sissy” because he recited for ladies’ clubs and showed a performing flair that he was to display throughout his childhood and later at the University of Kansas, where he appeared in many dramas both on and off campus. He aspired to an acting career....

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Isherwood, Christopher (26 August 1904–04 January 1986), writer, was born in High Lane, Cheshire, England, the son of Francis Edward Isherwood, a military officer, and Kathleen Machell-Smith. After a year (1924–1925) at Cambridge University, Isherwood went to London, where he was secretary to the violinist André Mangeot and his Music Society String Quartet, and he also worked as a private tutor. He enrolled as a medical student at Kings College, University of London, in 1928, the same year his first novel, ...

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Kaufman, George S. (16 November 1889–02 June 1961), playwright and stage director, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of Joseph Kaufman, a small-businessman, and Henrietta Myers. Raised in a middle-class Jewish family, Kaufman attended public schools and immersed himself in plays and books—particularly those by ...

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Langner, Lawrence (30 May 1890–26 December 1962), patent agent, playwright, and theatrical producer, was born in Swansea, South Wales, the son of Baruch Bernard Freedman, a businessman, and Cecilia Sarah Langner. (He took his mother’s maiden name.) He attended private schools in Swansea and in Margate, England. After a brief stint as a clerk for a theatrical manager in 1903, he was apprenticed to Wallace Cranston Fairweather, a chartered patent agent in London. Langner passed examinations of the British Chartered Institute of Patent Agents in 1910....

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MacKaye, Percy (16 March 1875–31 August 1956), poet and playwright, was born Percy Wallace MacKaye in New York City, the son of James Morrison Steele MacKaye, an actor-dramatist, and Mary Keith Medbery, a writer. MacKaye was schooled chiefly at home and in public schools in New York City, though he also attended Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, for a short time....