James Agee


Critic

About

Also Known As
James Rufus Agee
Birth Place
Knoxville, Tennessee, USA
Born
November 27, 1909
Died
May 16, 1955
Cause of Death
Heart Attack

Biography

Noted American author whose early death at age 45 and posthumously published works elevated him to the mythic status of romantic literary hero-victim. Agee's best known books include the compelling documentary collaboration with photographer Walker Evans, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" (1941) which chronicled the hard lives of Alabama sharecroppers, and the autobiographical, Pulitzer Pri...

Family & Companions

Olivia Saunders Wood
Wife
Married in 1933; dicvorced in 1938; met while attending Harvard in 1930.
Alma Mailman Neuman
Wife
Married in 1938; separated in 1941; met while Agee was a student at Harvard.
Mia Fritsch
Wife
Born Vienna; met Agee while she was a researcher at FORTUNE magazine in 1939; married in 1944 until his death.

Bibliography

"James Agee and the Legend of Himself: A Critical Study"
Alan Spiegel, University of Missouri Press (1998)
"Agee: His Life Remembered"
Ross Spears (editor), Jude Cassidy (editor) and Robert Coles (narrative), Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1985)
"James Agee"
Laurence Bergreen, Dutton (1984)
"The Collected Poems of James Agee"
James Agee and Robert Fitzgerald (editor), Houghton Mifflin (1968)

Notes

"Agee has become the literary intellectual's folk-hero equivalent of James Dean." --Webster Schott in The New York Times Book Review.

"I think as a critic he suffered from the fact that he really wanted to be a creator. His criticism, I think, is extremely good. It's good because he has a broad cultural background, he's got great style, he can say things in two sentences, he has intelligence, wit, and precision; and also he really does have a sense of values and he doesn't give them up. But as a person who wanted to be a creator, he kept seeing in movies all kinds of things that really weren't there ... Agee used to find some beauties in these films, some of which I don't think were there at all, but if he had been making them, they would have been ... He took the appearance for the deed. I think the main trouble with his criticism is that it often tends to be much too uncritical." --Dwight Macdonald ("Agee: His Life Remembered").

Biography

Noted American author whose early death at age 45 and posthumously published works elevated him to the mythic status of romantic literary hero-victim. Agee's best known books include the compelling documentary collaboration with photographer Walker Evans, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" (1941) which chronicled the hard lives of Alabama sharecroppers, and the autobiographical, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "A Death in the Family" (posthumously published in 1957).

As a film critic, Agee made a name for himself as the author of prescient, elegant prose in TIME and THE NATION during the 1940s. In 1948, he gave up reviewing to co-write John Huston's "The African Queen" (1951) and to script on his own the bizarre cult favorite, Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" (1955).

The two-volume "Agee on Film"--the first part containing his acclaimed film criticism, the second his screenplays--was published posthumously in 1958 and 1960, respectively. "All the Way Home," Tad Mosel's Pulitzer Prize-winning stage adaptation of "A Death in the Family," was presented on Broadway in 1961 and later served as the basis for the film version in 1963.

Life Events

1932

Joined editorial staff of FORTUNE magazine as feature writer

1934

Collection of his poetry, "Permit Me Voyage" won publication in the Yale Younger Poets Series

1936

On assignment for FORTUNE magazine, created "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" with photographer Walker Evans

1949

Wrote and narrated documentary short, "The Quiet One"

1951

With director John Huston, co-wrote script for "The African Queen"

1955

Wrote the screenplay adaptation of Davis Grubb's "The Night of the Hunter"

