Edward Albee

Last updated

Edward Albee
BornEdward Franklin Albee III
(1928-03-12)March 12, 1928
Washington, D.C., U.S.
DiedSeptember 16, 2016(2016-09-16) (aged 88)
Montauk, New York, U.S.
Notable works
Notable awards
Jonathan Thomas
(esp. 1971; died 2005)

Edward Franklin Albee III ( /ˈɔːlb/ AWL-bee; March 12, 1928 – September 16, 2016) was an American playwright known for works such as The Zoo Story (1958), The Sandbox (1959), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), A Delicate Balance (1966), and Three Tall Women (1994). Some critics have argued that some of his work constitutes an American variant of what Martin Esslin identified and named the Theater of the Absurd. [1] Three of his plays won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and two of his other works won the Tony Award for Best Play.


His works are often considered frank examinations of the modern condition. His early works reflect a mastery and Americanization of the Theatre of the Absurd that found its peak in works by European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet.

His middle period comprised plays that explored the psychology of maturing, marriage, and sexual relationships. Younger American playwrights, such as Paula Vogel, credit Albee's mix of theatricality and biting dialogue with helping to reinvent postwar American theatre in the early 1960s. Later in life, Albee continued to experiment in works such as The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002).

Early life

Edward Albee by Irish artist Reginald Gray (The New York Times, 1966), inspired by a photograph taken in 1962 from Bettmann/Corbis. Edward Albee by Reginald Gray.jpg
Edward Albee by Irish artist Reginald Gray (The New York Times, 1966), inspired by a photograph taken in 1962 from Bettmann/Corbis.

Edward Albee was born in 1928. His biological father left his mother, Louise Harvey, and he was placed for adoption two weeks later and taken to Larchmont, New York, where he grew up. [2] Albee's adoptive father, Reed A. Albee, the wealthy son of vaudeville magnate Edward Franklin Albee II, owned several theaters. His adoptive mother, Reed's second wife, Frances (Cotter), was a socialite. [3] [4] He later based the main character of his 1991 play Three Tall Women on his mother, with whom he had a conflicted relationship. [5]

Albee attended the Rye Country Day School, then the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, from which he was expelled. [3] He then was sent to Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where he was dismissed in less than a year. [6] He enrolled at The Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, Connecticut, [7] graduating in 1946. He had attracted theatre attention by having scripted and published nine poems, eleven short stories, essays, a long act play, Schism, and a 500-page novel, The Flesh of Unbelievers (Horn, 1) in 1946. His formal education continued at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was expelled in 1947 for skipping classes and refusing to attend compulsory chapel. [7]

Albee left home for good in his late teens. In a later interview, he said: "I never felt comfortable with the adoptive parents. I don't think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn't know how to be a son, either." [8] In a 1994 interview, he said he left home at 18 because "[he] had to get out of that stultifying, suffocating environment." [5] In 2008, he told interviewer Charlie Rose that he was "thrown out" because his parents wanted him to become a "corporate thug" and did not approve of his aspirations to be a writer. [9]


Edward Albee, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1961 Edward Albee.jpg
Edward Albee, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1961

Albee moved into New York's Greenwich Village, [6] where he supported himself with odd jobs while learning to write plays. [10] Primarily in his early plays, Albee's work had various representations of the LGBTQIA community often challenging the image of a heterosexual marriage. [11] Despite challenging society's views about the gay community, he did not view himself as an LGBT advocate. [11] Albee's work typically criticized the American Dream. [11] His first play, The Zoo Story, written in three weeks, [12] was first staged in Berlin in 1959 before premiering Off-Broadway in 1960. [13] His next, The Death of Bessie Smith, similarly premiered in Berlin before arriving in New York. [14]

