Eric Bentley


Biography of Eric Bentley

Eric Bentley (born September 14, 1916) is a British-born American critic, playwright, singer, editor and translator. In 1998, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame and is a member of the New York Theater Hall of Fame in recognition of his many years of cabaret performances.

Born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, Bentley attended Oxford University, receiving his degree in 1938, and subsequently attended Yale University (B.Litt, 1939 and PhD., 1941), where he received the John Addison Porter Prize.

Beginning in 1953, Bentley taught at Columbia University and simultaneously was a theatre critic for The New Republic. Known for his blunt style of theatre criticism, Bentley incurred the wrath of playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, both of whom threatened to sue him for his unfavorable reviews of their work. From 1960-1961, Bentley was the Norton professor at Harvard University.

Bentley is considered one of the preeminent experts on Bertolt Brecht, whom he met at UCLA as a young man and whose works he has translated extensively. He edited the Grove Press issue of Brecht's work, and recorded two albums of Brecht's songs for Folkways Records, most of which had never before been recorded in English.
In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.

Bentley was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1969. That same year, he declared his homosexuality. In an interview in the New York Times on November 12, 2006, he claimed he was married twice before coming out at age 53, at which time he left his post as the Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature at Columbia to concentrate on writing. He has cited his homosexuality as an influence on his theater work, especially his play Lord Alfred's Lover, based on the life of Oscar Wilde.

He has written many critical books, including A Century of Hero-Worship, The Playwright as Thinker, Bernard Shaw, What Is Theatre?, The Life of the Drama, Theatre of War, Brecht Commentaries, and Thinking About the Playwright. In addition, he edited The Importance Of Scrutiny (1964), a collection of pieces from Scrutiny: A Quarterly Review, the noted critical periodical, and Thirty Years of Treason: Excerpts from Hearings Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1938–1968 (1971). His most-produced play, 1972's Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been: The Investigations of Show-Business by the Un-American Activities Committee 1947-1958, was based on the transcripts collected in Thirty Years of Treason.

Bentley became an American citizen in 1948, and currently lives in New York City.

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