Robert E. Sherwood

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For other people named Robert Sherwood, see Robert Sherwood.
Robert E. Sherwood
Robert E. Sherwood.jpg
Sherwood in early 1950s
Born (1896-04-04)4 April 1896
New Rochelle, New York, USA
Died 14 November 1955(1955-11-14) (aged 59)
New York City, New York, USA
Occupation Author, playwright, screenwriter and historian
Alma mater Milton Academy
Harvard University
Spouse Madeline Hurlock (1935-55)
Mary Brandon (1922-34)
Debut works The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Love Nest
Magnum opus Waterloo Bridge
Idiot's Delight
Abe Lincoln in Illinois
There Shall Be No Night
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Bishop's Wife
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1936, 1939, 1941)
Academy Award for Best Screenplay (1947)
Pulitzer Prize for Biography (1948)

Robert Emmet Sherwood (4 April 1896 – 14 November 1955) was an American playwright, editor, and screenwriter.


Born in New Rochelle, New York, he was a son of Arthur Murray Sherwood, a rich stockbroker, and his wife, the former Rosina Emmet, a well-known illustrator and portrait painter known as Rosina E. Sherwood. He was a great-great-grandson of the former New York State Attorney General Thomas Addis Emmet and a great-grandnephew of the Irish nationalist Robert Emmet who was executed for high treason in an abortive rebellion attempt against the British. His aunts included the notable American portrait artists Lydia Field Emmet, Jane Emmet de Glehn and his first cousin, once removed, was artist Ellen Emmet Rand.

Sherwood was educated at Fay School,[1] Milton Academy and then Harvard University. He fought with the Royal Highlanders of Canada, CEF in Europe during World War I and was wounded. After his return to the U.S., he began working as a movie critic for such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. The career of Robert E. Sherwood as a critic in the 1920s is discussed in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism by Time critic Richard Schickel who also tells how Sherwood was the first New York critic invited to Hollywood by cross-country train to meet the stars and directors.


Sherwood was one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table. He was close friends with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, who were on the staff of Vanity Fair with Sherwood when the Round Table began meeting in 1919. Author Edna Ferber was also a good friend.

Sherwood stood six feet eight inches tall. Dorothy Parker, who was five-feet four-inches, once commented that when she, Sherwood, and Robert Benchley (who was six feet tall) would walk down the street together, they looked like "a walking pipe organ." When asked at a party how long he had known Sherwood, Robert Benchley stood on a chair, raised his hand to the ceiling, and said, "I knew Bob Sherwood back when he was only this tall."

Sherwood's first play, The Road to Rome in 1927 was greeted with success. The play is a comedy concerning Hannibal's botched invasion of Rome. One of the underlying themes of this work, reflecting his combat experiences, is the stupidity of war. This is a recurrent motif in many of his dramatic works including his Idiot's Delight of 1936 which won the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes. According to legend, he once admitted to the gossip columnist Lucius Beebe: “The trouble with me is that I start with a big message and end up with nothing but good entertainment.”[2]

In addition to his work for the stage, Sherwood also was in demand in Hollywood. He began writing for the silver screen in 1926. While some of his work is uncredited, his films include many adaptations of his plays.

Robert E. Sherwood worked with Alfred Hitchcock and Hitchcock's assistant Joan Harrison on Rebecca (1940). Robert E. Sherwood and Joan Harrison wrote the screenplay for Rebecca. Robert E. Sherwood's close friends Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker also worked with Alfred Hitchcock. Robert Benchley played Stebbins in Alfred Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent (1940). Alfred Hitchcock allowed Benchley to write his own lines for his character Stebbins. And Dorothy Parker worked with Alfred Hitchcock as screenwriter in Saboteur (1942).

With Europe in the midst of World War II, Sherwood changed his anti-war stance and supported American involvement against the Third Reich. His 1940 play, There Shall Be No Night told the story of the Russian invasion of Finland. The play was produced by the Theatre Guild in 1940 and starred Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne and featured Montgomery Clift. A TV adaptation was broadcast on NBC on March 17, 1957 produced by and starring the actress Katharine Cornell.[3] Sherwood also publicly identified the appeaser and isolationist Charles Lindbergh as a "Nazi with a Nazi's Olympian contempt for all democratic processes."[4]

His patriotism led him to work as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He recounted this period with his book Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History,[5] which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and a 1949 Bancroft Prize.

Sherwood is credited with originating the phrase which came to be shortened as the 'arsenal of democracy' and later used by Franklin Roosevelt in his speeches. Sherwood had been quoted on May 12, 1940 by the New York Times, "this country is already, in effect, an arsenal for the democratic Allies."[6] Although the French economist, Jean Monnet had allegedly used the phrase later in 1940, "arsenal of democracy," he was urged not to use it again so Franklin Roosevelt could make use of it in his speeches.[7]

Sherwood also served for a time as Director of the Office of War Information. He returned to dramatic writing after the war and produced his memorable script for the film The Best Years of Our Lives which was directed by William Wyler. The 1946 film explores how the lives of three servicemen have been changed after they return home from war. For this film, Sherwood was given an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

Sherwood died of a heart attack in New York City in 1955.

A production of his work Small War on Murray Hill debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 3, 1957.

Film portrayal[edit]

Sherwood was portrayed by the actor Nick Cassavetes in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.[8]



  • Sherwood, Robert E. (1948). Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (First ed.). New York: Harper. OCLC 908375.  1949 Pulitzer Prize (Biography)
  • Sherwood, Robert E. (1923). The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-1923, Also Who's Who in the Movies and the Yearbook of the American Screen (First ed.). Boston: Small, Maynard & Company. 


  1. ^ Fischer, H.D. (2002). Complete Biographical Encyclopedia of Pulitzer Prize Winners 1917 - 2000: Journalists, writers and composers on their way to the coveted awards. De Gruyter. p. 221. ISBN 9783110955743. Retrieved 2015-05-15. 
  2. ^ Meserve, Walter J. (1970). Robert E. Sherwood: Reluctant Moralist. New York: Pegasus. p. 14. 
  3. ^ "The Paley Center for Media". Retrieved 2015-05-15. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Gould, Jack (May 12, 1940). The Broadway Stage Has Its First War Play. The New York Times. Quoting Robert Emmet Sherwood, "this country is already, in effect, an arsenal for the democratic Allies."
  7. ^ Charles K. Robinson (13 October 1961). "Letters". Time magazine. Retrieved 2008-12-12. 
  8. ^ "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb". Retrieved 2015-05-15. 

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