Howard Elliott Ashman
May 17, 1950
|Died||March 14, 1991 (aged 40)|
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||Oheb Shalom Memorial Park, Reisterstown, Maryland, U.S.|
|Alma mater||Indiana University|
Howard Elliott Ashman (May 17, 1950 – March 14, 1991) was an American playwright, lyricist and stage director. He collaborated with composer Alan Menken on several works and is most widely known for his work on feature films for Walt Disney Animation Studios, for which Ashman wrote the lyrics and Menken composed the music. His work included songs for Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Sir Tim Rice took over to write the rest of the songs after Ashman's death in 1991.
Early life and education
Ashman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Shirley Thelma (née Glass) and Raymond Albert Ashman, an ice cream cone manufacturer. His family was Jewish. He started his theater experiences with the Childrens Theater Association (CTA), playing roles such as Aladdin. Ashman first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) and then went on to earn his master's degree from Indiana University in 1974.
After graduating from Indiana in 1974 he moved to New York and worked as an editor at Grosset & Dunlap. His first two plays, Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark and Dreamstuff, were met with mixed reviews. His play The Confirmation was produced in 1977 at Princeton's McCarter Theater and starred Herschel Bernardi. In 1977 he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. He met future collaborator Alan Menken at the BMI Workshop, where he was classmates with Maury Yeston and Ed Kleban, among others. He first worked with Menken on the 1979 musical Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, adapted from Vonnegut's novel of the same name. They also collaborated on Little Shop of Horrors with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. He also directed the workshop of Nine by Yeston at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and after asking why Guido's wife stays with him after she knows he has not been faithful, inspired Yeston to write "My Husband Makes Movies".
Ashman was director, lyricist, and book writer for the 1986 Broadway musical Smile (music by Marvin Hamlisch). Also in 1986, Ashman wrote the screenplay for the Frank Oz–directed film adaptation of his musical Little Shop of Horrors, as well as contributing the lyrics for two new songs, "Some Fun Now" and "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," the latter of which received an Academy Award nomination.
In 1986, Ashman was brought in to write lyrics for a song in Walt Disney Animation Studios' Oliver & Company. While there, he was told about another project that they had been working on for a couple years. The film was The Little Mermaid, Disney's first fairy tale in 30 years. Ashman, along with Menken, wrote all of the songs for the film. Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the "Disney Renaissance". He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. He also made strong choices in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. The Little Mermaid was released in November 1989 and it was an enormous success. Ashman and Menken received two Golden Globe nominations and three Academy Award nominations, including two for "Kiss the Girl" and "Under The Sea" with Ashman winning both awards for the latter.
In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin to Disney. After he wrote a group of songs with partner Alan Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements then joined the production, and the story underwent many changes, with some elements of the original treatment being dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Ashman's songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.
During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help reinvigorate and save the production of Beauty and the Beast, which was going nowhere as a non-musical. Ashman, wishing to focus on Aladdin and his health, reluctantly agreed. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and is dedicated to him. In May 2020, Beauty and the Beast co-director Kirk Wise said, "If you had to point to one person responsible for the 'Disney Renaissance', I would say it was Howard."
Along with Menken, Ashman was the co-recipient of two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards.
Illness and death
After Disney's 62nd Academy Awards for The Little Mermaid, Ashman told composer Alan Menken that they needed to have a talk when they got home to Fishkill, New York about something important. When they got to Ashman's house, Ashman revealed to Menken that he was sick and was HIV positive, meaning that he was diagnosed with AIDS. Ashman survived to see an early screening of Beauty and the Beast.  When Ashman was rushed to St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan, New York, he was 80 pounds, had lost his sight, and could barely speak. On the early morning of March 14, 1991, two months before his 41st birthday, he died from heart failure caused by the HIV/AIDS disease.  Beauty and the Beast is dedicated to him: "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful." He is buried in Oheb Shalom Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.
Ashman never married, as gay marriage was not legal during his lifetime. He also had no children. He met Stuart White, one of his first partners, at a summer university program in 1969. Originally close friends, the two formed a bond which led to a secret relationship. They both completed master's degrees at Indiana University and then moved to upstate New York. White and Ashman re-opened the Workshop of Players Art Foundation (WPA) together as artistic directors. The two fell out in 1980, but reunited briefly prior to White's death from AIDS in July 1983.
