(February 27 1913
– May 16 1984
) was an American playwright, screenwriter and novelist who was also a highly regarded short story author.
Shaw was born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff
in the South Bronx
, New York City
, to Russian Jewish immigrants
. His parents were Rose and Will. His younger brother, David Shaw, became a noted Hollywood producer. David died in 2007. Shortly after Irwin's birth, the Shamforoffs moved to Brooklyn
, and Shaw 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.
Shaw began screenwriting in 1935 at the age of 21, and scripted 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 Life," about a hack radio writer grinding out one script after another while calculating the number of words equal to the rent money:
- Furniture, and a hundred and thirty-seven dollars. His mother had always wanted a good dining-room table. She didn't have a maid, she said, so he ought to get her a dining room table. How many words for a dining-room table?
In 1936, Shaw's first play, Bury the Dead, about a group of soldiers killed in a battle who refuse to be buried, was produced. During the 1940s, Shaw wrote for a number of films, including Talk of the Town (a comedy about civil liberties), The Commandos Strike at Dawn (based on a C.S. Forester story about commandos in occupied Norway) and Easy Living (about a football player unable to enter the game due to a medical condition). Shaw married Marian Edwards (daughter of well known screen actor Snitz Edwards.) They had one son, Adam Shaw, born in 1950, himself a writer of magazine articles and non-fiction.
Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Army
and was a warrant officer
during World War II
. The Young Lions
, Shaw's first novel, was published in 1949
. Based on his experiences in Europe during the war, the novel was very successful and was adapted into a 1958 film. Although the adaptation was as faithful as could be expected of Hollywood in 1958, Shaw was not happy with it.
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. Falsely 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 (based on Eugene O'Neill's play) and Fire Down Below (about a tramp boat in the Caribbean).
While living in Europe, Shaw wrote more bestselling books, notably Lucy Crown (1956), Two Weeks in Another Town (1960), Rich Man, Poor Man (1970) (for which he would later write a less successful sequel entitled Beggarman, Thief) and Evening in Byzantium (made into a 1978 TV movie). Rich Man, Poor Man was adapted into a highly successful ABC television miniseries in 1976.
His novel Top of the Hill, about the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980, was made into a TV movie, starring Wayne Rogers, Adrienne Barbeau, and Sonny Bono.
His last two novels were Bread Upon the Waters (1981) and Acceptable Losses (1982). He died on 16 May 1984, after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
Shaw was highly regarded as a short story author, contributing to Collier's
, Esquire, The New Yorker
, The Saturday Evening Post
, and other magazines; and 63 of his best stories were collected in Short Stories: Five Decades
(Delacorte, 1978), reprinted in 2000 as a 784-page University of Chicago Press paperback. Three of his stories ("The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," "The Monument," "The Man Who Married a French Wife") were dramatized for the PBS
series Great Performances
. Telecast on 1 June
1981, this production was released on DVD in 2002 by Kultur Video.
During 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. He died in Davos, Switzerland
, aged 71.