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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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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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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” (...