Art: Hoping for Accidents

At first glance, and even after a second one, the watercolors looked like kids' stuff. They weren't, but they were by an amateur: Playwright Clifford (Golden Boy, Waiting for Lefty) Odets.

The exhibition was in Manhattan but the artist was in Hollywood, and wishing he were somewhere else. In the voluntary torments of Hollywood, Odets had found escape in painting—but his words about it packed more professional wallop than his pictures.

"Goddammit," says Odets, "we're living in an age of learn-it-quick. Everyone wants to learn all the tricks of everything he does, all the angles. Every professional writer feels the pressure this vicious,...

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