Maxwell Anderson

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James Maxwell Anderson (December 15, 1888 – February 28, 1959) was an American playwright and screen writer, best known for films such as Key Largo, starring Humphrey Bogart.

The son of a conservative Baptist minister, Anderson rebelled, writing, “The gods of men are sillier than their kings and queens, and emptier and more powerless.” He became an ardent socialist, a development he apparently associated with reading Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) in college.

Anderson's focus was on the ideological indoctrination of youth into socialism. In 1912, he wrote that that he and his wife (who he said was “also a Socialist”) intended their son “to have liberal education along that [socialist] line.” In fact, Anderson was fired from his first job, as a high school principal in Minnewaukan, North Dakota, for abusing his position to propagandize his students with his radical views. He was again fired, from a job as chairman of the English Department at California’s Whittier College, for his public stance opposing the U.S. entry into World War I.

His greatest success was the 1935 play Winterset, a tragedy in verse loosely based on the Sacco and Vanzetti case, which won him both commercial success and the Critics’ Circle Award. In the play, the judge is described as "crazy as a bedbug," and the accused is innocent.

Sources

David Petrick, “Dramaturgy,” March 2006, Both Your Houses, The Actors Company Theatre, New York

Maxwell Anderson, quoted at Positive Atheism's Big List of Quotations, attributed to Ira D. Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, via James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt

"To John M. Gillette," September 15, 1912, in Maxwell Anderson (Laurence G. Avery, Ed.), Dramatist in America: Letters of Maxwell Anderson, 1912-1958 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001) ISBN 0807849405, p. 3

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