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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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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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Bradbury, Ray (22 August 1920–05 June 2012), writer, poet, screenwriter, and cultural critic, was born in Waukegan, Illinois, the third (and second surviving) child of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, a telephone lineman, and Esther Marie (Moberg) Bradbury. He became interested in science fiction in 1928, during convalescence while recuperating from whooping cough; other childhood interests that endured included the wonders of magic, drama, carnivals, and motion pictures. In 1934 his family moved to Los Angeles as Leonard Bradbury looked for work around the movie studios. Ray Bradbury’s first publication, the poem “In Memory of Will Rogers,” appeared in the 18 August 1936 ...

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Cook, George Cram (07 October 1873–14 January 1924), writer and leading spirit of the Provincetown Players theatrical group, was born in Davenport, Iowa, the son of Edward Everett Cook, a railroad attorney from a prominent local family, and Ellen Katherine Dodge. Fellow students at a private school gave him his lifelong nickname of “Jig.” Cook grew up artistic and idealistic in his views. He desired deeply to recapture in modern life the community, simplicity, and depth he found in ancient Greek civilization and drama. In appearance he was a romantic figure: ...

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Fast, Howard (11 November 1914–12 March 2003), writer, was born Howard Melvin Fast in the Bronx, New York, to Barney Fast (né Fastov), a Ukrainian-Jewish immigrant, and Ida Miller Fast, a Lithuanian-born immigrant from London. Barney Fast worked as a laborer, initially at a tin factory and later in the garment district. There was little money, but Ida Fast held the family together with abundant love and prudent household management. Young Howard and his three surviving siblings were therefore devastated by the death of their mother in 1923. Without her to look after them, the family quickly sank into desperate poverty....

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Ford, Paul Leicester (23 March 1865–08 May 1902), historian and novelist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Gordon Lester Ford, a businessman and political figure, and Emily Ellsworth Fowler, a poet. As a baby Ford suffered a tragic fall that left him with a severely deformed spine, the pain from which would plague him all his life. Moreover, the nature of the injury dictated that Ford wear a special harness as a child. As a result he received very little formal schooling; instead, he was tutored at home and allowed the free run of his father’s private library of more than 50,000 volumes, including perhaps the largest private collection of Americana in the world. At age eleven he acquired a small printing press, with which he began publishing compilations of historical material gleaned from his father’s library....

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Hornblow, Arthur, Sr. (1865–06 May 1942), editor, author, and dramatist, was born in Manchester, England, the son of William Hornblow and Sarah Jane Rodgers. Little is known of Hornblow’s childhood; however, he studied literature and painting in Paris before coming to the United States in 1889. While in Paris, Hornblow acted as a correspondent for both English and American newspapers....

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Janney, Russell Dixon (14 April 1885–14 July 1963), writer, press agent, and theatrical producer, was born in Wilmington, Ohio, the son of Reynold Janney, a mechanic and builder of bicycles, and Ella Dixon. Soon after his birth his family moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, where his father served as principal of the high school. In 1894 Janney’s father gave up his career in education and moved his family again, this time to Keene, New Hampshire, where he set up in business as a mechanic. Keene was at this time often a stopover town for theater companies traveling between Boston and Montreal, and Janney developed an interest in working in the theater. He enrolled at Yale University, where he wrote and produced several plays for his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. After he graduated in 1906 he settled briefly in New York, but the following year he departed for London to pursue a career as a press agent and freelance writer. He achieved modest success abroad, counting among his employers several leading figures in the British theater, including Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and George Edwardes, for whom he created publicity....

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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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Micheaux, Oscar (02 January 1884–25 March 1951), novelist and motion picture producer, was born near Cairo, Illinois, the son of Calvin Swan Micheaux and Belle Willingham, farmers. This information derives in part from Oscar Micheaux’s death certificate and in part from his semiautobiographical work of fiction, ...

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Niven, David (01 March 1910–29 July 1983), actor and author, was born in London, England, the son of William E. G. Niven, an inheritor of extensive landholdings, and Henrietta de Gacher. He sometimes named as his birthplace the more arresting locale of Kirriemuir, Scotland, where his father had an estate. William Niven served as a naval lieutenant during World War I and died at Gallipoli in 1915. Finding herself in reduced financial circumstances because of her husband’s gambling, Henrietta Niven made a second marriage in 1917 to a man who remained distant from her four children. Niven’s rootless childhood was spent in a series of boarding schools, ending at Stowe House. During these years he showed a budding interest in amateur dramatics and writing but not in serious study. He was known as the school clown of Stowe, a born entertainer whose devil-may-care charm got him in and out of various scrapes. In 1927 he entered the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He continued to appear in amateur dramatic productions there and also during his army service as a junior officer in the Highland Light Infantry from 1929 through 1933....

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Storm, Hans Otto (29 July 1895–11 December 1941), writer and radio telegraph engineer, was born in Bloomington, California, the son of Joachim Otto Storm, a bank teller, and Marie Rehwoldt. His parents both came from Germany and met in the United States. Storm grew up in Anaheim, California. After graduating from public high school, he worked for a year in the electrician’s trade. In 1917 he was conscripted into the army, but he spent most of the war in hospitals on account of illness. Afterward Storm was frequently ill, and he was never robust....

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Wilder, Gene (11 June 1933–29 Aug. 2016), actor, writer, director, and novelist, was born Jerome “Jerry” Silberman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Velvel (William) Silberman, a Jewish salesman who emigrated from Russia, and Jeanne (Baer) Silberman, from a Polish Jewish family in Chicago.

Jerry became a comedian when he was eight, hoping to make his mother laugh as she recovered from her first heart attack. “If my mother hadn’t laughed, I probably wouldn’t be a comic actor” (...