Sherwood, Robert E.

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Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Robert Emmett Sherwood in New Rochelle, New York, 4 April 1896. Education: Attended Milton Academy, Massachusetts; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, B.A. 1918. Military Service: 1917–19—served in the Canadian Black Watch in France. Family: Married 1) Mary Brandon, 1922 (divorced 1934); one daughter; 2) Madeline Hurlock Connelly, 1935. Career: Journalist: drama editor, Vanity Fair, New York, 1919–20, film critic, 1920–24, and motion picture editor, 1924–28, Life magazine, and literary editor, Scribner's Magazine, 1928–30; 1924—first film as writer, The Hunchback of Notre Dame; 1926—first play produced, The Road to Rome; 1937–40—President, Dramatists Guild; 1938—founder, with S. N. Behrman and others, Playwrights Company; 1939–42—Special Assistant to the Secretary of War, then Director of the Overseas Branch of the Office of War Information, 1942–44, and Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy, 1945. Awards: Pulitzer Prize (for drama) for Idiot's Delight, 1936; Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1939; There Shall Be No Night, 1941; (for biography) for Roosevelt and Hopkins, 1949; Academy Award for The Best Years of Our Lives, 1946. Died: 14 November 1955.

Films as Writer:


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Worsley)


The Lucky Lady (Walsh)


The Age for Love (Lloyd); Around the World in Eighty Minutes with Douglas Fairbanks (Fleming)


Cock of the Air (Buckingham)


Roman Scandals (Tuttle)


The Scarlet Pimpernel (Young)


The Ghost Goes West (Clair)


Thunder in the City (Gering)


The Adventures of Marco Polo (Mayo); The Divorce of Lady X (Whelan)


Idiot's Delight (Brown)


Abe Lincoln in Illinois (Cromwell); Rebecca (Hitchcock)


The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyler)


The Bishop's Wife (Koster)


Man on a Tightrope (Kazan); Main Street to Broadway (Garnett)


By SHERWOOD: plays—

The Road to Rome, New York, 1927.

The Queen's Husband, New York, 1928.

Waterloo Bridge, New York, 1930.

This Is New York, New York, 1931.

Reunion in Vienna, New York, 1932.

The Petrified Forest, New York, 1935.

Idiot's Delight, New York, 1936.

Tovarich, New York, 1937.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois, New York, 1939.

There Shall Be No Night, New York, 1940.

Miss Liberty, New York, 1948.

Small War on Murray Hill, New York, 1957.

By SHERWOOD: other books—

(Editor), The Best Moving Pictures of 1922–23, Boston, Massachusetts, 1923.

The Virtuous Knight (novel), New York, 1931, as The Unending Crusade, London, 1932.

The Ghost Goes West (script) in Successful Film Writing, by Seton Margrave, London, 1936.

The Adventures of Marco Polo (script) in How to Write and Sell Film Stories, by Frances Marion, New York, 1937.

With Joan Harrison, Rebecca (script) in Twenty Best Film Plays, edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, New York, 1943.

Roosevelt and Hopkins, New York, 1948, as The White House Papers of Harry L. Hopkins, 2 vols., London 1948–49.

Robert E. Sherwood: Film Critic, Brooklyn, 1973.

By SHERWOOD: articles—

"Renaissance in Hollywood," in American Mercury (New York), April 1929.

Picturegoer (London), 11 August 1934.

Film Weekly (London), 2 July 1938.

"They're Film Writers, Not Juke Boxes," in New York Times Magazine, 2 December 1946.

On SHERWOOD: books—

Shuman, R. Baird, Robert E. Sherwood, New York, 1964.

Brown, John Mason, The Worlds of Robert E. Sherwood: Mirror to His Times 1896–1939, New York, 1965.

Brown, John Mason, The Ordeal of a Playwright: Robert E. Sherwood and the Challenge of War, New York, 1970.

Meserve, Walter J., Robert E. Sherwood, Reluctant Moralist, New York, 1970.

On SHERWOOD: articles—

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

Hagemann, E.R., "An Extraordinary Picture: The Film Criticism of Robert E. Sherwood," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), Spring 1972.

Film Comment (New York), September-October 1972.

Wolfe, Ralph Haven, in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.

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Robert E. Sherwood probably is best known for his plays (Waterloo Bridge, The Petrified Forest, Idiot's Delight, and Abe Lincoln in Illinois) and his book on President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Roosevelt and Hopkins). But it should not be forgotten that he had a long and distinguished association with the movies.

Sherwood began his association with the movies as a film critic for the humor magazine Life. His film criticism gave him an entree to Hollywood, and his first film work came in 1924 when he was paid the handsome sum of $2,500 to rewrite subtitles for the classic silent version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Sherwood probably did his best screenwriting for the producer Sam Goldwyn. In 1933 Robert Sherwood and George S. Kaufman turned George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion into Goldwyn's Roman Scandals, starring Eddie Cantor. But surely Sherwood's greatest effort in the movies came with Goldwyn's award-winning The Best Years of Our Lives. This classic film not only pleased the critics of its day but its reputation has remained high, as it is recognized as the best of Hollywood's many looks at the American soldier's reentry into society after the Second World War. The Best Years of Our Lives swept the Academy Awards of its day and continues to be regularly shown in revival houses, on the late show, and now on video cassette. Much of the credit for the film's touching dialogue belongs to Sherwood. It is also reported that Sherwood tendered many of the suggestions for the final cut, along with the director Wyler and Goldwyn. The Best Years of Our Lives stands as a great example of Hollywood filmmaking at its peak.

Sherwood also turned Daphne du Maurier's best-selling novel Rebecca into an equally popular film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Today Rebecca is remembered as Alfred Hitchcock's first Hollywood film. The writer also spent considerable time adapting his popular plays into movies. This series of adaptations reached a peak in the years immediately preceding the Second World War. Idiot's Delight, based on his 1936 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, was the first of his plays he adapted for the screen. Starring Norma Shearer and Clark Gable, the film was one of Hollywood's rare antiwar movies. Also adopted from a Sherwood Pulitzer Prize-winning play was Abe Lincoln in Illinois, in which Raymond Massey recreated an image of Lincoln which would stand paramount for a generation.

—Douglas Gomery