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Burnett, Alfred (02 November 1824–04 April 1884), entertainer and journalist, was born in Bungay, Suffolk, England. The names of his parents and other facts about his early life are unknown. In 1828 he was sent to live with an aunt in New York City. After four years of schooling in Utica, New York, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1836. He later became proprietor of a confectionery business and by 1860 owned three such establishments....

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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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Levenson, Sam (28 December 1911–27 August 1980), comedian, author, and educator, was born Samuel Levenson in New York City, the son of Hyman Levenson, a tailor, and Rebecca Fishelman. Levenson attended Brooklyn College (now part of the City University of New York), graduating with a B.A. in 1934. From that year until 1946 he taught Spanish in Brooklyn high schools, also serving as a guidance counselor for the final five years. In 1936 he married his childhood sweetheart, Esther Levine, with whom he had two children. His former students and academic advisees still remember him as a warm and funny teacher who took a personal interest in them and their future....

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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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Sparks, Jared (10 May 1789–14 March 1866), historian, editor, and clergyman, was born in Willington, Connecticut, the son of Eleanor Orcutt, who nine months later married Joseph Sparks, a farmer. His early life was somewhat unstable. In the mid-1790s he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle to relieve the burdens of the many children in the family, and with his adoptive family, he settled in 1800 in Camden, New York. In 1805 he moved home for a brief time and then went to live with another uncle in Tolland, Connecticut. There he apprenticed as carpenter and taught in local schools. Early on he displayed interests in literary and historical pursuits along with the more common interest in theology. While in Arlington, Vermont, he organized the Arlington Philosophical Society in 1808. He studied at the Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, beginning in September 1809, the result of Sparks’s early interests in the ministry and his receipt of a scholarship. There he met and became lifelong friends with another future New England historian, ...

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Thwaites, Reuben Gold (15 May 1853–22 October 1913), historian, editor, and librarian, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, the son of William George Thwaites and Sarah Bibbs, farmers. Thwaites’s family had emigrated from Yorkshire, England, three years before his birth. He attended school in Dorchester and in 1866 moved with his parents to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he helped them farm, taught school, and read the equivalent of a program of college courses. He became a reporter on the ...