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Anderson, Maxwell (1888 – 1959)
"The gods of men are sillier than their kings and queens, and emptier and more powerless."

Maxwell Anderson


(James) Maxwell Anderson was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, author, poet, reporter and lyricist, and a founding member of The Playwrights' Company (which included, at various times, Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Elmer Rice, Robert E. Sherwood, Sidney Howard, Roger L. Stevens, John F. Wharton, and Kurt Weill), and produced many notable plays of the 20th century.

His life
He was born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, the second child of William Lincoln Anders, a Baptist minister, and his wife, formerly Charlotte Perrimela Stephenson. His family initially lived on his maternal grandmother's farm in Atlantic, then moved to Andover, Ohio, where his father became a railroad fireman while studying to become a minister. They moved to Jamestown, North Dakota in 1907, where Anderson attended Jamestown High School, graduating in 1908.

As an undergraduate, he waited tables and worked at the night copy desk of the Grand Forks Herald, and was active in the school's literary and dramatic societies. He obtained a B.A. in English Literature from the University of North Dakota in 1911. He became the principal of a high school in Minnewaukan, North Dakota, also teaching English there, but he was fired from this job in 1913 because he had made pacifist statements to his students.

He then entered Stanford University, obtaining an M.A. in English Literature in 1914. He became a high school English teacher in San Francisco: after three years he became chairman of the English department at Whittier College in 1917. He was fired after a year for public statements supporting a student seeking conscientious objector status.

He next became a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, then moved to New York, where he wrote editorials for the The New Republic, the Evening Globe, and the Morning World.

In 1921, he founded Measure, a magazine devoted to verse. He wrote his first play, White Desert, in 1923, which ran only twelve performances, but was well-reviewed by the book reviewer for the New York World, Laurence Stallings, who collaborated with him on his next play What Price Glory?, which was successfully produced in 1924 in New York City. Afterwords he resigned from the World, launching his career as a dramatist.

He wrote many well-known plays, of widely-varying styles, and was one of few modern playwrights to make extensive use of blank verse. Some of these became movies, and Anderson wrote screen adaptations of other authors' plays and novels ("Death Takes a Holiday", "All Quiet on the Western Front"), as well as books of poetry and essays.

The only one of his plays that he himself adapted to the screen was "Joan of Lorraine", which became the 1948 film "Joan of Arc", starring Ingrid Bergman, with a screenplay by Anderson and Andrew Solt. Anderson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for his political drama Both Your Houses, and twice received the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, for Winterset, and High Tor.

Anderson was, above all, a strong believer in the dignity of man (although humanism might be too strong of a word), and many of his plays focus on the concepts of liberty and justice. Anderson can probably be credited with popularizing the use of poetry in modern drama. He chose to write in solitude, preferring to write longhand in a wire-bound notebook, and refused to attend the opening nights of his plays.

He married Margaret Haskett, a fellow classmate, on 1 August 1911 in Bottineau, North Dakota. They had three sons, Quentin, Alan, and Terence. Margaret died of cancer on 22 February 1931. Anderson then resided with Gertrude "Mab" Higger starting in about October 1933. A daughter, Hesper, was born 2 August 1934. Gertrude ("Mab") committed suicide on 21 March 1953.

Her daughter Hesper (who was screenwriter for the movie Children of a Lesser God, wrote a book South Mountain Road: A Daughter's Journey of Discovery about her unearthing, only after the suicide, the fact that her parents had never married. Maxwell Anderson did marry once more, to Gilda Hazard, on 6 June 1954.

Honorary awards include the Gold Medal in Drama from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1954, an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Columbia University in 1946, and an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the University of North Dakota in 1958.

Maxwell Anderson died in Stamford, Connecticut, on 28 February 1959, two days after suffering a stroke.

 
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