Cover image for Clifford Odets and American political theatre
Clifford Odets and American political theatre
Herr, Christopher J., 1966-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, [2003]

Physical Description:
xii, 177 pages ; 25 cm.
Odets and America, 1906-1929 -- Art and politics in the marketplace : Odets, the group, and America, 1929-1940 -- "Life printed on dollar bills" : the marketplace in Odets's group plays -- Odets and the dwindling political theatre, 1940-1954 -- "A real artist of the people" : Odets' post-group plays -- "The enemy with a capital 'E"" : Odets' final years.
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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3529.D46 Z69 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Clifford Odets, one of the 20th century's leading American playwrights, was a fervent believer in democracy and the human ability to overcome obstacles. Yet his legacy has been overshadowed by persistent attempts to read him as a thoroughly political playwright. This new consideration reads his career--the work itself and the conditions of its invention--as cultural creations in a time of political, social, and economic change.

Spanning two World Wars, the Depression, and the Cold War, the works of Clifford Odets illuminate a period of tremendous change in American life and theatre. Herr adroitly examines Odets's plays and screenplays against the backdrop of the artistic and economic pressures placed upon him by the Group Theatre, Broadway, Hollywood, and the 1952 HUAC hearings in which he testified. He avers that Odets's experience as a writer in the film and theatre industries is reflected in expressions of economic struggle in his plays. While a culture of abundance in the face of economic catastrophe shaped the structure and content of his early works, political pressures, especially during the Cold War, shaped his later career.

This book illustrates the deeply utopian nature of Odets's vision, which existed alongside a continuing ambivalence toward consumer culture as a means of political and social change. Herr's fresh new look at Odets's works and contributions to the American stage invites readers to reconsider accepted notions about the playwright's importance.

Author Notes

Christopher J. Herr is Assistant Professor at California State University, Los Angeles.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

None of the studies of Clifford Odets since the early 1960s delves into the political content and context of his plays more thoroughly and powerfully than this one does. Herr (California State Univ., Los Angeles) expands on points suggested by Casper Nannes in his pioneering Politics in the American Drama (1960). And Herr demonstrates how the Depression gave Odets a cause and how his close affiliation with the Group Theatre gave him a surrogate family. Herr also looks at how Odets became an outsider in the shifting political climate of the 1940s and 1950s, particularly after his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. The early anger of Waiting for Lefty (1935), Awake and Sing! (1935), and Paradise Lost (1935) gave way to a shift in focus in The Big Knife (1949) and a benign mellowness in The Flowering Peach (1954), yet Odets continued to explore such pervasive themes as responsibility. Herr's volume is a worthy adjunct to Michael Mendelsohn's Clifford Odets: Human Dramatist (CH, may'70), Gerald Weales's Clifford Odets, Playwright (CH, Jan'72), and Margaret Brenman-Gibson's Clifford Odets: American Playwright (CH, Mar'82). The book is well documented and includes an excellent chronological table, extensive bibliography, and comprehensive index. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. B. Shuman emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Table of Contents

Series Forewordp. ix
Prefacep. xi
Abbreviationsp. xiii
Introductionp. 1
1 Odets and America, 1906-1929p. 5
2 Art and Politics in the Marketplace: Odets, the Group, and America, 1929-1940p. 27
3 "Life Printed on Dollar Bills": The Marketplace in Odets' Group Playsp. 61
4 Odets and the Dwindling Political Theatre, 1940-1954p. 103
5 "A Real Artist of the People": Odets' Post-Group Playsp. 125
6 "The Enemy with a Capital 'E'": Odets' Final Yearsp. 145
Chronologyp. 153
Selected Bibliographyp. 161
Indexp. 171