US dramatist and a founder member of the influential Group Theatre of the 1930s.
Born into a wealthy middle-class Jewish family in Philadelphia, Odets grew up in New York. An inauspicious education was followed by an equally unremarkable career as a radio actor. However, this occupation gave him time to write and he became a founding member of the avant-garde Group Theatre. In 1934 he also joined the Communist Party. Waiting for Lefty (1935), written for a one-act play competition, was staged by the Group Theatre and brought instant success, with Odets being hailed as the most revolutionary discovery of the decade. The same year that and his first play, Awake and Sing!, were both staged on Broadway, as was Till the Day I Die. The vehement left-wing political message of Odets's work earned him both adulation and criticism from the public. Paradise Lost (1935) did not fulfil expectations, however, and Odets took up script writing in Hollywood, where he also embarked upon a tumultuous but brief marriage with the actress Luise Rainer. Subsequent plays met with a mixed critical reception. They include Golden Boy (1937), The Big Knife (1949), and The Country Girl (1950), probably the biggest commercial success of his career. Despite his rapid rise to fame, Odets failed to hold his position among the elite of US dramatists. As his work became more personal than political, it lost the excitement and enthusiasm that had been the key to his popularity.
Subjects: Theatre — Literature.