Sidney Howard, 1909
|Born||Sidney Coe Howard
26 June 1891
Oakland, California, USA
|Died||23 August 1939 (aged 48)
Tyringham, Massachusetts, USA
|Spouse||Clare Eames (1922-1930↑)
Polly Damrosch (1931-1939)
|Magnum opus||They Knew What They Wanted (1925)|
|Awards||Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1925)|
Sidney Coe Howard (June 26, 1891 – August 23, 1939) was an American playwright and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1925 and a posthumous Academy Award in 1940 for the screenplay for Gone with the Wind.
Early life 
Howard was born in Oakland, California, the son of Helen Louise (née Coe) and John Lawrence Howard. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1915 and went on to Harvard University to study the art of playwriting under George Pierce Baker in his legendary "47 workshop." Along with other students of Harvard professor A. Piatt Andrew, Sidney Howard volunteered with Andrew's American Field Service, serving in France and the Balkans during World War I. After the War, Howard, competent at foreign languages, translated a number of literary works from French, Spanish, Hungarian and German. A liberal intellectual, he also wrote articles about labor issues for The New Republic and served as literary editor for the original Life magazine.
In 1921, Howard had his first Broadway production with a neo-romantic verse drama, Swords, which failed to win approval from either audiences or critics. It was with his realistic romance They Knew What They Wanted in 1924 that Howard found recognition. The story of a middle-aged Italian vineyard owner who woos a young woman by mail with a false snapshot of himself, marries her, and then forgives her when she becomes pregnant by one of his farm hands, it was praised for its non-judgmental and unmelodramatic view of adultery, and its tolerant view of its characters. Theater critic Brooks Atkinson called it "a tender, original, merciful drama." The play won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was adapted three times into film (1928, 1930, and 1940) and later became the Broadway musical, The Most Happy Fella. Lucky Sam McCarver, a coolly observed, unsentimental account of the marriage of a New York speakeasy owner on his way up in the world with a self-destructive socialite on her way down failed to attract audiences but won the admiration of some reviewers. The Silver Cord, a drama about a mother who is pathologically close to her sons and works to undermine their romances, was one of the most successful plays of the 1926-27 Broadway season.
A prolific writer and a founding member of the Playwrights' Company, he wrote or created more than seventy plays; he also directed and produced a number of works. In 1922, he married actress Clare Eames (1896–1930), who had played the female lead in Swords. She later starred in Howard's Lucky Sam McCarver (1925) and Ned McCobb's Daughter (1926) on Broadway and The Silver Cord in London (1927). (Clare Eames was the niece of opera singer Emma Eames on her father's side, and of the inventor Hiram Percy Maxim on her mother's side, and a granddaughter of former Maryland governor, William Thomas Hamilton.) Howard and Eames had a daughter, Jennifer Howard. They separated in 1927, and Howard's anger and frustration at the disintegration of his marriage is reflected in his bitter satire of modern matrimony, Half Gods (1929). Following the unexpected death of Eames in 1930, Sidney Howard married Leopoldine (Polly) Damrosch, daughter of the conductor Walter Johannes Damrosch in 1931, with whom he had three children.
A particular admirer of the understated realism of French playwright Charles Vildrac, Howard adapted two of his plays into English, under the titles S. S. Tenacity (1929) and Michael Auclair (1932). One of his greatest successes on Broadway was an adaptation of a French comedy by Rene Fauchois, The Late Christopher Bean. Yellow Jack an historical drama about the war against yellow fever was praised for its high purpose and innovative staging when it premiered in 1934.
"In his thinking, Howard was very much a man of his time," Brooks Atkinson wrote. "He was a Wilsonian; he brooded on the tragedy of the League of Nations. He intended to write an ironic tragedy on the theme of the destruction of such a league that would be devoted to the service rather than the conquest of humanity, [using the techniques] that made Yellow Jack such a forceful drama."
Hired by Samuel Goldwyn, Howard worked in Hollywood at MGM and wrote several successful screenplays. In 1932, Howard was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel Arrowsmith and again in 1936 for Dodsworth, which he had adapted for the stage in 1934. He also wrote a screenplay for Lewis's most political book, the anti-Fascist novel It Can't Happen Here. The film was never made. (Studio officials claimed production cost issues, but Howard maintained that the politics of the script was the issue.) Sinclair Lewis was a great admirer of Howard's stage work and was pleased with his three film adaptations, and the two men (who shared leftwing political sympathies) became friends.
Howard wrote the stage adaption of Humphrey Cobb's novel Paths of Glory, which played on Broadway in 1935. The play was a flop because its harsh anti-war scenes alienated audiences; as a World War I veteran, however, Howard believed it necessary to show the horrors of war. Convinced that the novel should be filmed, Howard wrote, “It seems to me that our motion picture industry must feel something of a sacred obligation to make the picture.” The film version of the novel, directed by Stanley Kubrick, did not appear until 1957. Howard's screenplay for Gone with the Wind echoed, perhaps, Paths of Glory, with an unflinching look at the horrors of war.
Posthumously, Howard won the 1939 Academy Award for Writing an Adapted Screenplay for Gone with the Wind. (He was the only one honored for the writing of that screenplay, despite the fact that his script was revised by several other writers.) This was the first time a posthumous nominee for any Oscar won the award.
A lover of the quiet rural life, Sidney Howard died at the age of forty-eight in Tyringham, Massachusetts while working on his 700-acre (2.8 km2) hobby farm. Howard was crushed to death in a garage by his two-and-one-half ton tractor. He had turned the ignition switch on and was cranking the engine to start it when it lurched forward, pinning him against the wall of the garage. An employee had apparently left the transmission in high gear. "His death was a Broadway calamity," Atkinson wrote. "Broadway and the Playwrights' Company lost one of its most admirable people...in the midst of an active career and full of ideas for more plays." At the time of his death, Howard was working on a dramatization of Carl van Doren's biography of Benjamin Franklin.
He is buried in the Tyringham Cemetery.
Howard left behind a number of unproduced works. Lute Song, an adaptation of an old Chinese play co-written with Will Irwin, premiered on Broadway in 1946. A lighthearted reworking of the Faust legend, Madam, Will You Walk? closed out of town when produced by the Playwrights Company in 1939, but was more warmly received as the first production of the Phoenix Theatre in 1953.
In 1950, Howard's daughter Jennifer Howard (1925–1993) married Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. with whom she had four children including business executive Francis Goldwyn, actor Tony Goldwyn and studio executive, John Goldwyn.
See also 
- PAL: Sidney Coe Howard (1891-1939)
- Brooks Atkinson, Broadway (New York: Atheneum, 1970), p. 269.
- Atkinson, p. 270.
- Mark Schorer, Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (New York: McGraw Hill, 1959), pp. 574, 614, 616.
- Phil McArdle. "Sidney Howard: From Berkeley to Broadway and Hollywood", The Berkeley Daily Planet, December 18, 2007
- Oscar trivia
- Atkinson, pp. 268-269.
- Atkinson, p. 270.
- "26 Elected to the Theater Hall of Fame." The New York Times, March 3, 1981.
Further reading 
- Gewirtz, Arthur. Sidney Howard and Clare Eames: American Theater's Perfect Couple of the 1920s. Jefferson, MO: McFarland Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0-7864-1751-X
- Guide to the Sidney Coe Howard Papers at The Bancroft Library
- Sidney Howard at Find a Grave
- Sidney Howard at the Internet Broadway Database
- Sidney Howard at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Sidney Howard at the Internet Movie Database