Odets, Clifford (1906–1963) By Filewod, Alan
One of the foremost American playwrights of the first half of the twentieth century, Clifford Odets is best known for his social realist plays and screenplays, of which Waiting for Lefty (1935), Awake and Sing! (1935), Golden Boy (1937), and Rocket to the Moon (1938) have attained canonical status. A committed leftist and briefly a member of the Communist Party, his meteoric trajectory from actor in the experimental Group Theatre in New York to Hollywood screenwriter has been narrated, first by Harold Clurman in The Fervent Years and then by generations of subsequent critics and biographers, as the tragedy of a tormented and politically ambivalent visionary who struggled to reconcile his radical beliefs with the rapid celebrity that took him to Hollywood. During his later life, his reputation was tainted as a result of his voluntary if ambivalent testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the McCarthy inquisitions. Odets’ importance to theatrical modernism rests on his first play, Waiting for Lefty, which enacted the cultural politics of the Popular Front by absorbing the militancy of agitprop in the social humanism of dramatic realism.