Edward Albee

Albee was born on March 12, 1928, in Washington, D. C., and adopted at the age of two weeks by Reed and Frances Albee, who named him Edward after Reed's father. This elder Edward held a substantial business interest in a chain of vaudeville theatres, and the family was very wealthy. Young Edward's early years were spent among servants, nurses, tutors, as the family alternated between stays in the mansion in Larchmont, New York, and extended winter holidays in Florida. He had, it seems, few friends his own age, but he did own a variety of pets - cats, guinea pigs, a St. Bernard.

His parents were, in several ways, a unique couple. His father, Reed, was a small, quiet, apparently unassertive man. Frances Albee, on the other hand, seems to have been loud, aggressive, domineering. She was also twenty-three years younger and a foot taller than her husband. Other of Albee's biographers usually stress her love of riding and suggest that her usual daytime wear was jodhpurs and a riding crop. Young Edward, who disliked riding, apparently felt more at home with his grandmother (Mrs. Albee's mother).

Albee's school record was, in the conventional sense, a very bad one. Sent to a boarding school at the age of eleven, he was eventually dismissed from it for cutting classes, ignoring his academic work, not playing compulsory sports, and general bad behaviour. To encourage him toward greater self-discipline, his mother sent him to the Valley Forge Military Academy. Albee's conduct, however, was apparently a problem that the resources of the academy were not designed to cope with, and he left that school too, at the school's request. His next school was Choate, where, it seems, the atmosphere was more congenial to him. For one thing, the school did not practice repressive discipline; for another, his teachers were ready to encourage him to write. Albee had written stories and poetry even before first going to boarding school, but now his output increased. He wrote enthusiastically, sometimes for as many as eighteen hours a day, completing during his time at Choate many stories and a full-length novel. One of his poems was published in a Texas "little magazine," Kaleidoscope, and others appeared in the Choate Literary Magazine, as did his play Schism.

Graduated from Choate in 1946, Albee entered Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, but did not remain there long. He also spent some months, at various times, at Columbia and Washington Universities.

Between leaving Choate and his final departure from his family, Albee seems to have lived the life of a country socialite. At one point during this period he was engaged (he is still a bachelor). Also while still at home, he took his first job, at the age of nineteen, writing continuity for a radio station. But life with his family, according to all accounts, had become a running battle over minor incidents, and in 1948 he left, for good, for New York City. At first, at least, his independence was bolstered by a $250-a-month allowance from his paternal grandmother's estate.[1]Within a year he had moved in with the composer William Flanagan, and he and Flanagan shared apartments for the next several years. Through Flanagan, Albee was able to move among musical and literary circles. (At one time W. H. Auden suggested he write pornography to correct his style; at another, Thornton Wilder read his poetry and suggested he write plays.)

During the years between leaving home and becoming a professional playwright, Albee held a succession of jobs: waiter, bartender, office boy, salesman in Gimbel's department store and in Bloomingdale's and, for three years, a Western Union delivery messenger. He wrote, he spent hours in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village, and he went to plays whenever possible, his favourites being those of Tennessee Williams.

By early 1958 this mode of existence had lost its savour. Albee became gloomy, depressed. He was almost thirty, and had accomplished nothing of importance. In part, one presumes, to help himself live through this state of mind, he wrote a play - The Zoo Story.

He sent the play on the rounds of theatrical producers' offices in New York, from which it returned, universally rejected as too short, too experimental. Flanagan, however, liked the script and sent it to a friend in Italy, who passed it on to a friend in Switzerland. After a grand tour of the postal systems of Europe, being passed from friends to friends of friends - full details are contained in the Preface to the paperback edition of The Zoo Story - the play was accepted for production, and was given its first performance in Berlin, on September 28, 1959.

The Zoo Story subsequently was staged in a dozen other German cities, and early in 1960, saw its first American performance. Albee's career was most definitely launched, and just at a time, too, (his thirtieth birthday) when he received a sizeable inheritance.

Since becoming a public personage, in the sense that he is well known, Albee's personal life has, properly, become his own, and the importance of his life as such has decreaeed with the increased interest in, and study of, his works. After the commereial success of Virginia Woolf (Warner Bros. reportedly paid $500,000 for the film rights), he bought a large house on Long Island as a quiet place to work, collected works of art, and went on a United States State Department lecture tour of the Soviet Union. Virginia Woolf won the New York Drama Critics' Award for 1962, but not until 1966 and A Delicate Balance - a play of less colourful language - was Albee given the Pulitzer Prize for drama. He has an honorary doctorate from Emerson College in Boston, and back in 1960-1961 he collaborated in the writing of an unsuccessful operatic version of Herman Melville's story Bartleby.

Of greater interest and significance is the fact that in 1961, Albee was instrumental in foundiag the Playwrights Unit, a project designed to subsidize and produce the works of young, unknown playwrights, to give them the opportunity that the New York theatrical establishment had attempted to deny to him.

[1]As yet, there is no definitive biography of Albee, and various accounts of his life differ, sometimes substantially. Of those listed in the bibliography, Amacher and Bigsby say that the allowance continued uninterrupted. Gould states that it ended after about a year.

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