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Graham Greene

Graham Greene

Born Henry Graham Greene on Oct. 2, 1904 in Hertfordshire, England, Greene was raised in Berkhamsted School, a boarding house where his father, Charles, was headmaster. His mother, Marion, was second cousins with his father; both were members of a large, influential family that owned the Green King Brewery, one of the largest British-owned breweries in the United Kingdom. As a child, Greene was routinely bullied by his classmates at Berkhamsted which flung him into depression and a nervous breakdown that led to several suicide attempts, including one by Russian roulette and another by trying to drown himself in a swimming pool. While playing Russian roulette was later woven into Greene's mythology, the act itself was later denied by biographers who claimed that the gun had no bullets. By the time he was 16 years old, Greene had underwent psychoanalysis for his mental troubles, which was later determined to be bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, he became politically involved by joining Britain's Communist Party in 1922, a stark difference to his more hardline conservative views on display later in life.Greene went on to attend Balliol College at the University of Oxford, where he served as the editor of The Oxford Outlook and earned a degree in history. While there, he also published a volume of poetry called Babbling April (1925), which did not sell well and was poorly received. Largely keeping to himself, Greene remained an outsider and suffered continued bouts of depression. After graduating in 1925, he went to work as a tutor, and later returned to journalism with stints at the Nottingham Journal and The Times. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of Vivien Dayrell-Browing, a devout Catholic with whom the agnostic Greene became infatuated. In 1927, after famously converting, he married Browning, though in hindsight his sudden religious transformation proved counterfeit. Greene was also notoriously unfaithful, carrying on affairs and frequenting prostitutes - some of whom may have been underage - until the couple separated in 1948, though she steadfastly refused to grant him a divorce.Meanwhile, Green published his first novel, The Man Within (1929), a well-received tale about a reluctant smuggler that allowed him to quit his editor position at The Times to write fulltime, though he later denounced the book as hopelessly romantic. After a pair of unsuccessful follow-ups, The Name of Action (1930) and Rumour at Nightfall (1932), Greene had his first true taste of success with Stamboul Train (1932), a so-called popular entertainment that he deliberately wrote in order to please audiences. It was also the first of many to be adapted into a film; the novel was renamed "Orient Train" (1934), an underwhelming melodrama starring Norman Foster, Roy D'Arcy and Heather Angel. In order to supplement his income, Greene returned to journalism and wrote freelance book and film reviews for the conservative British magazine The Spectator, while also co-editing the soon-to-be defunct Night and Day. In 1937, Greene wrote a notorious review of Shirley Temple's "Wee Willie Winkie" (1937), where he accused the filmmakers of exploiting the nine-year-old actress as a sex object to "middle-aged men and clergymen" attracted to her "dubious coquetry" and "desirable little body." Studio 20th Century Fox filed a lawsuit against Greene in 1938 and was subsequently awarded £3500.Even though he was taken to the cleaners for the review, Greene was still courted by Hollywood and worked as a screenwriter on the crime drama "Four Dark Hours" (1937) and the romantic melodrama "21 Days" (1940) starring Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. On the novel side, Greene purposely divided his literary output into two categories: thrillers and novels. The former were popular entertainments written for mass consumption, while the latter were the focus of grander literary ambitions. He wrote his first overtly political novel, It's a Battlefield, in 1934, but had better commercial success with A Gun for Sale (1936) and Brighton Rock (1938), his most successful books. Both novels became classic movies, with A Gun for Sale being adapted into the great film noir "This Gun for Hire" (1942) starring Alan Ladd as the remorseless hit man, Raven, arguably his most famous role. Meanwhile, Brighton Rock was first adapted into a 1944 radio playing starring Richard Attenborough and Dulcie Gray, before being turned into a film three years later with Attenborough reprising his role as the merciless criminal Pinkie, who is simultaneously obsessed with and repulsed by human sexuality. Decades later, the novel was adapted into a 1997 radio program on the BBC, a 2004 stage musical that premiered on the West End, and a 2010 film by Rowan Joffé starring Sam Riley and Helen Mirren.After Brighton Rock, Greene wrote some of the most famous novels of his career, including The Confidential Agent (1939), The Power and the Glory (1940), and The Heart of the Matter (1948). Both the popularity