Clifford Odets

Clifford Odets
Clifford Odets

Clifford Odets photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1937
Born July 18, 1906(1906-07-18)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died August 18, 1963(1963-08-18) (aged 57)
Los Angeles, California
Spouse Luise Rainer (1937-1940)
Bette Grayson (1943-1952)

Clifford Odets (July 18, 1906 – August 18, 1963) was an American playwright, screenwriter, socialist, and social protester.


Early life

Odets was born in Philadelphia to Romanian- and Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Louis Odets (born Gorodetsky) and Esther Geisinger, and raised in Philadelphia and the Bronx, New York.[1] He dropped out of high school to pursue acting. He was a founding member of the Group Theatre, a highly influential theatre company in the U.S. that utilized a new acting technique, closely associated with the thinking of the Russian master Constantin Stanislavski. Odets became The Group's primary playwright.


After briefly trying acting, Odets decided to become the Group Theatre's first original playwright. At the urging of Group co-founder Harold Clurman, he wrote Awake and Sing! in 1935. Although his first play, it is often considered his masterpiece. It follows the story of a large Jewish family in New York.

Mainly due to the misgivings of Group leader Lee Strasberg, Awake and Sing! was not produced right away. Nor was his second Till the Day I Die, which was banned for its anti-Nazi sentiments.[2] Odets's first play to be produced was the one-act Waiting for Lefty. This is a series of interconnected scenes depicting workers for a fictional taxi company. The focus alternates between the drivers' union meeting and vignettes from their difficult, oppressed lives. The climax is a defiant call for the union to strike. The play can be performed in any acting space, including union meeting halls and on the street. The play's wild success brought Odets unexpected fame and fortune. In 1938 Odets wrote what is perhaps his signature work, Rocket to the Moon, about a guilt-ridden dentist, which put him on the cover of Time magazine.[3]

Odets would soon move to Hollywood to begin writing for the screen as well as the stage. His play The Flowering Peach was the preferred choice of the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1955, but under pressure from Joseph Pulitzer Jr., the prize went instead to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which the jury considered the weakest of the five shortlisted nominees.[4]

These plays, along with Odets's other major Group Theatre plays of the 1930s, are harsh criticisms of profiteers and exploitative economic systems during the Great Depression. They have been dismissed by some critics as mere propaganda, but Odets asserted that all of his plays deal with the human spirit persevering in the face of all opponents, whether they be the capitalist class or not. In later years, Odets's plays became more reflective and autobiographical, although class consciousness was ever in the background. The playwright George S. Kaufman gently tweaked him about his innocuous turn: "Odets, where is thy sting?"[5]

Odets spent summers from 1931 to the early 1940s at Pine Brook Country Club in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut, which was the rehearsal headquarters of the Group Theatre (New York) formed by Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford. Other artists who worked at Pine Brook were; Elia Kazan, Sanford Meisner, Luise Rainer, Harry Morgan, John Garfield, Francis Farmer, Will Geer, Lee J. Cobb, Howard Da Silva and Irwin Shaw.[6][7][8]

In 1952, Odets was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA). He disavowed any current communist affiliations and cooperated by not taking the Fifth Amendment; as a result, he did not share the fate of many of his colleagues who were blacklisted. Odets did not provide the names of anyone who had not already been mentioned to the committee. Odets was, however, reportedly tormented by the public reaction to his testimony until his death in 1963, and he wrote relatively little for stage or screen after his 1952 subcommittee appearance.[9] Two notable scripts from his Hollywood years in the 1950s were The Big Knife (play and 1955 movie), and Sweet Smell of Success (movie, 1957). His last play, The Flowering Peach was produced on Broadway in 1955.

In the early 1960s Odets was once again a-ferment, revising librettos for projected musical versions of Golden Boy and The Flowering Peach, and signing a lucrative contract for a dozen teleplays for NBC's new dramatic anthology, The Richard Boone Show. Time magazine ran an article on his artistic rebirth, quoting the playwright as saying, "The American people don't know who they are or where they're going." The article went on to say, 'Clifford Odets knows where he's going—to NBC as a television writer." Unfortunately Odets had neglected his health in recent years and by mid-1963 was in hospital with advanced stomach and bowel cancer. He died soon after, on August 14, 1963, following many bedside visits from such movie and theater friends as Shirley MacLaine and Danny Kaye (who eventually would star in the musical version of The Flowering Peach).[10]


Odets's dramatic style is distinguished by a kind of poetic, metaphor-laden street talk, by his socialist politics, and by his way of dropping the audience right into the conflict with little or no introduction. Often character is more important than plot, which Odets attributed to the influence of Anton Chekhov. In general, Odets's political statements reflect the Marxism that was common in the 1930s; he often points to the Soviet Union as an example of a perfect socialist state.

Personal life

His first wife was Academy-Award winning actress Luise Rainer; his second wife was actress Bette Grayson, and he also had a relationship with actress Frances Farmer. Grayson's death at 34 left Odets to care for their two children, Nora, born in 1945, and Walt Whitman,[11] now a clinical psychologist, author and photographer, born in 1947. Odets was a close friend of Jean Renoir, who was also working in Hollywood during the 1940s. Renoir dedicated an entire chapter of his autobiography to his friendship with Odets [1] including a moving visit to the playwright on his deathbed.

