See The Time is Ripe: The 1940 Journal of Clifford Odets (1988); biographies by E. Murray (1968), G. C. Weales (1971), G. Miller (1989), and M. Brenman-Gibson (2002); studies by M. J. Mendelsohn (1969), H. Cantor (1978, repr. 2000), G. Miller, ed. (1991), and C. J. Herr (2003).
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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 Hollywood to begin writing for the screen as well as the stage.
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.
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 show a rather naïve view of Marxism that might be expected in the 1930s; for example, he often points to the Soviet Union as an example of a perfect socialist state.
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 , 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 including a moving visit to the playwright on his deathbed.
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.
Clifford Odets's Depression-era dentist, anything but painless ; In 'Rocket to the Moon' yearning, despair and an emotional call to arms
Apr 06, 2011; MATT WOLF International Herald Tribune 04-06-2011 Clifford Odets's Depression-era dentist, anything but painless ; In 'Rocket to...