Awards and nominations
Over the course of his career, Ashman won two Academy Awards (one posthumous) out of seven nominations. Of these nominations, four are posthumous nominations, the most in Academy Awards history. He also won a posthumous Laurence Olivier Award and five Grammy Awards (three of them posthumous), among other accolades.
- 1990 – Special Award for outstanding contribution to the success of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' anti-drug special for children, for the song "Wonderful Ways to Say No" from the TV special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue
- 2001 – Disney Legend Award (POSTHUMOUS)
On the 2002 Special Edition DVD of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators teamed up again and added a new song called "Human Again", which Ashman and Menken had written for the film, but was cut from the finished film. On Disc 2, there is a short documentary entitled Howard Ashman: In Memoriam that features many people who worked on Beauty and the Beast who talk about Howard's involvement on the film and how his death was truly a loss for them.
In March 2017, Don Hahn confirmed he was working on a documentary biographical film about Howard Ashman. The documentary film titled Howard premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, 2018, before having a limited theatrical run on December 18, 2018. It was released on Disney+ on August 7, 2020.
- The Confirmation (1977) (writer)
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1979) (lyricist, librettist and director)
- Little Shop of Horrors (1982) (lyricist, librettist and director)
- Smile (1986) (lyricist, librettist and director)
- Little Shop of Horrors (1986) (lyricist and screenwriter)
- Oliver & Company (1988) (lyricist for "Once Upon a Time in New York City")
- The Little Mermaid (1989) (lyricist, producer, additional dialogue)
- Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue (1990) (lyricist for "Wonderful Way to Say No")
- Beauty and the Beast (1991) (lyricist, executive producer) (dedicated)
- Aladdin (1992) (lyricist for "Arabian Nights", "Friend Like Me", and "Prince Ali").
- Obituary Variety, March 18, 1991.
- Robinson, Joanna (April 20, 2018). "Inside the Tragedy and Triumph of Disney Genius Howard Ashman". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
- "Howard Ashman Biography (1950–1991)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Don Hahn interview: Beauty And The Beast, Howard Ashman, The Lion King, South Park and Frankenweenie". Den of Geek. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Glassman, Marvin. "'Beauty' cast member proud of her Jewish roots". Jewish Journal. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Hahn, Don (August 7, 2020). Howard (Documentary). 6 minutes in.
- "ATW's Working in the Theatre #67 Playscript (Winter 1982)". YouTube.
- "Aladdin: Crew Reunion". Animated Views. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
- "10 Things We Learned from Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale During WDFM Happily Ever After Hours". Laughing Place. May 14, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
- Hahn, Don (March 26, 2010). Waking Sleeping Beauty (Documentary). Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
- Blau, Eleanor (March 15, 1991). "Howard Ashman Is Dead at 40; Writer of 'Little Shop of Horrors'". The New York Times.
- Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786479924.
- Roberts, Jon (May 31, 2019). "Howard Ashman: A Queer Legacy Not to be Forgotten". Storyhouse. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
- Hahn, Don (August 7, 2020). Howard (Documentary). 8 minutes in.
- Renick, Kyle (January 9, 2019). "A SHORT HISTORY OF THE WPA THEATRE (WORKSHOP OF THE PLAYERS ART FOUNDATION, INC.)". Howard Ashman. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
- "Beauty And The Beast" Wins Original Song: 1992 Oscars (Video). March 29, 1993 .
- "Top 10 Notable People Who Died From AIDS – Listverse". Listverse. December 1, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Howard Ashman Papers (Report). January 1, 2011. p. 13.
- Howard Ashman: A short tribute. YouTube. August 19, 2013. Event occurs at 2:19.
- Hetrick, Adam (March 7, 2017). "Beauty and the Beast Lyricist Howard Ashman Subject of New Documentary Film". Playbill. New York City: Playbill, Inc. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
- Ramos, Dino-Ray (April 11, 2018). "'Howard' Clip: Tribeca Docu Spotlights Oscar-Winning Disney Lyricist Howard Ashman". Deadline Hollywood. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved April 20, 2018.