Authors: Clifford Odets

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Waiting for Lefty, pr., pb. 1935 (one act)

Till the Day I Die, pr., pb. 1935

Awake and Sing!, pr., pb. 1935

Paradise Lost, pr. 1935

I Can’t Sleep, pr. 1935

Golden Boy, pr., pb. 1937

Rocket to the Moon, pr. 1938

Six Plays of Clifford Odets, pb. 1939, revised pb. 1993 (as Waiting for Lefty, and Other Plays)

Night Music, pr., pb. 1940

Clash by Night, pr. 1941

The Russian People, pr. 1942 (adaptation of Konstantin Simonov’s play The Russians)

The Big Knife, pr., pb. 1949

The Country Girl, pr. 1950

The Flowering Peach, pr., pb. 1954

Screenplays:

The General Died at Dawn, 1936 (adaptation of Charles G. Booth’s novel)

Blockade, 1938

None but the Lonely Heart, 1944 (adaptation of Richard Llewellyn’s novel)

Deadline at Dawn, 1946 (adaptation of William Irish’s novel)

Humoresque, 1946 (with Zachary Gold; adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s story)

The Sweet Smell of Success, 1957 (with Ernest Lehman; adaptation of Lehman’s novel)

The Story on Page One, 1960 (directed by Odets)

Wild in the Country, 1961 (adaptation of J. R. Salamanca’s novel The Lost Country)

Nonfiction:

The Time Is Ripe: The 1940 Journal of Clifford Odets, 1988

Biography

Clifford Odets (oh-DEHTS) touched an exposed nerve in theatergoing Americans with his agitprop drama Waiting for Lefty, which he wrote in three days in January, 1935, as an entry in a New Theatre-New Masses drama contest. In a United States gripped by the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Odets cast the spotlight on the Depression’s resultant labor strife, depicting the unrest of taxicab drivers gathered in a union hall waiting for their organizer, Lefty. Odets presents brief, poignant vignettes of people from all walks of life who, in order to survive, have had to become cabdrivers. In the end, it is revealed that Lefty will not arrive: He has been shot in the head outside the union hall. When Agate, one of those waiting for Lefty, receives the news, he rises and asks the cabbies what to do. Aroused theater audiences join the cabbies in the strident chant, “Strike, Strike, Strike!”{$I[AN]9810000925}{$I[A]Odets, Clifford}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Odets, Clifford}{$I[tim]1906;Odets, Clifford}

So affecting was Waiting for Lefty that Odets, son of a moderately successful businessman, Louis Odets, was catapulted to fame. From 1931, the young playwright had pursued a career as an actor with the Group Theater, where he had honed his playwriting skills. Before 1935 ended, Odets had three plays besides Waiting for Lefty on Broadway. Odets immediately wrote a short play, Till the Day I Die, which focuses on Communists in Adolf Hitler’s Germany, to play on a twin bill with Lefty; it was too short for a full evening’s entertainment.

By mid-February, Odets’s Awake and Sing!, a story of the effects the Depression has on a middle-class Jewish family, opened. In autumn, the Group Theater presented Paradise Lost, Odets’s play about an affluent Jewish family that loses everything in the Depression. The play failed commercially. The struggling Group Theater, with which Odets continued to be closely affiliated, lost money with Paradise Lost. As a result, Odets went to Hollywood to write the screenplay of The General Dies at Dawn under contract to Paramount Pictures, which paid him twenty thousand dollars for eight weeks, enabling him to provide money to keep the Group Theater and his play afloat.

Although he was reluctant to trade Broadway for Hollywood, in 1937 Odets married actress Luise Rainer, who was associated more with films than with theater. In 1937 the Group Theater presented Odets’s Golden Boy, the story of a poor Italian boy, Joe Bonaparte, who gives up his dream of playing the violin in order to become a boxer and make money; perhaps it was a reflection of Odets’s guilt feelings about going to Hollywood. Rocket to the Moon, the story of an infatuated dentist and his sexy receptionist, followed the next year and was not well received.

The last Group Theater production of an Odets play came in 1940 with Night Music, a touching but not commercially successful story of young love. The Group Theater disbanded after this production. By this time, Odets was involved more with Hollywood than with Broadway, although he brought one more play, Clash by Night, to New York in 1941 for an unspectacular run.

With the entry of the United States into World War II in 1941, the Great Depression ended. The social ills that Odets had addressed in his best plays of the 1930’s no longer existed to the same degree, and he found no new problems to stir his social conscience. Although he was not artistically productive during the war years, Odets wrote some screenplays. His next theater play came in 1949, when The Big Knife, a bitter though not entirely convincing satire about Hollywood, opened on Broadway.

More successful was The Country Girl, the story of Frank Elgin, an alcoholic actor trying to make a comeback, and his long-suffering wife, Georgie. The play reached Broadway in 1950, and its Oscar-winning film version in 1954, starring Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby, was highly successful. Odets’s last theatrical venture was The Flowering Peach, a sensitive redaction of the Noah story from the Bible. It opened in New York in 1954.

Odets spent his final years writing occasional screenplays and in 1962 began working on a series of television scripts for The Richard Boone Show. He completed two scripts before his death from stomach ulcers on August 14, 1963.

BibliographyBrenman-Gibson, Margaret. Clifford Odets, American Playwright: The Years from 1906-1940. New York: Applause, 2001. This biography of Odets focuses on the earlier part of his career, which many would argue was the better part.Cantor, Harold. Clifford Odets: Playwright-Poet. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2000. Cantor concentrates on eleven of Odets’s plays, reading closely and identifying common themes. He emphasizes Odets’s poetic style and also notes Odets’s influence on American theater. Includes bibliography and index.Cooperman, Robert. Clifford Odets: An Annotated Bibliography, 1935-1989. Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1990. A useful bibliographic essay evaluates the listed entries, which are divided into primary works (plays, screenplays, teleplays, articles, journals, and diaries), critical studies (on individual plays and politics, and on the Group Theatre), and information on the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Includes a brief chronology and an index.Demastes, William W. Clifford Odets: A Research and Production Sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. The book’s main feature consists of summaries of characters, plots, and overviews of the critical reception of Odets’s stage and radio plays. Includes a brief chronology, a biographical essay, a bibliography of Odets’s primary works (with unpublished archival sources), an annotated secondary bibliography (1935-1990), a list of major productions, and an index.Demastes, William W, ed. Critical Essays on Clifford Odets. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991. This anthology includes ten reviews of Odets’s productions (from Waiting for Lefty to The Flowering Peach), two 1930’s evaluations of Odets, and three interviews with Odets, and a collection of essays, most reprinted from earlier books. The introduction provides an evaluative chronological overview of primary and secondary sources.Miller, Gabriel. Clifford Odets. New York: Continuum, 1989. Critical of the narrow interpretations of Odets as a political playwright of the 1930’s, Miller focuses primarily on the published plays, arranged thematically around several “visions”: Chekhovian, tragic, romantic, melodramatic, and political. The interest centers on both experimentation with form and the evolution of Odets’s “significant thematic and social concerns.” Index.Miller, Gabriel, ed. Critical Essays on Clifford Odets. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991. This anthology includes ten reviews of Odets’s productions (from Waiting for Lefty to The Flowering Peach), two 1930’s evaluations of Odets, three interviews with Odets dating from the 1950’s and 1960’s, and a collection of essays, most reprinted from earlier books. The introduction provides an evaluative chronological overview of primary and secondary sources.
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