Clifford Odets

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

Odets was born in Philadelphia of Jewish immigrant parents and raised in the Bronx, New York. He dropped out of high school to pursue acting. He helped found the influential left-wing Group Theatre in New York. He joined the Communist Party in 1934, although he left it after eight months.

Clifford Odets was once referred to as "the most naturally gifted American dramatist of his age." A sucessful playwright, screenwriter and founding member of the Group Theatre, Odets made a significant contribution to our country's cultural history.After a brief career as a mediocre Group actor, Odets wrote Awake and Sing!, in 1935. Although his first play, it is often considered his masterpiece. His first play to actually be produced was Waiting for Lefty; the wild success of this one-act play brought Odets unexpected fame and fortune. These, along with his other major Group Theatre plays of the 1930s, are harsh criticisms of the capitalist class in the Great Depression. They have been dismissed by some critics as mere propaganda; Odets asserted that all of his plays deal with the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of all opponents, whether they be the capitalist class or not.

Whereas writing was Odets' public means of artistic expression, he painted only for himself and his most intimate friends. During bouts of insomnia or writer's block during the '40's, and when named in 1952 a Communist by the House Un-American Activities Committee, painting was Odets' creative outlet and means of catharsis.The cynicism, pain, satire and politics in his art are hard to miss.Odets was perhaps most influenced by the artists whose works he collected, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Renee Magritte and Paul Klee.At one time he owned more than sixty works of Klee, considered one of the most significant collections of Paul Klee's art.Odets did exhibit his own works on paper in 1946 through his close friend and respected gallery owner J.B. Neumann. In later years, Odets' plays became more reflective and autobiographical, although class consciousness was ever in the background.

In 1953, Odets was investigated by Joseph McCarthy and 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' dramatic style is distinguished by his use of a kind of poetic, metaphor-laden street talk, his socialist politics, and 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.

Odets died from cancer on Aug. 18, 1963, shortly after leaving the television show "The Richard Boone Repertory Theater," for which he had signed on to be executive story editor.

Partial Reference Credit: Biography Base