Clifford Odets was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1906. He left school at age fourteen and worked as an actor in local New York theater groups and traveling stock companies until 1930. That same year the Group Theatre was formed. As one of the founding members, Odets continued acting, but found new release for his creativity in writing plays. It was during this time that he wrote Awake and Sing! and Waiting for Lefty. These two plays marked him as one of the most important playwrights of the period, but not without some controversy. His proletariat themes and suspected affiliations with the Communist Party resulted in his being called to appear before the Senate McCarthy hearings. During the production of his play Paradise Lost in 1935, Odets moved to California having signed with Paramount to write his first screenplay, The General Died at Dawn. Two years later he was back in New York with the Group Theatre until its demise in 1941. He then returned and settled in Hollywood where he produced, directed and/or wrote screenplays for such films as The Country Girl, None But the Lonely Heart, The Story on Page One, and Sweet Smell of Success. Odets was married to and divorced from film actresses Luise Rainer and Bette Grayson. Grayson died unexpectedly in 1954 leaving Odets to raise their two children, Nora and Walter. In 1961 he signed with the television drama series The Richard Boone Show as editor-in-chief. Odets died in August of 1963 before he was able to see two of his own scripts, Big Mitch and The Mafia Man, produced for the series.
The Odets collection contains approximately 30,000 items covering the years 1921-1963 and is both personal and business in nature. There is extensive correspondence with theatre and film personalities, literary and political figures, and family. Several of the diaries give detailed accounts of day-to-day events particularly those written during his time with the Group Theatre. Other items pertaining to the Group Theatre include scripts, photographs, playbills and stills. Scripts and production materials for his other plays and films are also present. Research materials include notes and ideas for future scripts and for character development, although there are numerous notes on family members as well. Personal papers include information on his collections of art work, books and stamps, miscellaneous papers of his two wives and children, and real estate and automobile documents. There are photographs of Odets and his family as well as photographs and stills from various productions of his plays and films. The business and financial section is comprised of correspondence, contracts and royalty statements with his publishers, production companies and agents, items concerning investment ventures, cancelled checks, receipts, account books, bank statements, ledgers, insurance and tax papers. Several disc and wire recordings, films, and Odets's death mask complete the collection.