Albee's most iconic play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , opened on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre on October 13, 1962, and closed on May 16, 1964, after five previews and 664 performances. [15] The controversial play won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1963 and was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award's drama jury, but the selection was overruled by the advisory committee, which elected not to give a drama award at all. [16] The two members of the jury, John Mason Brown and John Gassner, subsequently resigned in protest. [17] An Academy Award-winning film adaptation by Ernest Lehman was released in 1966 starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis, and was directed by Mike Nichols. [18] In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". [19]

Georgia State University English professor Matthew Roudane divides Albee's plays into three periods: the Early Plays (1959–1966), characterized by gladiatorial confrontations, bloodied action and fight to the metaphorical death; the Middle Plays (1971–1987), when Albee lost favor of Broadway audience and started premiering in the U.S. regional theaters and in Europe; and the Later plays (1991–2016), received as a remarkable comeback and watched by appreciative audiences and critics the world over. [20]

According to The New York Times, Albee was "widely considered to be the foremost American playwright of his generation." [21]

The less-than-diligent student later dedicated much of his time to promoting American university theatre. He served as a distinguished professor at the University of Houston, where he taught playwriting. His plays are published by Dramatists Play Service [22] and Samuel French, Inc.

Achievements and honors

Albee in 1997 Edward Albee 1.jpg
Albee in 1997

A member of the Dramatists Guild Council, Albee received three Pulitzer Prizes for drama—for A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), and Three Tall Women (1994).

Albee was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1972. [23] In 1985, Albee was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. [24] In 1999, Albee received the PEN/Laura Pels Theater Award as a Master American Dramatist. [25] He received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement (2005); [26] the gold medal in Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1980); as well as the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts (both in 1996). [27] In 2009, Albee received honorary degree from the Bulgarian National Academy of Theater and Film Arts (NATFA), a member of the Global Alliance of Theater Schools.[ citation needed ]

In 2008, in celebration of Albee's 80th birthday, a number of his plays were mounted in distinguished Off-Broadway venues, including the historic Cherry Lane Theatre where the playwright directed two of his early one-acts, The American Dream and The Sandbox. [28]


Albee established the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Inc. in 1967, from royalties from his play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The foundation funds the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center (named after the composer William Flanagan, but better known as "The Barn") in Montauk, New York, as a residence for writers and visual artists. [29] The foundation's mission is "to serve writers and visual artists from all walks of life, by providing time and space in which to work without disturbance." [30]

Personal life and death

Albee was gay and stated that he first knew he was gay at age 12 and a half. [31] [32]

As a teen in Larchmont, Albee became a close friend of English-born Muir Weissinger, Jr., and his family. Albee, along with others, referred to Florence, Muir's mother, as "Mummy." For her part, Albee's mother felt he spent too much time at the Weissinger household. Albee dated Muir's sister, Delphine, and escorted her to her coming-out party. Albee and Delphine had a "long and intense relationship" while it lasted; Albee has said they were "unofficially engaged." Albee kept in touch for a long time with Florence and Muir Weissinger. [33]

Albee insisted that he did not want to be known as a "gay writer," saying in his acceptance speech for the 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation's Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement: "A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay." [34] His longtime partner, Jonathan Richard Thomas, a sculptor, died on May 2, 2005 from bladder cancer. They had been partners from 1971 until Thomas's death. Albee also had a relationship of several years with playwright Terrence McNally during the 1950s. [35]

Albee died at his home in Montauk, New York on September 16, 2016, aged 88. [35] [26] [36]

Albee lived in a 6,000-square-foot loft that was a former cheese warehouse in New York's Tribeca neighborhood. At the time of his death Albee held an expansive collection of fine art, utilitarian works and sculptures. Albee was especially interested in artworks created by indigenous cultures in Africa and Oceania. [37]

