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Odets, Clifford


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 strike of 1934, brought him early success. Two more plays were staged in the same year: Awake and Sing!, a drama about poor New York Jews, marked an important turning point in the portrayal of the Jew on the American stage; and Till the Day I Die dealt with left-wing German opposition to the Nazis. These brought Odets to the fore as the most promising playwright of the new generation. He expressed perhaps better than any dramatist of his time the hardships of the great depression of the 1930s, and while his works have lost some of their original appeal, they were in their day of considerable social significance. Their impact owed much to their vivid dialogue and characterization. Probably the finest example of the latter quality is Golden Boy (1937), the story of a musician turned prizefighter, which was made into a musical in 1964. Odets also wrote Rocket to the Moon (1938), and Clash by Night (1941). After spending many years as a screen-writer in Hollywood, he returned to Broadway with The Big Knife (1949), a play dealing with the corrupting influence of the film colony. Two later plays were The Country Girl (1950) and The Flowering Peach (1954), a new version of the biblical story of Noah in terms of Jewish family life.


E. Murray, Clifford Odets: The Thirties and After (1968); R.B. Shuman, Clifford Odets (1962); J. Gould, ModernAmerican Playwrights (1966), 186–203; S.J. Kunitz (ed), Twentieth Century Authors, first suppl. (1955), incl. bibl.

[Joseph Mersand]

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