Robert E. Sherwood

Robert E. Sherwood
Born (1896-04-04)April 4, 1896
New Rochelle, New York, U.S.
Died November 14, 1955(1955-11-14) (aged 59)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Author, playwright, screenwriter and historian
Alma mater Milton Academy
Harvard University
Spouse Madeline Hurlock (1935-55)
Mary Brandon (1922-34)
Magnum opus Waterloo Bridge
Idiot's Delight
Abe Lincoln in Illinois
There Shall Be No Night
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Bishop's Wife
Awards Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1936, 1939, 1941)
Academy Award for Best Screenplay (1947)
Pulitzer Prize for Biography (1948)

Robert Emmet Sherwood (April 4, 1896 – November 14, 1955) was an American playwright, editor, and screenwriter.


Robert E. Sherwood (early 1950s)

Born in New Rochelle, New York, he was a son of Arthur Murray Sherwood, a rich stockbroker, and his wife, the former Rosina Emmet, a well-known illustrator and portrait painter known as Rosina E. Sherwood. 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 in an abortive rebellion attempt against the British. His aunts included the notable American portrait artists Lydia Field Emmet, Jane Emmet de Glehn and his first cousin, once removed, was artist Ellen Emmet Rand. Sherwood was educated at Fay School,[1] 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 U.S., he began working as a movie critic for such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. The career of Robert E. Sherwood as a critic in the 1920s is discussed in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism by Time critic Richard Schickel who also tells 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."[2]

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.”[3]

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 Russia's invasion of Finland, There Shall Be No Night, was produced by the Playwright's Company which he co-founded and starred Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Montgomery Clift. Katharine Cornell produced and starred in a 1957 TV adaptation on NBC.[4] Sherwood publicly ridiculed isolationist Charles Lindbergh as a "Nazi with a Nazi's Olympian contempt for all democratic processes".[5]

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,[6] which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and a 1949 Bancroft Prize.[7] 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."[8]

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.[9]


Sherwood died of a heart attack in New York City in 1955. A production of Small War on Murray Hill debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 3, 1957.

Film portrayal

Sherwood was portrayed by the actor Nick Cassavetes in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.[10]




  1. Fischer, H.D. (2002). Complete Biographical Encyclopedia of Pulitzer Prize Winners 1917 - 2000: Journalists, writers and composers on their way to the coveted awards. De Gruyter. p. 221. ISBN 9783110955743. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  2. Wallace, D. Capital of the World: A Portrait of New York City in the Roaring Twenties. Lyons Press (2011), p. 175. ISBN 0762770104.
  3. Meserve, Walter J. (1970). Robert E. Sherwood: Reluctant Moralist. New York: Pegasus. p. 14.
  4. "The Paley Center for Media". Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  7. Alonso, HH. Robert E. Sherwood: The Playwright in Peace and War. Univ. of Mass. Press (2007), pp. 88-91. ISBN 978-1-55849-619-4
  8. Gould, Jack (May 12, 1940). The Broadway Stage Has Its First War Play. The New York Times. Quoting Robert Emmet Sherwood, "this country is already, in effect, an arsenal for the democratic Allies."
  9. Alonso (2007), p.143.
  10. "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) - Full Cast & Crew - IMDb". Retrieved 2015-05-15.
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