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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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Bernstein, Aline Frankau (22 December 1880–07 September 1955), set and costume designer and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Frankau, an actor, and Rebecca Goldsmith. Joseph Frankau, who was of German-Jewish ancestry, first named his daughter Hazel, but her mother changed it to Aline. Educated in the New York public schools and raised in the theater, as a child Aline wanted to be an actress, but her father encouraged her talent for drawing instead. After the early deaths of her parents (both had died by 1897), Aline became the ward of her aunt, Rachel, a drug addict. She attended Hunter College as a student of fine art. Tom Watson, a family friend and a member of the board of directors of the New York School of Applied Design, arranged for her to study drawing on scholarship at the school. She later studied portrait painting with ...

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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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Carrington, Elaine Sterne (14 June 1891–04 May 1958), author and radio scriptwriter, was born in New York City, the daughter of Theodore Sterne, a merchant, and Mary Louise Henriquez. Even as a young child, Elaine displayed a natural talent for storytelling. Before writing her first words she created fanciful tales to tell her grandmother and romantic stories for her father’s dinner guests. In her teens Elaine began writing instead of telling. A deluge of manuscripts arrived at publishing houses from Elaine Sterne, G. A., the initials standing for “Great Author.” A novel, a musical comedy, and many other stories were all rejected until she sold “King of the Christmas Feast” to ...

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Chase, Ilka (08 April 1905?–15 February 1978), actress and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Francis Dane Chase, a hotel manager, and Edna Woolman Chase, editor of Vogue magazine. She was given her unusual first name in honor of a Hungarian friend of her mother. Chase, whose parents divorced when she was a child, was educated at a succession of boarding schools, including convent schools in Manhattan and Suffern, New York, run by the Sisters of the Holy Child, and Mrs. Dow’s School, Briarcliff Manor, New York. Most summers were spent at her grandmother’s estate at Brookhaven, Long Island. At age sixteen Chase was sent to finishing school in Groslay, France, and later attended a convent school at Neuilly, outside Paris. In 1923 she returned to New York to make her society debut at the Cosmopolitan Club....

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Collinge, Patricia (20 September 1894–10 April 1974), actress and writer, was born in Dublin, Ireland, the daughter of Frederick Channon Collinge, a musical director and conductor, and Emmie Russell. She was privately educated in Dublin. It was there, admitted free to plays as a professional courtesy to her father, that she first saw and loved theater. At the age of ten she made her first professional appearance at London’s Garrick Theatre, playing Ching-a-Ling in a 1904 Christmas pantomime, ...

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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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Fisher, Carrie (21 Oct. 1956–27 Dec. 2016), actress and writer, was born Carrie Frances Fisher in Beverly Hills, California, to Eddie Fisher, a popular singer and the grandson of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and Debbie Reynolds, a Hollywood actress whose forebears were Anglo-Saxon Protestants of modest means. At the time of Carrie’s birth, Fisher and Reynolds, who had married to great fanfare a year earlier, were a celebrated young couple, labeled “America’s sweethearts” by the media. The public doted on newspaper and magazine coverage as well as film footage of the seemingly perfect couple and their adorable little daughter. The arrival little more than a year later of a son, Todd, only enhanced their image....

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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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Franken, Rose Dorothy (28 December 1898–22 June 1988), author and stage director, was born in Gainesville, Texas, the daughter of Michael Lewin (occupation unknown) and Hannah Younker. When Rose was young, her parents separated, and her mother took her four children to New York to live with her family in Harlem. According to Rose Franken’s autobiography, she was originally named Rosebud Dougherty (the middle name after her father’s best friend), but possibly because of tensions resulting from her parents’ separation, the name caused her “deep bitterness” and she soon “nipped the ‘bud’ ” and changed her middle name to Dorothy. After attending the School for Ethical Culture, Rose was scheduled to enter Barnard College in September 1915, but she decided instead to marry Dr. Sigmund Walter Anthony Franken, an oral surgeon. Shortly after the wedding, Dr. Franken was diagnosed as having tuberculosis, and the couple spent the first ten months of their marriage at the Trudeau Sanatorium on Saranac Lake in New York. Three boys were born to the couple over the next thirteen years....

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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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Howe, Helen (11 January 1905–01 February 1975), writer and monologuist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe, a writer, and Fanny Huntington Quincy, also a writer. Though the children did not want to listen, their father tried to read poetry to them on Sunday afternoons. Helen and her brothers preferred the times he sat at the piano to lead them in hymn sings. The family also participated together in tennis, sailing, swimming, and clambakes. Howe was so attached to her parents that, when they sent her to a boarding school only twelve miles away, she became homesick and stayed in bed three days. She graduated from Milton Academy in 1922, after which she attended Radcliffe College for one year only (1923–1924). At Radcliffe, she acted in college plays and decided to work and study toward becoming an actress. Her favorite authors were Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, ...

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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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Loos, Anita (26 April 1893–18 August 1981), author and child actress, was born Corinne Anita Loos in Sissons (now called Mount Shasta), California, the daughter of Richard Beers Loos, a newspaper owner and editor, and Minnie Ellen Smith. “In my youth I never kept a diary, feeling that a girl who could sell her words for money had other fish to fry,” Loos (pronounced Lohse) wrote in her 1974 autobiography, ...

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Mary McCarthy Photograph by Dick DeMarsico, 1963. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114725).