Videos

Movie Clip

African Queen, The (1951) - Opening, German East Africa Opening titles and introduction of key characters Rose (Katharine Hepburn), "Brother" (Robert Morley), Alnut (Humphrey Bogart) and the boat called The African Queen, 1951, directed by John Huston.
African Queen, The (1951) - On Account Of The War Captain Charlie Alnut (Humphrey Bogart) has tea with missionaries Brother (Robert Morley) and Sister (Katharine Hepburn) where they discuss gastric noise and war, in John Huston's The African Queen, 1951.
African Queen, The (1951) - Skinny Old Maid! Rose (Katharine Hepburn) gets familiar with the phenomenon of Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) drinking, as he makes clear his disgust with her determination to sail on, in John Huston's The African Queen, 1951.
African Queen, The (1951) - Clean Habits A soliloquy for Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) after Rose (Katharine Hepburn) has dumped all his gin into the river, in John Huston's The African Queen, 1951.
African Queen, The (1951) - Any Mere Physical Experience... Grizzled launch captain Charlie Alnut (Humphrey Bogart) is disappointed when bereaved missionary Rose (Katharine Hepburn) enjoys her first run on the rapids, and is determined to press on with her plan to attack the Germans, in John Huston's The African Queen, 1951.
African Queen, The (1951) - We Showed 'Em! Having just evaded the German fort, Rose (Katharine Hepburn) and Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) hit another stretch of rapids, which they pass to their mutual surprise, in John Huston's The African Queen, 1951.
Night Of The Hunter, The (1955) - They Won't Mind Me We now know that "Preacher" Harry (Robert Mitchum) has drowned their mother, but his step-children (Billy Chapin, Sally Jane Bruce) only know she's vanished, as he pursues them in the basement, seeking their dead father's loot, in Charles Laughton's Night Of The Hunter, 1955.
Night Of The Hunter, The (1955) - Not Meant For The Lust Of Men Newly re-married widow and mother Willa (Shelley Winters) on her wedding night, reprimanded by new spouse "Preacher" Harry (Robert Mitchum), unaware of his evil intentions, in Night Of The Hunter, 1955, directed by Charles Laughton.
Night Of The Hunter, The (1954) - By Their Fruits Little explanation but plenty of chill, opening with Lillian Gish speaking to disembodied kids, then introduction of Robert Mitchum as "Preacher" Harry Powell, from Charles Laughton's landmark Night Of The Hunter, 1955.
Night Of The Hunter, The (1955) - Right Hand Left Hand Young John (Billy Chapin) joins mother Willa (Shelley Winters), sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) and the Spoons (Evelyn Varden, Don Beddoe), enthralled by newly-arrived "Preacher" Powell (Robert Mitchum), in Charles Laughton's Night Of The Hunter, 1955.
White Mane (1952) - Proud And Fearsome Horse Following the credits, the English version of the first segment of the mostly sparse narration, from Albert Lamorisse's international hit White Mane, 1952.

Trailer

Family

Laura Tyler
Mother
Hugh James Agee
Father
Worked at father-in-law's machine company; his death in a car accident on May 18, 1916 served as subject of Agee's novel "A Death in the Family".
Joel Agee
Son
Born in March 1940; mother, Alma Mailman Neuman.
Teresa Agee
Daughter
Born in 1946; mother, Mia Fritsch.
Andrea Agee
Daughter
Born in 1950; mother, Mia Fritsch.
John Agee
Son
Born 1946; mother, Mia Fritsch.

Companions

Olivia Saunders Wood
Wife
Married in 1933; dicvorced in 1938; met while attending Harvard in 1930.
Alma Mailman Neuman
Wife
Married in 1938; separated in 1941; met while Agee was a student at Harvard.
Mia Fritsch
Wife
Born Vienna; met Agee while she was a researcher at FORTUNE magazine in 1939; married in 1944 until his death.

Bibliography

"James Agee and the Legend of Himself: A Critical Study"
Alan Spiegel, University of Missouri Press (1998)
"Agee: His Life Remembered"
Ross Spears (editor), Jude Cassidy (editor) and Robert Coles (narrative), Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1985)
"James Agee"
Laurence Bergreen, Dutton (1984)
"The Collected Poems of James Agee"
James Agee and Robert Fitzgerald (editor), Houghton Mifflin (1968)
"Agee on Film, Volume II"
James Agee (1960)
"Agee on Film, Volume I"
James Agee (1958)
"A Death in the Family"
James Agee (1957)
"Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"
James Agee and Walker Evans (1941)
"Permit Me Voyage"
James Agee
"Morning Watch"
James Agee
"Agee"
Peter H. Ohlin, Ivan Obolensky

Notes

"Agee has become the literary intellectual's folk-hero equivalent of James Dean." --Webster Schott in The New York Times Book Review.

"I think as a critic he suffered from the fact that he really wanted to be a creator. His criticism, I think, is extremely good. It's good because he has a broad cultural background, he's got great style, he can say things in two sentences, he has intelligence, wit, and precision; and also he really does have a sense of values and he doesn't give them up. But as a person who wanted to be a creator, he kept seeing in movies all kinds of things that really weren't there ... Agee used to find some beauties in these films, some of which I don't think were there at all, but if he had been making them, they would have been ... He took the appearance for the deed. I think the main trouble with his criticism is that it often tends to be much too uncritical." --Dwight Macdonald ("Agee: His Life Remembered").

He was awarded the Yale Prize for Younger Poets (1932).