of his books and the cinematic style contained within naturally prompted an upsurge in Hollywood's desire to adapt them for the screen, leading to filmed versions of "Ministry of Fear" (1944) directed by Fritz Lang and starring Ray Milland, "Confidential Agent" (1945) with Charles Boyer and Lauren Bacall, "The Man Within" (1947) featuring Michael Redgrave, and "The Fugitive" (1948), John Ford's adaptation of The Power and the Glory starring Henry Fond and Dolores del Rio. Of all the movies made from his novels, none were more famous than "The Third Man" (1949), Carol Reed's classic film noir about an American pulp writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) who travels to postwar Vienna and learns that childhood friend, Harry Lime (Orson Welles) has died, only to discover that he may in fact be alive. Quirky, compelling and full of odd humor, "The Third Man" became a Cold War spy classic, thanks in part to the climactic chase through Vienna's sewer system.By this time, Greene had separated with Vivien because of his many affairs and dalliances with prostitutes. He even carried on with his own goddaughter, Catherine Walston, who was married to a wealthy friend. With the release of "The Third Man," Greene was at the height of his fame while his numerous romances included Australian painter Jocelyn Rickards, Swedish actress Anita Bjork and another married woman, Yvonne Cloetta, with whom he stayed in a relationship until his death. With his work still attracting filmmakers, both "The Heart of the Matter" (1953) and "The Stranger's Hand" (1954) were released starring Trevor Howard, while "The End of the Affair" (1955) was directed by Edward Dmytryk and starred Deborah Kerr as a British woman whose extramarital affair with an American (Van Johnson) leads to his disappearance during the bombing of London in World War II. That same year, Greene published his most controversial novel, The Quiet American (1955), which was critical of America's covert involvement in Vietnam long before the turbulent 1960s. In fact, Greene became notoriously critical of American imperialism in his lifetime and even became an unabashed supporter of Fidel Castro. His politics may have had something to do with being a runner-up for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961, when he lost out to Yugoslavian author Ivo Andric.Though roundly criticized by the American press, even by the more liberal-minded publications like The New Yorker, The Quiet American became one of Greene's most accomplished works, leading to an adaptation in 1958 by Joseph L. Mankiewicz that altered his intentions, and a more accurate adaptation by Phillip Noyce in 2002 starring Brendan Fraser and Oscar nominee Michael Caine. After publishing the satirical Our Man in Havana (1958), which was adapted by Carol Reed into the amusing 1960 comedy starring Alec Guinness, Greene started on the downslide of his career while falling deeper into alcoholism, opium abuse and sexual delinquency. He went on to publish A Burn-Out Case (1960), about an artist tired of his celebrity, and The Comedians (1966), which was turned into a dismissed comedy starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guinness and Peter Ustinov. From there, "Travels with My Aunt" (1972), an amusingly comedic journey of a retired accountant (Alec McGowan) and his eccentric relative (Maggie Smith), was adapted from his 1969 novel, while lesser films like "The Human Factor" (1979) and "Beyond the Limit" (1983) - adapted from his best-selling thriller The Honorary Constable (1973) - found their way on screen.Following a competent adaptation of his 1985 of "The Tenth Man" (1988) into a made-for-British-TV movie with Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas, Greene published the last works of his lifetime, The Captain and the Enemy (1988) and the short story collection The Last Word (1990). At 86 years old, Greene died of leukemia on April 3, 1991 in Vevey, Switzerland, where he had spent the last decades of his life and became good friends with silent film star Charlie Chaplin. He received the sacrament of last rites and was revered by the Catholic Church despite his doubts before and after his conversion. Meanwhile, a healthy appetite for adapting his novels into films and television movies remained, with Neil Jordan directing "The End of the Affair" (1999) with Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore in the leads, and the urban-centric "Double Take" (2001), starring Orlando Jones and Eddie Griffin, which was inspired by the Rod Steiger movie "Across the Bridge" (1957), itself adapted from Greene's short story of the same name. In 2008, a volume of private letters he wrote throughout his lifetime were published, which revealed a much darker character than previously thought, with unabashed mentions of his love of prostitutes and opium, and even harboring a desire to open a brothel off the coast of Portugal. Despite his inner demons, no doubt fueled by a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, Green remained one of literature's most gifted storytellers.By Shawn Dwyer