James Agee

Film Reviewer / Writer
Date Of Birth:
27 November 1909
Date Of Death:
16 May 1955
heart attack
Place Of Birth:
Knoxville, Tennessee
Best Known As:
The author of 'A Death in the Family'

Name at birth: Rufus James Agee

Writer James Agee made his name in the 1940s as a journalist and film critic, and he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family. Agee (pronounced "ay-jee") was from a southern family of modest means, but he went to boarding school in New Hampshire and then Harvard, largely on the strength of his literary prowess (especially poetry). Just out of college, he got a job working for publisher Henry Luce in 1932, assigned as a reporter for the magazine Fortune. He wrote about a variety of social issues and made an impression in New York circles for his smoking, drinking and womanizing as much for his writing. Sent to do a magazine piece on Alabama sharecroppers in 1936, Agee instead cranked out a 400-page book (with photographer Walker Evans), Now Let Us Praise Famous Men (1941), now considered a landmark chronicle of the Great Depression. Agee's greatest influence was probably as a movie critic, one of the first. He wrote clever reviews for Time and The Nation, and jumped into screenwriting in the 1950s. He wrote several episodes for the television series Omnibus, and famously wrote the screenplays for the screen classics The African Queen (1951, directed by John Huston) and The Night of the Hunter (1955, starring Robert Mitchum). His novel A Death in the Family, published after his death, was a popular and critical success, as was a published collection of his essays on film, Agee on Film (1958). He died of a heart attack at the age of 45.
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