Robert E. Sherwood
Robert E. Sherwood in 1928
|Born||Robert Emmet Sherwood|
April 4, 1896
New Rochelle, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 14, 1955 (aged 59)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Milton Academy|
|Notable works||Waterloo Bridge|
Abe Lincoln in Illinois
There Shall Be No Night
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Bishop's Wife
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Drama |
Academy Award for Best Screenplay (1947)
Pulitzer Prize for Biography (1948)
|Spouse||Madeline Hurlock (1935-55)|
Mary Brandon (1922-34)
Born in 1896 in New Rochelle, New York, Robert was a son of Arthur Murray Sherwood, a rich stockbroker, and his wife, the former Rosina Emmet, a highly accomplished illustrator and portrait painter known as Rosina E. Sherwood. His paternal grandmother was Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood, the author and social leader. 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 after leading the Irish rebellion of 1803, one of a series of attempts to dislodge British rule in Ireland, in 1803. His relatives also included three other notable American portrait artists: his aunts, Lydia Field Emmet and Jane Emmet de Glehn, and his first cousin, once removed, Ellen Emmet Rand. Sherwood was educated at Fay School,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 United States, he began working as a movie critic for such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. Sherwood's career as a critic in the 1920s is discussed in the 2009 documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. In that film Time critic Richard Schickel discusses, among other topics, 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 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) tall. Dorothy Parker, who was 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m), once commented that when she, Sherwood, and Robert Benchley (6 feet (1.8 m)) walked down the street together, they resembled "a walking pipe organ." When asked at a party how long he had known Sherwood, Benchley stood on a chair, raised his hand to the ceiling, and said, "I knew Bob Sherwood back when he was only this tall."
In 1949, comedian Groucho Marx also commented about Sherwood's height during a filmed radio broadcast of the quiz show You Bet Your Life. Groucho, who hosted the popular series, interviewed in one episode American football player Howard Scala, a member of the NFL's Green Bay Packers. Impressed by Scala's own considerable height, Marx shared the following anecdote with the show's audience:
Reminds me of Bob Sherwood, the playwright, he's an old friend of mine; and he's six-foot-five and very thin. I said to him one day, 'Bob, what do you say to people when they ask you how the weather is up there?' He said, 'I spit in their eye and tell 'em it's raining.'
Sherwood's first Broadway play, The Road to Rome (1927), a comedy concerning Hannibal's botched invasion of Rome, introduced one of his favorite themes: the futility of war. Many of his later dramatic works employed variations of that motif, including Idiot's Delight (1936), which won Sherwood the first of 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."
Sherwood was actively engaged with the advocacy for writers' rights within the theatre world. From 1937 to 1939, Sherwood served as the seventh president of the Dramatists Guild of America.
Sherwood's Broadway success soon attracted the attention of Hollywood; he began writing for the silver screen in 1926. While some of his work went uncredited, his films included many adaptations of his plays. He also collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock and Joan Harrison in writing the screenplay for Rebecca (1940).
With Europe in the midst of World War II, Sherwood set aside his anti-war stance to support the fight against the Third Reich. His 1940 play about the Soviet Union's invasion of Finland, There Shall Be No Night, was produced by the Playwright's Company that he co-founded and starred Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Montgomery Clift. Katharine Cornell produced and starred in a 1957 TV adaptation on NBC. Sherwood publicly ridiculed isolationist Charles Lindbergh as a "Nazi with a Nazi's Olympian contempt for all democratic processes".
During this period Sherwood also served as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He recounted the experience in his book Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and a 1949 Bancroft Prize. Sherwood is credited with originating the phrase that eventually evolved to "arsenal of democracy", a frequent catchphrase in Roosevelt's wartime speeches. Sherwood was quoted on May 12, 1940, by The New York Times, "This country is already, in effect, an arsenal for the democratic Allies."
After serving as Director of the Office of War Information from 1943 until the conclusion of the war, he returned to dramatic writing with the movie The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler. The 1946 film, which explores changes in the lives of three servicemen after they return home from war, earned Sherwood an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Sherwood died of a heart attack in New York City in 1955. A production of his final work, Small War on Murray Hill, debuted on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 3, 1957. Nearly four decades later, Sherwood was portrayed by actor Nick Cassavetes in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, a 1994 feature film about the Algonquin Round Table.