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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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Thomas W. Collins Jr.

Kerr, Walter (08 July 1913–09 October 1996), theater critic, was born Walter Francis Kerr in Evanston, Illinois, the son of Walter Kerr, a construction foreman, and Esther Daugherty Kerr. He became a critic at the precocious age of thirteen, when he came up with the idea of writing “a movie column ...

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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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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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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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Woollcott, Alexander Humphreys (19 January 1887–23 January 1943), writer, was born at the Phalanx, a Fourierist commune at Red Bank, New Jersey, the son of Walter Woollcott, a ne’er-do-well businessman, and Frances Grey Bucklin, a daughter of the community’s long-time leader. When he was a reporter on the ...

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Young, Stark (11 October 1881–06 January 1963), writer, was born in Como, Mississippi, forty miles south of Memphis, the son of Alfred Alexander Young, a Confederate veteran and physician, and Mary Clark Starks. When Young was eight, his mother died, leaving her son and his younger sister to the care of his aunts and uncles, members of the large, close-knit, landed McGehee family that spread over north-central Mississippi. His mother’s death, his years with the McGehees, and his Como schooling conditioned Young’s later preoccupation with family and southern life....