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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Edward Franklin Albee was born on 12th March 1928 in Washington D.C. Abandoned by his natural parents, he was adopted by Reed A. and Frances Cotta Albee and raised in New York. Albee's educational record was not satisfactory and he was dismissed from Rye Country Day School in New York. While attending Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, he wrote his first play Aliqueen. He was later transferred to Valley Forge Military Academy where his stay was short lived.
In 1944 he entered Choate School where his English teacher encouraged him to write. He began writing poems, essays, stories and plays. He was advised by W.H. Auden and Thornton Wilder to concentrate on playwriting. In 1954 he published one of his poems "Eighteen" in *Kaleidograph (or Kaleidoscope?) a literary magazine in Texas. A year later his play "Schism" appeared in Choate Literary Magazine. He played the role of Emperor Franz Joseph in Maxwell Anderson's play The Masque of Kings while he was attending Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut at that time. After three semesters, he was dismissed from the college.
After his graduation he moved to Greenwich Village and tried odd jobs as an office boy, a salesperson, a barman etc. He was supported by a trust fund established by his maternal grandmother and continued writing plays that were staged much later. Some of his published and performed plays are given below.
The Zoo Story was written in 1958 and staged at the Schiller Theater Werstatt, Berlin in September 1959. This play was not received well in the U.S., but he received the Berlin Festival Award for this play. In April 1960, The Death of Bessie Smith was produced at Schlosspark Theater Berlin. The same month The Sandbox was staged in Jazz Gallery, New York. The American Dream was staged in New York at York Playhouse in January 1961. This play ran for 360 performances. The same year Albee received Loa D'Annuzio Award for original playwriting and also a Fulbright professorship to Wurzburf University, Germany.
Billy Rose Theater produced Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in October 1962 in New York. It had 664 performances. Albee received the Drama Critics Award and Tony Award for this play. However, it was denied the Pulitzer Prize. This play later became a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the roles of Martha and George.
In 1963 he wrote an adaptation of The Ballad of the Sad Café, a novel written by Carson McCullers, that was staged at Martin Beck Theater, New York. A year later Tiny Alice was staged at Billy Rose Theater, a play that won him the New York Drama Critics Award. A Delicate Balance won him his first Pulitzer Prize. Staged at Martin Beck Theater, New York in September 1966, it ran for 132 performances.
Two inter-related plays - Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung were staged at Buffalo Studio Arena Theater, Buffalo, New York in 1968. Another play titled All Over was produced at Martin Beck Theater, New York in March 1971.
Albee won his second Pulitzer Prize for Seascape. This play opened in January 1975 at Sam S. Shubert Theater, New York and was directed by Albee himself. In 1976 there was a revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which was also directed by Albee. In 1980 The Lady from Dubuque was performed at the Morosco Theater in New York. Two years later, The Man Who had Three Arms was staged. In 1987 Albee directed Marriage Play at Vienna's English Theater in Vienna. In 1994 he received a third Pulitzer Prize for Three Tall Women (1991).
He currently lives in Houston, Texas where he teaches writing in the English Department at University of Houston.
The middle of the 20th century witnessed an expeditious change in the social, political and economic character of the United States. A rapid rise in economic growth along with America's triumph in the Second World War contributed to its assertion of supremacy in the free world.
A focus on developing technology as well as commerce resulted in a world of convenience and choice such as television, fast food, shopping centers, and 3-D movies. Popular culture dominated the American scenario and the focus on the family, especially on what was called the "nuclear family" resulted in a culture that was dominated by the concept of youth. These radical changes left many writers like Albee confused and discontent as values and standards changed.
With the successful launching of "Sputnik," Russia was also making progress in technology. As a result, America's supremacy in technology and its acknowledged position as a super power was threatened. The rise in nuclear arsenals between Russia and the United States ushered in the era of the Cold War where these two superpowers were pitted against each other due to ideological differences.
The radical changes in the field of science and technology, and the changing climate of the political scenario affected writers as well. The works composed during this milieu reflect the political and psychological turmoil of that time. In the nuclear age, the fact that human life is highly fragile and hopelessly vulnerable came to be looked upon as a constant cause of anxiety. Life came to be evaluated in terms of existential philosophy. Albee lamented that Americans had "substituted" artificial for real values. His plays attacked the ideals and basis of the American dream. With a dissenting voice, he shatters the belief of Americans that their civilization is superior to the others because of its scientific and technological supremacy and that their dream to make unsurpassed achievements in all areas is not possible.