Awards and nominations

  • 1960: Drama Desk Award Vernon Rice Award: The Zoo Story
  • 1963: Tony Award for Best Play: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • 1967: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: A Delicate Balance [38]
  • 1975: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Seascape [38]
  • 1994: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Three Tall Women [38]
  • 1995: St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates [39]
  • 1996: National Medal of Arts
  • 2002: Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
  • 2002: Tony Award for Best Play: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
  • 2003 Fitzgerald Award Award for Achievement in American Literature award which is given annually in Rockville Maryland, the city where Fitzgerald, his wife, and his daughter are buried.
  • 2005: Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2005: Academy of Achievement's Golden Plate Award [40] [41]
  • 2008: Drama Desk Award Special Award
  • 2011: Edward MacDowell Medal for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2011: Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement, Lambda Literary Foundation
  • 2013: Chicago Tribune Literary Prize [42]
  • 2015: America Award in Literature
  • 1964: Tony Award for Best Play: The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
  • 1965: Tony Award for Best Author of a Play: Tiny Alice
  • 1965: Tony Award for Best Play: Tiny Alice
  • 1967: Tony Award for Best Play: A Delicate Balance
  • 1975: Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play: Seascape
  • 1975: Tony Award for Best Play: Seascape
  • 1976: Drama Desk Award Outstanding Director of a Play: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • 1994: Drama Desk Award Outstanding Play: Three Tall Women
  • 2001: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: The Play About the Baby
  • 2003: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
  • 2005: Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?



Works written or adapted by Albee: [43]


Opera libretti


Related Research Articles

Lanford Wilson was an American playwright. His work, as described by The New York Times, was "earthy, realist, greatly admired [and] widely performed." Wilson helped to advance the Off-Off-Broadway theater movement with his earliest plays, which were first produced at the Caffe Cino beginning in 1964. He was one of the first playwrights to move from Off-Off-Broadway to Off-Broadway, then Broadway and beyond.

<i>Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</i> 1962 play by Edward Albee

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a play by Edward Albee first staged in October 1962. It examines the complexities of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Late one evening, after a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests, and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pulitzer Prize for Drama</span> American award for distinguished plays

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is one of the seven American Pulitzer Prizes that are annually awarded for Letters, Drama, and Music. It is one of the original Pulitzers, for the program was inaugurated in 1917 with seven prizes, four of which were awarded that year. It recognizes a theatrical work staged in the U.S. during the preceding calendar year.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Wilbur</span> American poet (1921–2017)

Richard Purdy Wilbur was an American poet and literary translator. One of the foremost poets of his generation, Wilbur's work, composed primarily in traditional forms, was marked by its wit, charm, and gentlemanly elegance. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, in 1957 and 1989.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terrence McNally</span> American playwright (1938–2020)

Terrence McNally was an American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter.

Henderson Forsythe was an American actor. Forsythe was known for his role as Dr. David Stewart #2 on the soap opera As the World Turns, a role he played for 32 years, and for his work on the New York stage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bill Irwin</span> American actor, clown, and comedian

William Mills Irwin is an American actor, clown, and comedian. He began as a vaudeville-style stage performer and has been noted for his contribution to the renaissance of American circus during the 1970s. He has made a number of appearances on film and television, and he won a Tony Award for his role in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway. He is also known as Mr. Noodle on the Sesame Street segment Elmo's World, has appeared in the Sesame Street film short Does Air Move Things?, regularly appeared as Dr. Peter Lindstrom on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and had a recurring role as "The Dick & Jane Killer" on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. From 2017 to 2019, he appeared as Cary Loudermilk on the FX television series Legion.

Three Tall Women is a 1990 two-act play by Edward Albee, which premiered at Vienna's English Theatre in 1991. It is about three women — a woman in her 90s, a woman in her 50s, and a woman in her 20s — who are unnamed in the play but referred to in the script as A, B and C. In the first act, B and C are a caretaker and lawyer for A, respectively, while in the second act they have become personifications of A from earlier in her life. The character of A, the oldest woman, is based in part on Albee's own mother.

Melvyn Hayes "Mel" Gussow was an American theater critic, movie critic, and author who wrote for The New York Times for 35 years.

