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The Religious Affiliation of Playwright
Edward Albee


Edward Albee was an acclaimed American playwright, regarded by many as the nation's foremost living playwright.

Edward Albee was raised in an Episcopalian family and attended church at least while he was a child. He had a strong religious experience when he was four years old when he heard the story of the Crucifixion for the first time. This led to a life-long "obsession about Christ," although Albee was not a traditional Christian believer nor was he known to be a regular churchgoer as an adult.

In her final will, Edward Albee's mother bequeathed one-sixth of her estate (which was well over $1 million in total) to Christ's Church in Rye -- the Episcopal church the Albee family belonged to, but which she actually attended only rarely. Christ's Church in Rye is located on Rectory Street in Rye, New York. The official website is: http://www.ccrye.org/

From: Mel Gussow, Edward Albee: A Singular Journey: A Biography, Simon & Schuster: New York, NY (1999), pages 30-31:

Larchmont, especially in the 1930s and early 1940s when Edward [Albee] was growing up, was an exclusively suburban community, primarily Protestant, but with a sprinkling of Roman Catholics. No outsiders need apply. The neighborhood around Bay Avenue was its own enclave, decidedly upper class and snobbish. To a great extent, the people who lived there were untouched by World War II, just as they had been untouched by the depression. Nearby was the Larchmont Yacht Club, where the Albees occasionally visited (more often they went to the Westchester Country Club in Rye, the model for the country club referred to in A Delicate Balance). The Farrands -- Mrs. and Mrs. Clair L. Farrand and their children -- lived next door to the Albees in a smaller house... Of all the neighbors, the Farrands were by far the closest to Edward. The father, Clair. L. Farrand, was an electronic engineer and inventor. He invented the cone loudspeaker in 1921 and later worked for Warner Bros. in Hollywood during the time that sound replaced silent movies. Noel Farrand, the youngest of Clair Farrand's four sons, was a year and a half younger than Albee; he became Albee's best friend and remained one of his closest friends for his entire life...

From the earliest of ages, Noel and Edward sparked each other's creative imagination. Both were great readers and were interested in music. Both thought about becoming composers. Noel eventually did become a composer and was Albee's entree into the world of music and musicians; many years later he introduced Albee to William Flanagan... About the Farrands, Albee summarizes tersely: "Redneck Irish family with a lunatic mother."

Through many ordeals, physical as well as emotional, Noel always received support from Albee, who remained loyal to him even when others jettisoned hiom from their lives because of his bizarre behavior... [Noel also had a lifelong devotion to [Edward] Albee, whom he trusteed implicitly and greatly admired as an artist.

Gussow, pages 35-36:
Around the age of four, during a visit to church with his nanny, he [Edward Albee] had what he regards as a religious experience. It was Easter, and for the first time he heard the story of The Crucifixion: "I was deeply upset by it. I think I somehow related to the fact that the Episcopal Church was responsible for The Crucifixion." He started weeping and cried so much Nanny Church [i.e., Anita Church, Edward's nanny] had to take him out of the church. That, he said, wryly, "leads to a plethora of Christ symbolism in my plays." Going one step further, he suggests--with a smile--that that moment began his loss of faith. The fact is from that time onward he has had an obsession about Christ, as man and martyr.
Gussow, page 338:
Occasionally they [Edward Albee and his mother] had arguments, sometimes in public. Edward would try to keep the conversation away from controversy: if possible, no talk about race, sex, or politics, or even about art...

Frankie [i.e., Frances C. Albee - Edward Albee's mother] became a fixture in his life. By not making demands, by not asking for too much, Edward could even enjoy her presence. Others seemed to like her: She could be amusing; she could also be malicious. At times, her resentment flared... They were not really like mother and son, but more like distant relatives reunited after a long separation. They shared few memories. It wuld be difficult to imagine one saying to the other, do you remember when? When I found out I was adopted. When I locked Noel in the guinea pig pen. When I broke down in tears in church the first time I heard about the Crucifixion... When I left home. Why didn't you listen to me? Why didn't you try to know me?