Clifford Odets died of colon cancer at the age of 57 in 1963 and his ashes were interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Acted in

  • Midnight - 1930
  • 1931 - 1931
  • Big Night - 1933
  • They All Come to Moscow - 1933
  • Men in White - 1933
  • Gold Eagle Guy - 1934



  • (1944) None but the Lonely Heart (film, from Odets' adaptation of the Llewellan novel)
  • (1959) The Story on Page One (film, from Odets' original screenplay)



The Flowering Peach became the basis for the 1970 musical Two by Two. Golden Boy was made into a 1939 film and became the basis for a 1964 musical of the same name. His screenplay for Sweet Smell of Success became the basis for the 2002 musical of the same name.

A (very) loose retelling of Clifford Odets's trouble adapting to writing screenplays in Hollywood is the basis for the 1991 film Barton Fink.

Odets was the subject of a critically acclaimed biography by Margaret Brenman-Gibson, wife of playwright William Gibson: Clifford Odets - American Playwright - The Years from 1906-1940. This was supposed to be a two-volume work, with the second volume to cover the final twenty-three years of Odets's life. However, no second volume was ever published, and Brenman-Gibson died in 2004.

Odets was played by Jeffrey DeMunn in Frances, and by John Heard in the 1983 biography, Will There Be A Morning?, both about Frances Farmer.

Odets' name is mentioned in an episode of the NBC series Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, "The Wrap Party." The episode's subplot dealt with The Hollywood Ten.

See also


  1. ^ John Lahr, "The Struggles of Clifford Odets.", The New Yorker, April 17, 2006
  2. ^ "Awake and Sing" Sydney Morning Herald 23 November 1936 p.4
  3. ^ Produced again by England's National Theatre in 2011.
  4. ^ Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich & Erika J. Fischer. The Pulitzer Prize Archive: A History and Anthology of Award-Winning Materials in Journalism, Letters, and Arts München: K.G. Saur, 2008. ISBN 3598301707 ISBN 9783598301704 p. 246
  5. ^ Hall, Donald, ed. (1981). The Oxford Book of American Literary Anecdotes. New York: Oxford. p. 304. 
  6. ^ Clifford Odets: American Playwright: The Years from 1906 to 1940, p. 410
  7. ^ Pinewood Lake website retrieved on 2010-09-10
  8. ^ Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
  9. ^ "Waiting for Lefty (Historical Context),
  10. ^ Margaret Brenman-Gibson, Clifford Odets: American Playwright. 1981.
  11. ^

External links

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  • Clifford Odets — 1937 Clifford Odets (* 18. Juli 1906 in Philadelphia; † 18. August 1963 in Glendale) war ein nordamerikanischer Bühnen und Drehbuchautor und Schauspieler. Der bekennende Kommunist zählte zu den erfolgreichsten und einflußreichsten US Dramatikern… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Clifford Odets — Clifford Odets. Clifford Odets (18 de julio de 1906, Filadelfia, Pensilvania 14 de agosto de 1963, Hollywood, California) fue un dramaturgo estadounidense. Actuó con algunas compañías de repertorios entre 1923 y 1928, unién …   Wikipedia Español

  • Clifford Odets — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Williams. Clifford Odets Clifford Odets …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Clifford Odets — noun United States playwright (1906 1963) • Syn: ↑Odets • Instance Hypernyms: ↑dramatist, ↑playwright …   Useful english dictionary

  • Odets — Clifford Odets 1937 Clifford Odets (* 18. Juli 1906 in Philadelphia; † 18. August 1963 in Glendale) war ein amerikanischer Bühnen und Drehbuchautor und Schauspieler. Inhaltsverzeichnis …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • ODETS, CLIFFORD — (1906–1963), U.S playwright. Born in Philadelphia and raised in the Bronx, New York, Odets became an actor at the age of 15. He was a cofounder of the Group Theater, where his one act play, Waiting for Lefty (1935), based on the New York taxi… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ODETS (C.) — ODETS CLIFFORD (1906 1963) Clifford Odets est le dramaturge américain le plus représentatif des années trente. Bien que sa carrière littéraire se soit poursuivie jusqu’à l’époque de la guerre froide, c’est la dépression, à la fois point de départ …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Clifford — is both a given name and a surname of Old English origin that applies to a number of individuals or places. It simply means ford by a cliff .[1] Clifford was a common surname mainly in the 18th century but lost its prominence over the years.… …   Wikipedia

  • Odets, Clifford — born July 18, 1906, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S. died Aug. 14, 1963, Hollywood, Calif. U.S. playwright. He acted with repertory companies in 1923–28 and joined the Group Theatre in 1931. His first play, the social protest drama Waiting for Lefty… …   Universalium

  • Odets, Clifford — (1906–63)    US playwright. Clifford Odets was a prominent member of that group of playwrights whose experience of the depression found expression in a theatre of social protest and hard hitting realism. He was born in Philadelphia but spent his… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

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