Seascape is a two-act play by American playwright Edward Albee. He completed it in 1974, having first developed it in 1967 as a short play named Life, the first half of a projected double bill with another play called Death. Seascape won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Frances Sternhagen</span> American actress (born 1930)

Frances Sternhagen is an American actress; she has appeared on- and off-Broadway, in movies, and on TV since the 1950s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Grizzard</span> American actor

George Cooper Grizzard Jr. was an American stage, television, and film actor. He was the recipient of a Grammy Award, a Primetime Emmy Award and a Tony Award, among other accolades.

Jerome Timothy Kilty was an American actor and playwright. He wrote Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters. He worked extensively on the stage, both in the United States and abroad.

The Pulitzer Prizes for 1975, the 59th annual prizes, were ratified by the Pulitzer Prize advisory board on April 11, 1975, and by the trustees of Columbia University on May 5. For the first time, the role of accepting or rejecting recommendations of the advisory board was delegated by the trustees to the university's president, William J. McGill; the change was prompted by the desire of the trustees to distance themselves from the appearance of approval of controversial awards based on work involving what some considered to be illegal leaks, such as the 1972 Pulitzer Prize awarded for the publication of the Pentagon Papers.

David Esbjornson is a director and producer who has worked throughout the United States in regional theatres and on Broadway, and has established strong and productive relationships with some of the profession's top playwrights, actors, and companies. Esbjornson was the artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, Washington, but left that position in summer 2008.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tracy Letts</span> American actor and screenwriter

Tracy S. Letts is an American actor, playwright, and screenwriter. He started his career at the Steppenwolf Theatre before making his Broadway debut as a playwright for August: Osage County (2007), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. As an actor he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play for the Broadway revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (2013).

<i>Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</i> (film) 1966 film by Mike Nichols

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1966 American drama film directed by Mike Nichols in his directorial debut. The screenplay by Ernest Lehman is an adaptation of Edward Albee's 1962 play of the same name. It stars Elizabeth Taylor as Martha, Richard Burton as George, George Segal as Nick, and Sandy Dennis as Honey. The film depicts a hostile late-night gathering at the home of a college professor and his wife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">María Irene Fornés</span> American writer

María Irene Fornés was a Cuban-American playwright, theater director, and teacher who worked in off-Broadway and experimental theater venues in the last four decades of the twentieth century. Her plays range widely in subject-matter, but often depict characters with aspirations that belie their disadvantages. Fornés, who went by the name "Irene", received nine Obie Theatre Awards in various categories and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for 1990.

Finding the Sun is a one-act play by American playwright Edward Albee.

Pam MacKinnon is an American theatre director. She has directed for the stage Off-Broadway, on Broadway and in regional theatre. She won the Obie Award for Directing and received a Tony Award nomination, Best Director, for her work on Clybourne Park. In 2013 she received the Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play for a revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She was named artistic director of American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California on January 23, 2018.


Edward Albee. Charlie Rose, 27 May 2008.

