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

Early life

Odets was born in Philadelphiamarker of immigrant parents, Lou Odets (born Gorodetsky) and Esther Geisinger, and raised in the Bronxmarker, New Yorkmarker. He dropped out of high school to pursue acting. He helped found 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.


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 misgivings from Group leader Lee Strasberg, Awake and Sing! was not produced right away. Odets' first play to be produced was the one-act play 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 wild success of this play brought Odets unexpected fame and fortune. Odets would soon move to Hollywoodmarker 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. Due to pressure from Joseph Pulitzer Jr. the Prize went to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which the jury considered the weakest of the five shortlisted nominees.

These plays, along with Odets' 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?"

In 1952, Odets was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He disavowed his communist affiliations and cooperated by "naming names"; as a result, he did not share the fate of many of his colleagues who were blacklisted.


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 Unionmarker 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 32, left Odets to care for their two children, Nora born in 1945, and Walt Whitman[60491], now a clinical psychologist, author and painter, born in 1947. He 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[60492] including a moving visit to the playwright on his deathbed.

Clifford Odets died of colon cancer at the age of 57 in 1963 and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemeterymarker in Glendale, Californiamarker.


Acted in

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




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.

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