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A Death in the Family      TV PG
Airing Monday, March 25, 2002 on PBS
(Check local listings)

A happy family faces the ultimate tragedy in this adaptation of James Agee's poignant novel, A Death in the Family, based on a childhood tragedy that haunted Agee throughout his life. The story explores the effect of a shattering death on a tight-knit family in Knoxville, Tennessee, during the summer of 1915. "The book is chiefly a remembrance of my childhood," Agee wrote, "and a memorial to my father."

Directed on location in Tennessee by Emmy and Academy Award winner Gil Cates (the Academy Awards broadcast, I Never Sang for My Father), A Death in the Family stars Annabeth Gish (The X-Files) as Mary Follet; John Slattery (Ed) as her husband, Jay; and Austin Wolff as their 7-year-old son, Rufus, a stand-in for Agee, who as a child was called by his middle name, Rufus. Also starring is Academy Award nominee James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential, Citizen Baines) as Mary's compassionate father.

James Agee's luminous and largely autobiographical novel is a portrait of the fragility -- and the resilience -- of family. Published posthumously, the book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 and crowned a career that included the screenplay for The African Queen and, with photographer Walker Evans, the classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a revelatory look at the lives of poor Southern farmers.

A Death in the Family was his only novel, discovered unfinished among his papers when he died suddenly from a heart attack at age 45 in 1955. Few of his friends knew he was working on it.

Editors pieced together the manuscript to reveal what critic Alfred Kazin called "an utterly individual and original book...one of the most deeply worked out expressions of human feeling that I have ever read."


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