Maxwell Anderson

Maxwell Anderson bigraphy, stories - American Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright

Maxwell Anderson : biography

December 15, 1888 – February 28, 1959

James Maxwell Anderson (December 15, 1888 – February 28, 1959) was an American playwright, author, poet, journalist and lyricist.


  • September Song (from Knickerbocker Holiday), by far his most famous song lyric
  • Lost in the Stars (from Lost in the Stars)
  • Cry, The Beloved Country (from Lost in the Stars)
  • When You’re in Love
  • There’s Nowhere to Go but Up
  • It Never Was You
  • Stay Well
  • Trouble Man (from Lost in the Stars)
  • Thousands of Miles


Early years

Anderson was born in Atlantic, Pennsylvania, the second of eight children to William Lincoln "Link" Anderson, a Baptist minister, and Charlotte Perrimela Stephenson, both of Scots and Irish descent. His family initially lived on his maternal grandmother Sheperd’s farm in Atlantic, then moved to Andover, Ohio, where his father became a railroad fireman while studying to become a minister. They moved often, to follow their father’s ministerial posts, and Maxwell was frequently sick, missing a great deal of school. He used his time sick in bed to read voraciously, and both his parents and Aunt Emma were storytellers, which contributed to Anderson’s love of literature.

During a visit to his grandmother’s house in Atlantic, at age 11, he met the first love of his life, Hallie Loomis, a slightly older girl from a wealthier family. His autobiographical tale, Morning, Winter and Night told of rape, incest and sadomasochism on the farm.Morning, Winter and Night It was published under a pseudonym, John Nairne Michealson, to prevent offending family. The Andersons bounced between Andover, Ohio, Richmond Center, Ohio, Townville, Pa., Edinboro, Pa., McKeesport, Pa., New Brighton, Pa., Harrisburg, Pa., to Jamestown, North Dakota in 1907, where Anderson attended Jamestown High School, graduating in 1908.


As an undergraduate, he waited tables and worked at the night copy desk of the Grand Forks Herald, and was active in the school’s literary and dramatic societies. He obtained a BA in English Literature from the University of North Dakota in 1911. He became the principal of a high school in Minnewaukan, North Dakota, also teaching English there, but was fired in 1913 for making pacifist statements to his students. He then entered Stanford University, obtaining an M.A. in English Literature in 1914. He became a high school English teacher in San Francisco: after three years he became chairman of the English department at Whittier College in 1917. He was fired after a year for public statements supporting Arthur Camp, a jailed student seeking status as a conscientious objector.

Anderson moved to Palo Alto to write for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, but was fired for writing an editorial stating that it would be impossible for Germany to pay off its war debt. So he moved to San Francisco to write for the San Francisco Chronicle, but was fired after contracting the Spanish Flu and missing work. Alvin Johnson hired Anderson to move to New York City and write about politics for The New Republic in 1918, but he was fired for winning an argument with Editor-in-Chief Herbert David Croly.

Anderson found work atThe New York Globe, and the New York World. In 1921, he founded The Measure: A Journal of Poetry, a magazine devoted to verse. He wrote his first play, White Desert, in 1923; it ran only twelve performances, but was well-reviewed by the book reviewer for the New York World, Laurence Stallings, who collaborated with him on his next play, What Price Glory?, which was successfully produced in 1924 in New York City. Afterwards he resigned from the World, launching his career as a dramatist.


His plays are in widely varying styles, and Anderson was one of the few modern playwrights to make extensive use of blank verse. Some of these were adapted as movies, and Anderson wrote the screenplays of other authors’ plays and novels – Death Takes a Holiday, All Quiet on the Western Front – in addition to books of poetry and essays. His first Broadway hit was the gritty 1924 WW I comedy-drama, What Price Glory, written with Laurence Stallings. The play was notable for its use of profanity, which caused censors to protest. But when the chief censor (Rear Admiral Charles P. Plunkett) was found to have written far more obscene letters to General Chamberlaine, he was discredited: soldiers really did speak that way.