Irwin Shaw in his CUNY years.
|Born||Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff
February 27, 1913
Bronx, New York City, United States
|Died||May 16, 1984
|Occupation||Playwright, Screenwriter, Novelist|
|Notable works||Bury the Dead (1936)
The Young Lions (1948)
Rich Man, Poor Man (1969)
|Notable awards||O. Henry Award (1944, 1945)
National Institute of Arts and
Letters Grant (1946)
Playboy Award (1964, 1970, 1979)
Honorary Doctorate, Brooklyn College
Irwin Shaw (February 27, 1913 – May 16, 1984) was a prolific American playwright, screenwriter, novelist, and short-story author whose written works have sold more than 14 million copies. He is best known for his novels The Young Lions (1948) about the fate of three soldiers during World War II that was made into a film of the same name starring Marlon Brando, and Rich Man, Poor Man (1970) about the fate of three siblings after World War II that was made into a popular miniseries starring Nick Nolte. Though Shaw's work received widespread critical acclaim, the success of his commercial fiction ultimately diminished his literary reputation.
Shaw was born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff in the South Bronx, New York City, to Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents were Rose and Will. His younger brother, David Shaw, became a noted Hollywood producer and writer. Shortly after Irwin's birth, the Shamforoffs moved to Brooklyn. Irwin changed his surname upon entering college. He spent most of his youth in Brooklyn, where he graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1934. Shaw died in Davos, Switzerland on May 16, 1984, aged 71, after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
Shaw began screenwriting in 1935 at the age of 21, and scripted for several radio shows, including Dick Tracy, The Gumps and Studio One. He recaptured this period of his life in his short story "Main Currents of American Thought," about a hack radio writer grinding out one script after another while calculating the number of words equal to the rent money:
|“||Furniture, and a hundred and thirty-seven dollars. His mother had always wanted a good dining-room table. She didn't have a maid, she said, so he ought to get her a dining room table. How many words for a dining-room table?||”|
Shaw's first play, Bury the Dead (1936) was an expressionist drama about a group of soldiers killed in a battle who refuse to be buried. His play Quiet City, directed by Elia Kazan and with incidental music by Aaron Copland, closed after two Sunday performances.
During the 1940s, Shaw wrote for a number of films, including The Talk of the Town (a comedy about civil liberties), The Commandos Strike at Dawn (based on a C.S. Forester story about commandos in occupied Norway) and Easy Living (about a football player unable to enter the game due to a medical condition). Shaw married Marian Edwards (daughter of well-known screen actor Snitz Edwards). They had one son, Adam Shaw, born in 1950, himself a writer of magazine articles and non-fiction.
Shaw summered at the Pine Brook Country Club, located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut, which became the summer home of the Group Theatre (New York), whose roster included Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, John Garfield, Francis Farmer, Will Geer, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb.
Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Army and was a warrant officer during World War II. The Young Lions, Shaw's first novel, was published in 1948. Based on his experiences in Europe during the war, the novel was very successful and was adapted into a 1958 film. Shaw was not happy with the film.
Shaw's second novel, The Troubled Air, chronicling the rise of McCarthyism, was published in 1951. He was among those who signed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo convictions for contempt of Congress, resulting from hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Accused of being a communist by the Red Channels publication, Shaw was placed on the Hollywood blacklist by the movie studio bosses. In 1951 he left the United States and went to Europe, where he lived for 25 years, mostly in Paris and Switzerland. He later claimed that the blacklist "only glancingly bruised" his career. During the 1950s he wrote several more screenplays, including Desire Under the Elms (based on Eugene O'Neill's play) and Fire Down Below (about a tramp boat in the Caribbean).
While living in Europe, Shaw wrote more bestselling books, notably Lucy Crown (1956), Two Weeks in Another Town (1960), Rich Man, Poor Man (1970) (for which he would later write a less successful sequel entitled Beggarman, Thief) and Evening in Byzantium (made into a 1978 TV movie). Rich Man, Poor Man was adapted into a highly successful ABC television miniseries in 1976.
His last two novels were Bread Upon the Waters (1981) and Acceptable Losses (1982).
Shaw was highly regarded as a short story author, contributing to Collier's, Esquire, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines; and 63 of his best stories were collected in Short Stories: Five Decades (Delacorte, 1978), reprinted in 2000 as a 784-page University of Chicago Press paperback. Three of his stories ("The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," "The Monument," "The Man Who Married a French Wife") were dramatized for the PBS series Great Performances. Telecast on June 1, 1981. This production was released on DVD in 2002 by Kultur Video.
In 1950, Shaw wrote a book on Israel with photos by Robert Capa named Report on Israel.
Short Story Collections
- Michael Shnayerson. Irwin Shaw, A Biography. G. P. Putnam's Sons: 1989. illustrated. ISBN 0-399-13443-3
- Vince Keenan (2012-01-09). "Book Review: Nightwork, by Irwin Shaw (1975)". Blog.vincekeenan.com. Retrieved 2013-12-11.
- "Transport Group to Present Revival of Shaw's 'Bury the Dead' Starting 10/31". Broadwayworld.com. Retrieved 2013-12-11.
- "Golden Era Scribe David Shaw Dies". Emmys. August 20, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
- Pinewood Lake website retrieved on 2010-09-10
- Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
- ""Top of the Hill" at IMDB".
- Brooklyn College Archives
- LitWeb: Irwin Shaw
- George Plimpton and John Phillips (Winter 1953). "Irwin Shaw, The Art of Fiction No. 4". The Paris Review.
- Lucas Matthiessen, Willie Morris, John Marquand (Spring 1979). "Irwin Shaw, The Art of Fiction No. 4 (Continued)". The Paris Review.
- Irwin Shaw at the Internet Movie Database Retrieved on 2008-02-07