THE LIFE OF MAXWELL ANDERSON by Alfred S. Shivers

THE LIFE OF MAXWELL ANDERSON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There never lived another American dramatist so confoundedly hidden from his public than this Anderson""; and Shivers certainly offers chunks of private-life detail--if little coherent study of the man or his work--in this hard-working but dullish and awkwardly overwritten biography. Young Max, son of a harsh preacher-father, is followed through childhood to a railroad job. (""It is so incongruous to imagine the future author of gracefully beautiful dramas. . . as this bespectacled, sooty-faced Ariel who looks rather like the Calibans among whom he labors. . . ."") Next come student days, marriage, rough times in WW I California as a pacifist and non-conformist professor, journalism in San Francisco and N.Y., frustrated poetry ambitions. And then, in the early '20s, there's the practical turn toward theater--""Broadway was surely his oyster, and he would find a way to pry it open yet""--with first success via What Price Glory. (As in other spots, Shivers turns to a dreadful, you-are-there, YA style to reconstruct the opening night: ""While we wait for the curtain to rise, let us imagine further. . . ."") But, while Shivers does go on to record Anderson's theatrical output, the evaluation of the plays is spotty and the evocation of the show-biz milieu is thin. So, as a result, the personal material here--which is never convincingly related to the work--drifts to the fore: two broken marriages, both involving infidelity. . . and both, oddly, almost immediately followed by the apparent suicides of the ex-wives. Despite some discussion of Anderson's individualism, puritanism, and ""cosmic philosophy"": an inconclusive portrait, occasionally tedious (pages of quoted letters) and unsuccessful in its attempts to praise the plays--but a source of considerable research material for any future Anderson scholars.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: Stein & Day