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If you like Edward Albee's story, you might also like:
Sally Field,
Athol Fugard,
Ernest J. Gaines,
Jeremy Irons,
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Edward Albee
Edward Albee
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Edward Albee Interview

Three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama

June 2, 2005
New York City

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  Edward Albee

What was it like for you growing up in and around New York City as a kid?

Edward Albee: I was an adopted kid, and I was raised by this wealthy family who had been involved in theater management -- vaudeville management, the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit. And so, the house would be filled with retired vaudeville performers all the time. So, I got to meet Billy Gaxton, Victor Moore and Ed Wynn, and all those people that nobody's ever heard of. And, I started going to the theater when I was really young. I think when I was six years old I went to see Jumbo at the old Hippodrome theater, that musical with Jimmy Durante and an elephant. That was my first experience in the theater. So, I was raised on live theater, which was about the only good thing about the adoption.

How would you describe yourself as a kid?

Edward Albee: Forming myself, I suppose.

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. And, I stayed pretty much to myself. I had a fairly active inner life. I certainly didn't relate to much of anything they related to. They sent me away to school when I was nine, ten years old, not to have me around. So, that was fine. It was all right. I took care of myself.

Did you like school?

Edward Albee Interview Photo
Edward Albee: Yes, I liked school, only when I was doing the stuff that I wanted to do. I was always very, very good at the classes that interested me and very bad at the ones that didn't. I think I knew very, very young -- or at least had some inkling of -- the direction that my life was going to take. I was always interested in the arts. I started painting and drawing when I was eight years old and writing poetry when I was nine or 10. I wanted to be a composer after I discovered Bach when I was 12 and a half, but that didn't work out. He was too good!

How do you explain that? Why do you think you knew what you wanted to do at such a young age?

Edward Albee: I don't know. Obviously, it's the way my mind works, or worked at the time. Those things interested me. I have no idea who my natural parents were. Back in the days when I was adopted, you weren't allowed to find that sort of thing out. So I couldn't. But I don't think that matters much, anyway. Some of the brightest kids that I've known, I've met their parents and I can't believe that there was any relationship between them.

When you were growing up, were there any books that were important to you? What did you read?

Edward Albee: Oh, sure. I read as much as I could. I have a funny story.

The family had a big library in their huge house in Larchmont, leather-bound books. And, I was looking for a book to read one night. I was 14 maybe, 13. Who was this Ivan Tur-gun-eff? Turgenev, of course. So, I took one of the books out of the library. It was Virgin Soil, as a matter of fact, and I read it. And, the next morning I came down for breakfast -- the family had to have breakfast together, it was a formality -- and they were rather cool, I thought. I said, "What's the matter?" They said, "There is a book missing from the library." I said, "Yes, it's by Ivan Tur-gun-eff, " not pronouncing his name correctly. "And it's a wonderful book. I took it upstairs..." "It belongs in the library. You have left a gap on the shelves." That gives you some idea of the disparity between our points of view.

What was it about your early family life that troubled you?

Edward Albee: I never felt that I related to these people, which may be interesting, because most kids are trapped into feeling an obligation to their natural parents. For what? For being born, I guess. Foolish notion, but still. And, since I didn't relate to these people, and I knew that I wasn't from them, I had a kind of objectivity about the whole relationship. This is all second-guessing, of course, but I suspect it probably was in my mind. I am a permanent transient. That's probably where that line in The Zoo Story came from! "I'm a permanent transient. My home is the sickening rooming houses on the Upper West Side of New York City, which is the greatest city in the world. Amen!" I bet that's where that line came from, in The Zoo Story.

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This page last revised on Apr 11, 2008 15:25 EDT
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