JAMES RUFUS AGEE (/ˈeɪdʒiː/ AY-jee ; November 27, 1909 – May 16, 1955) was an American novelist, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S. His autobiographical novel , A Death in the Family (1957 ), won the author a posthumous 1958 Pulitzer Prize .
* 1 Early life and education
* 2 Career
* 2.1 Screenwriting
* 3 Personal life
* 3.1 Legacy
* 4 Bibliography
* 4.1 Published as
* 5 References * 6 Further reading * 7 External links
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Agee was born in
Knoxville, Tennessee , to Hugh
Agee's mother married St. Andrew's bursar Father Erskine Wright in
1924, and the two moved to
Rockland, Maine . Agee went to Knoxville
High School for the 1924–1925 school year, then traveled with Father
Flye to Europe in the summer, when Agee was sixteen. On their return,
Agee transferred to a boarding school in
At Phillips Exeter, Agee was president of The Lantern Club and editor of the Monthly where his first short stories, plays, poetry and articles were published. Despite barely passing many of his high school courses, Agee was admitted to Harvard University 's class of 1932. There Agee took classes taught by Robert Hillyer and I. A. Richards ; his classmate in those was the future poet and critic Robert Fitzgerald , with whom he would eventually work at Time . Agee was editor-in-chief of the Harvard Advocate and delivered the class ode at his commencement .
After graduation, Agee was hired by the
Time Inc. as a reporter, and
moved to New York City, where he wrote for Fortune magazine in
1932-1937, although he is better known for his later film criticism in
Time and The Nation . In 1934, he published his only volume of poetry,
Permit Me Voyage, with a foreword by
In the summer of 1936, during the
Agee left Fortune in 1937 while working on a book, then, in 1939, he
took a book reviewing job at Time , sometimes reviewing up to six
books per week; together, he and his friend
Whittaker Chambers ran
"the back of the book" for Time. In 1941, he became Time's film
critic. In 1942-1948, he worked as a film critic for The Nation.
Agee was an ardent champion of
In 1948, Agee quit his job to become a freelance writer. One of his assignments was a well-received article for Life Magazine about the silent movie comedians Charles Chaplin , Buster Keaton , Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon . The article has been credited for reviving Keaton's career. As a freelancer in the 1950s, Agee continued to write magazine articles while working on movie scripts; he developed a friendship with photographer Helen Levitt .
Agee's career as a movie scriptwriter was curtailed by his alcoholism. Nevertheless, he is one of the credited screenwriters on two of the most respected films of the 1950s: The African Queen (1951 ) and The Night of the Hunter (1955 ).
His contribution to Hunter is shrouded in controversy. Some critics
have claimed the published script was written by the film's director
Charles Laughton . Reports that Agee's screenplay for Hunter was
incoherent have been proved false by the 2004 discovery of his first
draft, which although 293 pages in length, is scene for scene the film
which Laughton directed. While not yet published, the first draft has
been read by scholars, most notably Professor Jeffrey Couchman of
Soon after graduation from Harvard, he married Olivia Saunders (aka
"Via") on January 28, 1933; they divorced in 1938. Later that same
year, he married Alma Mailman. They divorced in 1941, and Alma moved
Agee began living in
Greenwich Village with Mia Fritsch, whom he
married in 1946. They had two daughters, Julia and Andrea, and a son
John. In 1951 in Santa Barbara , Agee, a hard drinker and
chain-smoker, suffered a heart attack; on May 16, 1955, Agee was in
New York City
During his lifetime, Agee enjoyed only modest public recognition. Since his death, his literary reputation has grown. In 1957, his novel A Death in the Family (based on the events surrounding his father's death) was published posthumously and in 1958 won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In 2007, Dr. Michael Lofaro published a restored edition of the novel using Agee's original manuscripts. Agee's work had been heavily edited before its original publication by publisher David McDowell.
Agee's reviews and screenplays have been collected in two volumes of Agee on Film. There is some dispute over the extent of his participation in the writing of The Night of the Hunter.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men has grown to be considered Agee's
masterpiece. Ignored on its original publication in 1941, the book
has since been placed among the greatest literary works of the 20th
century by the New York School of Journalism and the New York Public
Library . It was the inspiration for the
Aaron Copland opera The
Tender Land .
David Simon , journalist and creator of acclaimed
The composer Samuel Barber set sections of "Descriptions of Elysium" from Permit Me Voyage to music, composing a song based on "Sure On This Shining Night." In addition, he set prose from the "Knoxville" section of A Death in the Family in his work for soprano and orchestra entitled Knoxville: Summer of 1915 . "Sure On This Shining Night" has also been set to music by composers René Clausen, Z. Randall Stroope and Morten Lauridsen .
In late 1979 the filmmaker, Ross Spears, premiered his film AGEE: A
Sovereign Prince of the English Language, which was later nominated
for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and was awarded a
Blue Ribbon at the 1980 American Film Festival. AGEE featured James
Agee's friends, Dwight Macdonald, Robert Fitzgerald, Robert Saudek,
The Man Who Lives Here Is Loony, a one-act play by Knoxville-based songwriter and playwright RB Morris, takes place in a New York apartment during one night in Agee's life. The play has been performed at venues around Knoxville, and at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village.
* 1934 Permit Me Voyage, in the
Yale Series of Younger Poets
* 1935 Knoxville: Summer of 1915 , prose poem later set to music by
* 1941 Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families ,
* 1949 The Tramp's New World, screenplay for Charlie Chaplin
The Morning Watch , Houghton Mifflin
* 1951 The African Queen , screenplay from
C. S. Forester novel
* 1952 Face to Face (
The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky segment),
* Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, Shorter Fiction ( Michael Sragow , ed.) ( Library of America , 2005) ISBN 978-1-931082-81-5 . Stories include "Death in the Desert," "They That Sow in Sorrow Shall Reap" and "A Mother's Tale." * Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Violette Editions, 2001, ISBN 978-1-900828-15-4 . * Film Writing and Selected Journalism: Uncollected Film Writing, 'The Night of the Hunter', Journalism and Book Reviews (Michael Sragow, ed.) ( Library of America , 2005) ISBN 978-1-931082-82-