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Who is Robert Sherwood?

Robert Sherwood was a towering figure in American literature, a four-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose plays and political influence left an indelible mark on the 20th century. His work, blending sharp wit with deep humanism, continues to resonate today. Discover how Sherwood's legacy shapes our cultural and political discourse—what will you uncover about his impact on history?
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Robert Sherwood was an American playwright and screenwriter. He was born in 1896, in New York, and died in 1955 at the age of 59. Over the course of his life he wrote thirteen plays and a biography of President Roosevelt, and was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes for his work.

Robert Sherwood was born into an artistic family, and from an early age was supported in his creative endeavors. He was educated at the private Milton Academy, and later received a degree from Harvard. He fought in World War I with the Canadian Black Watch, and this would influence some of his later writings.

Robert Sherwood received a degree from Harvard University.
Robert Sherwood received a degree from Harvard University.

When he returned to the United States, Robert Sherwood began to work in the magazine world as a movie critic. Along with fellow staff members at Vanity Fair, Robert Sherwood helped start what was later known as the Algonquin Round Table. This group, which met from 1919 until 1929, consisted of a number of writers and wits of the era, many active in the newspaper world. They would meet regularly at the Algonquin Hotel to banter with one another, and develop ideas and forge friendships. Other notables included Dorothy Parker, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, Heywood Broun, Franklin Adams, Robert Benchley, and Alexander Woollcott.

Robert Sherwood won a Pulitzer Prize for his play about Abraham Lincoln.
Robert Sherwood won a Pulitzer Prize for his play about Abraham Lincoln.

In 1927 Robert Sherwood had his first play, The Road to Rome produced. Drawing from feelings developed during his time in World War I, The Road to Rome was a comedic farce surrounding Hannibal’s failed attempt to invade Rome. Like many of his plays, it played up the ultimate stupidity and futility of war, using comedy to make his point.

In 1936 Robert Sherwood produced his play, Idiot’s Delight, another indictment of war, although this time from a more dramatic bent. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this play, which was hailed as a great achievement in explaining the tragic ignorance of war. In 1938 Robert Sherwood would win another Pulitzer Prize, this time for his play Abe Lincoln in Illinois. The play covered the life of President Lincoln and was a success, with a film made in 1940, and five television versions produced between 1945 and 1964.

Robert Sherwood served as a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt, and also wrote a biography about him.
Robert Sherwood served as a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt, and also wrote a biography about him.

In 1940 Robert Sherwood wrote There Shall Be No Night, earning him his third Pulitzer Prize in theatre. This play represented a fairly drastic shift in his stance towards war, with his previous anti-war stance giving way to a patriotic fervor born of World War II. The play tells the story of the invasion of Finland by Russia. He would later go on to write a biography of President Roosevelt in 1948, entitled Roosevelt and Hopkins, for which he would win his fourth Pulitzer Prize, this time in the Biography or Autobiography category.

Robert Sherwood also worked extensively in Hollywood, and was in high demand as a screenwriter and assistant. He collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on a number of occasions, most notably on the 1940 film Rebecca. During the Roosevelt administration Robert Sherwood also acted as a speechwriter, and is credited with one of Roosevelt’s most famous phrases, “the Arsenal of Democracy.”

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Robert E. Sherwood?

Robert Emmet Sherwood was an American playwright, editor, and screenwriter. Born on April 4, 1896, he was a prominent figure in the American theatre scene during the first half of the 20th century. Sherwood won four Pulitzer Prizes, including three for drama with his plays "Idiot's Delight" (1936), "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (1938), and "There Shall Be No Night" (1940), and one for his biography on Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was also known for his work as a speechwriter for President Roosevelt during World War II.

What are some of Robert Sherwood's most famous works?

Robert Sherwood is best known for his plays, which often addressed themes of war and peace. His most acclaimed works include "The Petrified Forest" (1935), which was adapted into a film starring Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis, "Idiot's Delight," "Abe Lincoln in Illinois," and "There Shall Be No Night." He also co-wrote the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film "Rebecca" (1940), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

How did Robert Sherwood contribute to American culture and politics?

Robert Sherwood's contributions to American culture were significant through his influential plays and films that often reflected the political and social issues of his time. Politically, he served as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and contributed to the crafting of political rhetoric during a pivotal era in American history. His work helped to shape public opinion and policy during the Great Depression and World War II.

Did Robert Sherwood receive any awards or recognitions?

Yes, Robert Sherwood was a highly decorated playwright and screenwriter. He received four Pulitzer Prizes, which is an exceptional achievement. Additionally, he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). His contributions to the arts were recognized by his peers and by the nation, solidifying his legacy as one of the great American dramatists.

What impact did Robert Sherwood have on the American theater?

Robert Sherwood had a profound impact on American theater by introducing themes of international conflict and moral issues into mainstream entertainment. His plays were not only commercially successful but also critically acclaimed, helping to elevate the intellectual and cultural status of American theater during the 1920s to 1940s. His work influenced subsequent generations of playwrights and screenwriters, and his legacy is still felt in the industry today.

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Discussion Comments

ysmina

I've read that Robert Sherwood often wrote speeches for President Roosevelt and even a private screening of his pro-war play was shown in the White House.

I wonder why Sherwood had such a drastic change of mind about war and was supportive of interventionist policies? Did he have some sort of agreement with Roosevelt to help him in his campaigns through his plays? This is a relationship that I would like to know about, especially if Sherwood had an effect on Congress' decision to enter World War II.

burcinc

The film "The Petrified Forest" was an adaptation of Robert Sherwood's play. I have the film at home as part of my Humphrey Bogart collection. Humphrey Bogart fans will remember this movie because it was the fifth film that he took part in and it gained him a lot of fame. He portrayed the role of a gangster so well in this movie that other Hollywood actors took him as a role model when playing similar roles.

The story of the film and the play was about a gangster, a criminal who takes several people hostage at a restaurant. Sherwood showed that the hostages and the criminal had more things in common than they expected even though they seem very different from each other in the beginning. This film is a classic and a must see for lovers of drama.

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    • Robert Sherwood received a degree from Harvard University.
      Robert Sherwood received a degree from Harvard University.
    • Robert Sherwood won a Pulitzer Prize for his play about Abraham Lincoln.
      By: ra3rn
      Robert Sherwood won a Pulitzer Prize for his play about Abraham Lincoln.
    • Robert Sherwood served as a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt, and also wrote a biography about him.
      By: air
      Robert Sherwood served as a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt, and also wrote a biography about him.