Howard Ashman

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Howard Ashman
HowardAshman.jpg
Howard Ashman
Born Howard Elliott Ashman
(1950-05-17)May 17, 1950
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
Died March 14, 1991(1991-03-14) (aged 40)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Cause of death AIDS Related Complications
Resting place Oheb Shalom Memorial Park, Baltimore
Occupation Lyricist, Librettist, musician
Years active 1979–1991
Parent(s) Raymond Albert Ashman
Shirley Thelma Glass
Awards Disney Legend (2001)

Howard Elliott Ashman (May 17, 1950 – March 14, 1991) was an American playwright and lyricist.[1] He collaborated with Alan Menken on several works and is most widely known for several animated feature films for Disney, for which Ashman wrote the lyrics and Menken composed the music. Ashman and Menken began their collaboration with the musical God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1979), for which Ashman directed and wrote both book and lyrics. Their next musical, Little Shop of Horrors (1982) for which Ashman again directed and wrote both book and lyrics, became a long-running success and led to a 1986 feature film. The partnership's first Disney film was The Little Mermaid (1989), followed by Beauty and the Beast (1991). After his death, some of Ashman's songs were included in another Disney film, Aladdin (1992).

Early life and education[edit]

Ashman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Shirley Thelma (née Glass) and Raymond Albert Ashman, an ice cream cone manufacturer.[2] Ashman first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) and then went on to achieve his master's degree from Indiana University in 1974.

Career[edit]

After graduating from Indiana in 1974, he spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso, an experience that shaped much of his later work. Upon his return, he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. 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. He first worked with Alan 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.

Ashman was director, lyricist and bookwriter 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 Disney's 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 Alan 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", for Ashman won both awards for the latter.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. 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.[3] Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production. The story underwent many changes and some elements of the original treatment were dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Howard'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.

Along with Menken, Ashman was the co-recipient of two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards. Upon receiving his second Academy Award posthumously, William P. "Bill" Lauch, his partner, accepted the award in his stead.[4]

Illness and death[edit]

On the night of the 62nd Academy Awards, Ashman told Menken that they needed to talk when they got back to New York, where he revealed to Menken that he was HIV positive. He had been diagnosed in 1988, midway through the making of The Little Mermaid. During the making of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators were flown to work with Ashman at his home in Fishkill, New York. There they discovered that he was seriously ill. He grew weaker, but he remained productive and continued to write songs. After the first screening for Beauty and the Beast on March 10, 1991, the animators visited Ashman in the hospital. He weighed 80 pounds, had lost his sight, and could barely speak. The animators and producer Don Hahn told him that the film was incredibly well received by the press. On March 14, Ashman, age 40, died from complications from AIDS, in New York City.[5] Beauty and the Beast is dedicated "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950–1991." Ashman was survived by his partner Bill Lauch, his sister Sarah Ashman-Gillespie, and his mother Shirley Thelma Glass.[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Over the course of his career, Howard Ashman won two Academy Awards out of seven nominations. Of these nominations, four are posthumous nominations, the most in Academy Awards history.[citation needed] He also won a posthumous Laurence Olivier Award and five Grammy Awards (three of them posthumous), among other accolades.

Accolades[edit]

Award Year Project Category Outcome
Academy Awards 1986 Little Shop of Horrors Best Original Song
for the song "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space"
Nominated
1989 The Little Mermaid Best Original Song
for the song "Under the Sea"
Won
Best Original Song
for the song "Kiss the Girl"
Nominated
1991 Beauty and the Beast Best Original Song
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (POSTHUMOUS)
Won
Best Original Song
for the song "Be Our Guest" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
Best Original Song
for the song "Belle" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
1992 Aladdin Best Original Song
for the song "Friend Like Me" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
British Academy Film Awardss 1992 Beauty and the Beast Best Film Music Nominated
Drama Desk Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Outstanding Lyrics Won
Outstanding Director of a Musical Nominated
1994 Beauty and the Beast Outstanding Lyrics
POSTHUMOUS
Nominated
2014 Aladdin Outstanding Lyrics
POSTHUMOUS
Nominated
Evening Standard Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Best Musical Won
Golden Globe Awards 1989 The Little Mermaid Best Original Song
for the song "Under the Sea"
Won
Best Original Song
for the song "Kiss the Girl"
Nominated
1991 Beauty and the Beast Best Original Song
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (POSTHUMOUS)
Won
Best Original Song
for the song "Be Our Guest" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
1991 Aladdin Best Original Song
for the song "Friend Like Me" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
Best Original Song
for the song "Prince Ali" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
Grammy Awards 1984 Little Shop of Horrors Best Musical Cast Show Album Nominated
1990 Oliver and Company: Story and Songs from the Motion Picture Best Recording for Children Nominated
1991 The Little Mermaid: Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack Best Recording for Children Won
The Little Mermaid Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Under the Sea"
Won
Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Kiss the Girl"
Nominated
1993 Beauty and the Beast: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Best Musical Album for Children
POSTHUMOUS
Won
Album of the Year
POSTHUMOUS
Nominated
Beauty and the Beast Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (POSTHUMOUS)
Won
Song of the Year
for the song "Beauty and the Beast" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
1994 Aladdin: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Best Musical Album for Children
(POSTHUMOUS)
Won
1994 Aladdin Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television
for the song "Friend Like Me" (POSTHUMOUS)
Nominated
Laurence Olivier Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Musical of the Year Nominated
1998 Beauty and the Beast Best New Musical
(POSTHUMOUS)
Won
New York Drama Critic Circle Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Best Musical Won
Outer Critics Circle Awards 1983 Little Shop of Horrors Best Off-Broadway Musical Won
Best Score Won
Tony Awards 1987 Smile Best Book of a Musical Nominated
1994 Beauty and the Beast Best Original Score
POSTHUMOUS
Nominated
2008 The Little Mermaid Best Original Score
POSTHUMOUS
Nominated
2014 Aladdin Best Original Score
POSTHUMOUS
Nominated

Special Recognitions[edit]

  • 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)

Tributes[edit]

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.

Jeffrey Katzenberg claims there are two angels watching down on them that put their magic touch on every film they made. The two angels were Howard and Walt Disney himself.[citation needed]

An album of Ashman singing his own work entitled Howard Sings Ashman was released on November 11, 2008, by PS Classics as part of the Library of Congress "Songwriter Series."

The 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, about Disney's animation renaissance, is dedicated to him, as well as Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Roy E. Disney.

Best known works[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Obituary Variety, March 18, 1991.
  2. ^ "Howard Ashman Biography (1950–1991)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  3. ^ "Aladdin: Crew Reunion". Animated Views. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  4. ^ Top 10 Notable People Who Died From AIDS
  5. ^ a b Blau, Eleanor. "Howard Ashman Is Dead at 40; Writer of 'Little Shop of Horrors'", New York Times, March 15, 1991

External links[edit]