Edward Albee's mother originally wrote a will that left most of her estate to Edward, her only son. She then changed her will two years later so that she left Edward only about 10% of her estate ($250,000). Edward Albee's mother left about 30% of her vast estate to Christ's Church in Rye, the Episcopalian church that the family belonged to. She later reduced her allocation to the church to one-sixth of her estate. From: Gussow, pages 338-339:
On January 20, 1984, Frances C. Albee signed a new will, leaving the bulk of her estate to her only child, Edward [Albee]... At her death, her son would receive $100,000... and other personal effects -- and the remainder of her estate in trust during his lifetime. After Edward's death, the trust would be terminated and the remainder of the estate would be given in equal shares to United Hospital in Port Chester and Christ's Church in Rye. Her son, her friend William H. Todd, and her attorney Richard B. Cooper were named as executors.

Two years later, Frances C. Albee changed her mind. She had a new will drawn up and on February 6, 1986, she met with Cooper and two of his assistants...

Cooper continued reading the will, with Mrs. Albee and the others following along on their copies:

"To my son, EDWARD F. ALBEE, only if he survives me, $250,000."

That was the sole provision for her son. Mrs. Albee acknowledged the fact that under this will Edward was receiving less than in her previous will. What she did not say was that it was drastically less, a minimum bequest. In the original will, he was the primary beneficiary. In the new will, the cash bequest was about 10 percent of her entire estate, the bulk of which was now going, in three equal shares, to three institutions, United Hospial in Port Chester, Christ's Church in Rye, and the New York Chapter of the Arthritis Fund.

Gussow, page 340:
One month later, Mrs. Albee added a codicil, increasing the bequest to the children of Robert Bryan to $100,000 and changing the division of the residuary estate. Instead of going in three equal parts to the church, the hospital, and the Arthritis Fund, she divided it into six parts, with half of it going to the hospital, one third to the Arthritis Fund, and one sixth to the church. In October, apparently at Mrs. Albee's request, Cooper sent her another copy of the will, with this pointed comment, "As you know, your previous Will left your entire state to Edward, in trust, with the principal to be given to the Hospital and the Church." She knew; the change was intentional. Until his mother died, Edward was unaware of the new will.
Gussow, pages 341-343:
In March 1989, she [Francess Albee, Edward's mother] took a turn for the worse... Edward visited her... Several days later Albee was called back to the hospital, but by the time he arrived she had died...

After his mother's death, Albee chose a casket and arranged for the funeral at Christ's Church. The funeral was attended by local friends. Edward was th eonly relative... There were no eulogies. Then everyone drove up to the cemetery at Valhalla, where the Albees have a lavish mausoleum with a stained glass window by Stanford White, a window Albee coveted as a work of art. His mother was buried next to her husband, her husband's parents, and her mother. "There is one place left," said Edward. "I wonder who it's for." Then he answered his question. "I plan to be cremated and buried with the dogs and cats in Montauk. Totally illegal: You're not allowed to bury human beings on private property. I plan to be sprinkled there."

...Cooper sent Albee a copy of [the final] will... He had been replaced by the hospital, the church, and the Arthritis Fund. While selling her jewelry, Frankie had also been drawing from her principal. Her estate had been depleted, but was still substantial. Edward did some quick addition. The three organizations would share more than $1.5 million, with $615,000 divided among him and the other minor legatees...

Althogh he later insisted that he did not remember having "any important emotional reactino," it was a devastating blow. He referred to it as a disinheritance--"again." It was not the money--he certainly had enough money and the $250,000 was a sizeable sum--it was the rejection, the final closing down of mother against son. Were their more than twenty years of reconciliation a llie? The cruelty was unimaginable. He was no longer to receive any of his mother's remaining possessions and personal effects, and he had been removed as an executor of her estate. This meant that in her eyes he was not as close to her as her lawyer or the church she rarely visited. "Obviously she was incapable of getting rid of her deeply held prejudices and still had never forgiven me for walking out." With her money, she could have established a foundation, perhaps one that would have encouraged artists and writers. Presetned with that possibility, he responded with a catch-22. If she had started a foundation, "I would have been enormously startled. Then I would have realized she had lost her mind. I would have contested the will: Obviously the woman is mad."

What had he done--or not done--to deserve this? It was another act of abandonment. Perhaps he remembered the words of James Agee: "One is my mother who is good to me." Who is his mother? Should he challenge the will? He was angry, but still dutiful. After the funeral, he sent a $500 contribution to Christ's Church and received a thank-you note from the Reverend Edward Johnston: "It was a pleasure to meet you even though the circumstances were difficult, and I want to say how much I admire the thoroughness with which you had thought out the kind service you wanted for your mother."

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Webpage created 21 October 2005. Last modified 21 October 2005.
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