Fitch was born in Elmira, New York, son of a captain of the Union Army who settled in Schenectady when Clyde was four. At Amherst he was known among his classmates as "Billy" (after his given name William, which he later dropped) and was active in dramatic productions.
His literary publications in college were mainly verse, including his Grove Oration speech in 1886. Fitch moved at first opportunity from upstate to New York City. On graduating from Amherst in 1886, he began writing for Life and Puck, as well as tutoring children to earn his living in Manhattan.
In 1889, actor-manager Richard Mansfield sought an author to write a play about Beau Brummell. 24-year-old Fitch got the job, and though Mansfield doubted the script's worth right up to the last rehearsal, Beau Brummel became a popular staple in the actor's repertory and the first of Fitch's many triumphs.
Successful in both comedy and drama, Fitch saw four of his plays run simultaneously in New York in 1901. (Apparently, he wore his celebrity with ambivalence, shy to be pointed out in public but delighted to see his name over the theater.) The City, his last work, in part responded to critics who claimed he could only write for women.
Clyde Fitch, the prolific and highly successful playwright, was best known for plays of social satire and character study. Among 56 plays of his own were 33 original works and 23 adaptations, five dramatizations of novels in a twenty-year period, and co-authored works included an adaptation with Edith Wharton of her House of Mirth.
Fitch died in France of a ruptured appendix, leaving a legacy of popular but now largely overlooked plays including Nathan Hale, The Stubbornness of Geraldine, Her Own Way, The Woman in the Case, and The Straight Road. Broadway has not seen a Fitch revival since 1938, and we are not aware of The City playing the city since 1909.
His works were produced throughout the United States and in Europe as well. The critic and scholar William Lyon Phelps wrote in 1921, "when [Fitch] began to write, American drama scarcely existed; when he died it was reality.... He did more for American drama than any other man in our history."