Irwin Shaw was an American playwright, screenwriter, novelist, and short-story author whose written works have sold more than 14 million copies. He is best known for two of his novels: The Young Lions, about the fate of three soldiers during World War II, which was made into a film of the same name starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, and Rich Man, Poor Man, about the fate of two brothers and a sister in the post-World War II decades which in 1976 was made into a popular miniseries starring Peter Strauss, Nick Nolte, and Susan Blakely.
Personal lifeShaw was born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff in the South Bronx, New York City, to Jewish immigrants from Russia. His parents were Rose and Will. His younger brother, David Shaw, became a noted Hollywood producer and writer. Shortly after Irwin's birth, the Shamforoffs moved to Brooklyn. Irwin changed his surname upon entering college. He spent most of his youth in Brooklyn, where he graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1934.
He began screenwriting in 1935 at age 21. In 1939 he married actress and producer Marian Edwards daughter of silent film actor Snitz Edwards. The couple divorced in 1967, remarrying two years before Irwin's death in 1982.
During World War II, he was approached by William Wyler to join his film unit. Unable to be commissioned as an officer due to his age and 1-A draft status, Shaw decided to enter the Regular Army. Later, the Army, noting his background, sent him to George Stevens' film unit. He was one of four writers attached to Stevens' command, in which he became a warrant officer. After the war, he returned to his career as a writer.
Shaw died in Davos, Switzerland on May 16, 1984, at age 71, after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
DramaIn the 1930s, Shaw wrote scripts for several radio shows, including Dick Tracy, The Gumps and Studio One. He recaptured this period of his life in his short story "Main Currents of American Thought," about a hack radio writer grinding out one script after another while calculating the number of words equal to the rent money:
Shaw's first play, Bury the Dead was an expressionist drama about a group of soldiers killed in a battle who refuse to be buried. His play Quiet City, directed by Elia Kazan and with incidental music by Aaron Copland, closed after two Sunday performances.
During the 1940s, Shaw wrote for a number of films, including The Talk of the Town, The Commandos Strike at Dawn and Easy Living. Shaw married Marian Edwards. They had one son, Adam Shaw, born in 1950, himself a writer of magazine articles and non-fiction.
Shaw summered at the Pine Brook Country Club, located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut, which became the 1936 summer home of the Group Theatre, whose roster included Elia Kazan, Harold Clurman, Harry Morgan, John Garfield, Frances Farmer, Will Geer, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb.
Novels and MiniseriesThe Young Lions, Shaw's first novel, was published in 1948. Based on his experiences in Europe during the war, the novel was very successful and was adapted into a 1958 film. Shaw was not happy with the film, feeling it soft-pedaled some of the serious issues from his book, but it did well at the box office.
Shaw's second novel, The Troubled Air, chronicling the rise of McCarthyism, was published in 1951. He was among those who signed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo convictions for contempt of Congress, resulting from hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Accused of being a communist by the Red Channels publication, Shaw was placed on the Hollywood blacklist by the movie studio bosses. In 1951 he left the United States and went to Europe, where he lived for 25 years, mostly in Paris and Switzerland. He later claimed that the blacklist "only glancingly bruised" his career. During the 1950s he wrote several more screenplays, including Desire Under the Elms and Fire Down Below.
While living in Europe, Shaw wrote more bestselling books, notably Lucy Crown, Two Weeks in Another Town, Rich Man, Poor Man and Evening in Byzantium.
Rich Man, Poor Man was adapted into a highly successful ABC television miniseries with six 2-hour episodes shown for February 1 to March 15, 1976. The series ranked third in the seasonal Nielsens and garnered twenty-three Emmy nominations. A further adaptation, which Shaw had very little to do with, Rich Man, Poor Man--Book II was aired from September 21, 1976, to March 8, 1977. This was not as successful as the first. There was a third sequel Beggar Man, Thief in 1978, which belated included the Jordache's sister Gretchen who had been a prominent character in the original book.
His novel The Top of the Hill was made into a TV movie about the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980, starring Wayne Rogers, Adrienne Barbeau, and Sonny Bono.
His last two novels were Bread Upon the Waters and Acceptable Losses.
Short storiesShaw was highly regarded as a short story author, contributing to Collier's, Esquire, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines; and 63 of his best stories were collected in Short Stories: Five Decades, reprinted in 2000 as a 784-page University of Chicago Press paperback. Among his noted short stories are: "Sailor Off The Bremen", "The Eighty-Yard Run", and "Tip On A Dead Jockey". Three of his stories were dramatized for the PBS series Great Performances. Telecast on June 1, 1981. This production was released on DVD in 2002 by Kultur Video.
In 1950, Shaw wrote a book on Israel with photos by Robert Capa named Report on Israel.
AwardsDuring his lifetime Shaw won a number of awards, including two O. Henry Awards, a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, and three Playboy Awards.
- The Young Lions
- The Troubled Air
- Lucy Crown
- Two Weeks in Another Town
- Voices of a Summer Day
- Rich Man, Poor Man
- Evening in Byzantium
- Night Work
- Beggarman, Thief
- The Top of the Hill
- Bread Upon the Waters
- Acceptable Losses
- Sailor off the Bremen and other Stories
- Welcome to the City, and other Stories
- Act of Faith, and other stories
- The Girls in Their Summer Dresses
- Mixed Company. Collected Short Stories
- Tip on a Dead Jockey, and other stories
- Selected Short Stories
- Love on a Dark Street, and other stories
- Retreat and other stories
- God Was Here, But He Left Early
- Short Stories: Five Decades
- Report on Israel
- In the Company of Dolphins
- Paris! Paris!
- Bury the Dead, New York, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, April 1936.
- Siege, New York, Longacre Theatre, December 1937.
- The Gentle People, New York, Belasco Theatre, January 1939.
- Quiet City New York, Belasco Theatre, March 1939.
- Retreat to Pleasure, New York, Belasco Theatre, 1940.
- Sons and Soldiers, New York, Morosco Theatre, May 1943.
- The Assassin, New York, National Theatre, October 1945.
- The Survivors, New York, Playhouse Theatre, January 1948.
- Children From Their Games, New York, Morosco Theatre, April 1963.
- A Choice of Wars, Glasgow, Scotland, Glasgow Citizens Theatre, 1967.
- The Big Game, RKO, 1936.
- Commandos Strike at Dawn, Columbia, 1942.
- The Hard Way, Warner Bros., 1942.
- The Talk of the Town, RKO, 1942.
- Take One False Step, Universal, 1949.
- Easy Living, RKO, 1949.
- I Want You, RKO, 1951.
- Act of Love, United Artists, 1953.
- Ulysses, Paramount, 1954.
- Fire Down Below, Columbia, 1957.
- Desire Under the Elms, Paramount, 1958.
- This Angry Age, Columbia, 1958.
- The Big Gamble, Fox, 1961.
- In the French Style, Columbia, 1963.
- Survival, United Film, 1968.