  1. Norwich, John Julius (1990). Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia Of The Arts . USA: Oxford University Press. pp.  10. ISBN   978-0198691372.
  2. "Edward Albee | American author | Britannica". www.britannica.com.
  3. 1 2 Weber, Bruce (September 17, 2016). "Edward Albee, Trenchant Playwright for a Desperate Era, Dies at 88". The New York Times.
  4. Thorpe, Vanessa (September 17, 2016). "Edward Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? playwright, dies aged 88". The Guardian. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  5. 1 2 Markowitz, Dan (August 28, 1994). "Albee Mines His Larchmont Childhood". The New York Times. Retrieved March 8, 2017.
  6. 1 2 Simonson, Robert (September 16, 2016). "Edward Albee, Towering American Playwright, Dies at 88". Playbill. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  7. 1 2 Boehm, Mike (September 16, 2016). "Edward Albee, three-time Pulitzer-winning playwright and 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' author, dies at 88". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  8. "Edward Albee Interview". Academy of Achievement. June 2, 2005. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  9. Edward Albee on Charlie Rose, May 27, 2008.
  10. Kennedy, Mark (September 16, 2016). "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? playwright Edward Albee dead at 88". Associated Press. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 Griffin, Gabriele (2002). Who's Who IN LESBIAN & GAY WRITING. London: Routledge. pp.  2–3. ISBN   0-415-15984-9.
  12. Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 8: Edward Albee." Archived July 16, 2012, at archive.today , Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide, Retrieved June 28, 2007
  13. "Plays Produced in the Provincetown Playhouse in 1960s Chronological". Provincetown Playhouse . Retrieved September 2, 2012.
  14. Albee, Edward."The Death of Bessie Smith" The American Dream; The Death of Bessie Smith; Fam and Yam: Three Plays. Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1962, ISBN   0-8222-0030-9, pp.46-48
  15. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", Playbill Vault. Retrieved December 15, 2015.
  16. "US playwright Edward Albee dies aged 88". BBC News. September 17, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  17. Kihss, Peter (May 2, 1967). "Albee Wins Pulitzer Prize; Malamud Novel is Chosen". The New York Times. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  18. "Biography | Edward Albee Society".
  19. "Library of Congress announces 2013 National Film Registry selections". The Washington Post (Press release). December 18, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  20. Roudané, Matthew (August 2017). Overview: The Theater of Edward Albee. Edward Albee: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge University Press. pp. 8–16. ISBN   9781139034845 . Retrieved March 20, 2020.
  21. "Edward Albee, Trenchant Playwright Who Laid Bare Modern Life, Dies at 88". The New York Times. September 17, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2016.
  22. "Dramatists Play Service". Dramatists.com. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  23. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 6, 2011.
  24. "Broadway's Best". The New York Times. March 5, 1985.
  25. "Winners of the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Awards | PEN America". PEN. April 29, 2016. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  26. 1 2 Howard, Adam (September 16, 2016). "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Playwright Edward Albee Dead at 88". NBC News. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  27. "Who We Are". The Edward F. Albee Foundation. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  28. Brantley, Ben (April 2, 2008). "A Double Bill of Plays, Both Heavy on the Bile". The New York Times. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  29. Grundberg, Andy (July 3, 1988). "The Artists of Summer". The New York Times.
  30. "Mission & History". The Edward F. Albee Foundation. Retrieved September 19, 2016.
  31. Shulman, Randy (March 10, 2011). "Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on April 12, 2014.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  32. Byrne, Chris (2006). "Edward Albee". In Gerstner, David A. (ed.). Routledge International Encyclopedia of Queer Culture (1 ed.). Routledge. p. 35. ISBN   9780415306515 . Retrieved July 5, 2022.
  33. Gussow, Mel. Edward Albee: A Singular Journey: A Biography. Simon & Schuster (August 18, 1999) ISBN   978-0684802787 p.44
  34. "Playwright Edward Albee defends 'gay writer' remarks". National Public Radio. June 6, 2011.
  35. 1 2 Pressley, Nelson (September 16, 2016). "Edward Albee, Pulitzer-Winning Playwright of Modern Masterpieces, Dies at 88". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  36. Jones, Chris (September 16, 2016). "Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee dies at age 88". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 17, 2016.
  37. "Edward Albee Collection Unveiled by Sotheby's Ahead of September Auction".
  38. 1 2 3 Hohenberg, John. "A snub of Edward Albee". The Pulitzer Prize. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  39. "Recipients of the Saint Louis Literary Award". Saint Louis University. Archived from the original on July 31, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016.
  40. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  41. "Edward Albee Biography Photo". 2005. Toni Morrison, recipient of the Nobel Prize, and Edward Albee at a reception prior to the Banquet of the Golden Plate ceremonies during the 2005 International Achievement Summit in New York City.
  42. Crowder, Courtney. "Edward Albee wins Tribune's top award for writing". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  43. "Works". Edward Albee Society. Retrieved September 20, 2016.

Further reading