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James Maxwell Anderson Edit Profile

also known as John Nairne Michaelson

playwright , writer

Maxwell Anderson, also known under his pen name John Nairne Michaelson, was an American playwright noted for his verse dramas, tried to show men living by their beliefs even in a world where evil tends to dominate.


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 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 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 became a playwright only after careers as a schoolteacher and a journalist. His first produced play, The White Desert (1923), a study of the tragic consequences of marital jealousy, was a failure, but success followed when he collaborated with Laurence Stallings on the war drama What Price Glory? (1924). After several other less satisfactory collaborations with Stallings, he again found acclaim with his picture of white‐collar married life, Saturday's Children (1927). Anderson's first attempt to dramatize the Sacco‐Vanzetti case, Gods of the Lightning (1928), written with Harold Hickerson, won little attention; but later in the same season his examination of a mercurial, unstable flapper, Gypsy (1929), won some high praise. He turned to blank‐verse drama for his recounting of the Elizabeth‐Essex story, Elizabeth the Queen (1930), and its success prompted him to write many of his subsequent dramas in similar blank verse, making him the only major 20th‐century American playwright to do so. His subsequent highly lauded plays include Night Over Taos (1932), about the Spanish resistance to American advances in early 19th‐century New Mexico; the political satire Both Your Houses (1933); Mary of Scotland (1933), centering on Mary Stuart; Valley Forge (1934), dealing with Washington's struggles in the Revolutionary War; Winterset (1935), another play based on Sacco and Vanzetti and the first work to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award; Wingless Victory (1936), a story of a doomed interracial marriage; and the fantasy High Tor (1937). His 1937 verse play about the Mayerling incident, The Masque of Kings, failed, but was followed by The Star Wagon (1937), a fantasy about a couple who return to their youth to reconsider their lives. More verse plays followed: Key Largo (1939), dealing with the Spanish Civil War; Journey to Jerusalem (1940), a story of the young Jesus; and Candle in the Wind (1941), an antiwar play. The Eve of St. Mark (1942) depicted a family farm during the war, Storm Operation (1944) centered on the North African campaign, and Truckline Cafe (1946) told of an ex‐soldier's search for his unfaithful, shamed wife. Joan of Lorraine (1946) succeeded largely on the appeal of Ingrid Bergman in the title role. He used historical personages Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days (1948) and Socrates in Barefoot in Athens (1951), and adapted William March's novel about a vicious child, The Bad Seed (1954). Anderson also wrote the book and lyrics for two Kurt Weill musicals: Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), which included “September Song,” and Lost in the Stars (1949). His frustration with producers led him to cofound the Playwrights' Company in 1938, and he often railed against the drama critics, once calling them “a sort of Jukes family of journalism” and adding, “It is an insult to our theatre that there should be so many incompetents and irresponsibles among them.”


  • Filmography:

    What Price Glory – 1926 – film

    Saturday's Children – 1929 – play

    The Cock-Eyed World – 1929 – story

    All Quiet on the Western Front – 1930 – adaptation & dialogue

    The Guardsman – 1931 – one scene from Elizabeth the Queen is featured, just after the opening credits of the film

    Rain – 1932 – adaptation

    Washington Merry-Go-Round – 1932 – story

    Death Takes a Holiday – 1934 (screenplay only; the play was written in Italian by Alberto Casella and translated into English by Walter Ferris)

    We Live Again – 1934 – adaptation, from Tolstoy's Resurrection

    The Lives of a Bengal Lancer – 1935 – uncredited contributing writer

    Maybe It's Love – 1935 – play Saturday's Children

    So Red the Rose – 1935 – screenplay

    Mary of Scotland – 1936 – play

    Winterset – 1936 – play

    The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex – 1939 – play

    Saturday's Children – 1940 – play

    Knickerbocker Holiday – 1944 – play

    The Eve of St. Mark – 1944 – play

    Winterset – 1945 – television – play

    A la sombra del puente – 1946 – play

    Key Largo – 1948 – play (almost completely rewritten for the screen by John Huston and Richard Brooks)

    Joan of Arc – 1948 – play Joan of Lorraine – screenplay

    Pulitzer Prize Playhouse – 1950 television Series – play – four episodes

    Celanese Theatre – 1951 television Series – play – two episodes

    What Price Glory? – 1952 – play

    The Alcoa Hour – 1955 television Series – play – episode "Key Largo"

    The Bad Seed – 1956 – play

    The Wrong Man – 1956 – novel The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero

    Never Steal Anything Small – 1959 – play The Devil's Hornpipe

    Ben-Hur – 1959 – uncredited

    Barefoot in Athens – 1966 – television – play

    The Star Wagon – 1967 – television – play

    Elizabeth the Queen – 1968 – television – play

    Anne of the Thousand Days – 1969 – play

    Valley Forge – 1975 – television – play

    Lost in the Stars – 1974 – play

    The Bad Seed – 1985 – television – play

    Meet Joe Black (1998) (earlier screenplay) (inspiration)


  • Stage production

    • White Desert

    • What Price Glory

    • First Flight

    • Outside Looking In

    • Saturday's Children

    • Gods of the Lightning

    • Gypsy

    • Elizabeth the Queen

    • Night Over Taos

    • Both Your Houses

    • Mary of Scotland

    • Winterset

    • The Masque of Kings

    • The Wingless Victory

    • The Star-Wagon

    • High Tor

    • The Feast of Ortolans

    • Knickerbocker Holiday

    • Second Overture

    • Key Largo

    • Journey to Jerusalem

    • Candle in the Wind

    • The Miracle of the Danube

    • The Eve of St. Mark

    • Your Navy

    • Storm Operation

    • Letter to Jackie

    • Truckline Café

    • Joan of Lorraine

    • Anne of the Thousand Days

    • Lost in the Stars

    • Barefoot in Athens

    • The Bad Seed

    • High Tor

    • The Day the Money Stopped

    • The Golden Six


Quotations: He was a god, such as men might be, if men were gods.

There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, till all men walk on higher ground in that lifetime.

This liberty will look easy by and by when nobody dies to get it.


  • Other Interests

    A teacher, journalist, and poet, Maxwell Anderson brought to the theater of the twentieth century an awareness of contemporary events as well as a poet's depth of feeling and sense of language. Though skilled in writing for the theater of realism, he believed that poetic tragedy alone was the proper aim of American dramatists. A romantic at heart, Anderson had a penchant for the historical past and universal themes, treating Elizabethan subjects in an archaic dramatic form. Yet, as scholar Donald Heiney observes, Anderson realistically converted "his historical figures into modern personalities with modern psychologies, and his political liberalism and cutting irony mark him as a typical American writer of his generation."


Margaret Haskett

Anderson married Margaret Haskett, a classmate, on August 1, 1911 in Bottineau, North Dakota. They had three sons, Quentin, Alan, and Terence. Anderson then wrote a prophetic play, "Gypsy", in 1929, about a vain, neurotic liar who cheats on her husband. When he catches her, she commits suicide by inhaling gas. Anderson then began a relationship with a married woman, Gertrude Higger (married name, Mab Maynard, stage name Mab Anthony) starting circa 1930. Anderson split with Haskett, who then died shortly after a car accident and a stroke in 1931.

Gertrude Higger

Mab divorced her husband, singer Charles V. Maynard, and moved in with Anderson. She was a significant help with clerical duties, but had expensive tastes and spent Anderson's money freely. Their daughter, Hesper, was born August 1934. Anderson had left Higger because of her affair with Max's friend, TV producer Jerry Stagg. The combination of losing Anderson, their massive tax debt and losing her home was too much for her. After several unsuccessful attempts, Gertrude committed suicide by breathing car exhaust on March 21, 1953.

Hesper wrote a book, South Mountain Road: A Daughter's Journey of Discovery about her unearthing, only after the suicide, the fact that her parents had never married.

Gilda Hazard - American Broadcasting Company's television Celanese Theater Production Assistant

Maxwell Anderson married once more, to ABC's TV Celanese Theater Production Assistant, Gilda Hazard, on June 6, 1954.This final marriage was a happy one, lasting until Anderson's 1959 death.