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Irwin Shaw

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Title: Irwin Shaw  
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Subject: Publishers Weekly list of bestselling novels in the United States in the 1970s, Beggarman, Thief, Lucy Crown, Rich Man, Poor Man, The Young Lions
Collection: 1913 Births, 1984 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Dramatists and Playwrights, 20Th-Century American Novelists, American Male Dramatists and Playwrights, American Male Novelists, American Male Screenwriters, American Military Personnel of World War II, American People of Russian-Jewish Descent, American Screenwriters, Hollywood Blacklist, Jewish American Dramatists and Playwrights, Jewish American Novelists, People from the Bronx, Plays by Irwin Shaw, Writers from Brooklyn, Writers from New York City
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Irwin Shaw

Irwin Shaw
Irwin Shaw in his CUNY years.
Born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff
(1913-02-27)February 27, 1913
Bronx, New York City, United States
Died May 16, 1984(1984-05-16) (aged 71)
Davos, Switzerland
Occupation Playwright, Screenwriter, Novelist
Nationality American
Notable works Bury the Dead (1936)
The Young Lions (1948)
Rich Man, Poor Man (1969)
Notable awards O. Henry Award (1944, 1945)
National Institute of Arts and
Letters Grant
Playboy Award (1964, 1970, 1979)
Honorary Doctorate, Brooklyn College
Spouse Marian Edwards (1916-1996)

Irwin Shaw (February 27, 1913 – May 16, 1984) was a prolific 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 (1948), about the fate of three soldiers during World War II, made into a film of the same name starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, and Rich Man, Poor Man (1970), about the fate of three siblings after World War II, that was made into a popular miniseries starring Nick Nolte. Though Shaw's work received widespread critical acclaim, the success of his commercial fiction ultimately diminished his literary reputation.


  • Personal life 1
  • Career 2
    • Drama 2.1
    • Novels 2.2
    • Short stories 2.3
    • Awards 2.4
  • Works 3
    • Novels 3.1
    • Short-story collections 3.2
    • Nonfiction 3.3
    • Plays 3.4
    • Screenplays 3.5
  • Further reading 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Personal life

Shaw was born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff in the South Bronx, New York City, to Russian Jewish immigrants.[1] His parents were Rose and Will. His younger brother, David Shaw, became a noted Hollywood producer and writer.[2] 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. Shaw died in Davos, Switzerland on May 16, 1984, aged 71, after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.[3]



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 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 (1936) 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 (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 summered at the John Garfield, Frances Farmer, Will Geer, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb.[4][5]


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 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.

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 (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 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.[6]

His last two novels were Bread Upon the Waters (1981) and Acceptable Losses (1982).

Short stories

Shaw 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 (Delacorte, 1978), 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 ("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 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.


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.


Further reading

  • Michael Shnayerson. Irwin Shaw, A Biography. G. P. Putnam's Sons: 1989. illustrated. ISBN 0-399-13443-3
  • Vince Keenan (2012-01-09). "Book Review: Nightwork, by Irwin Shaw (1975)". Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  • Irwin Shaw, "The Girls in Their Summer Dresses."


  1. ^ "Transport Group to Present Revival of Shaw's 'Bury the Dead' Starting 10/31". Retrieved 2013-12-11. 
  2. ^ "Golden Era Scribe David Shaw Dies".  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Pinewood Lake website retrieved on 2010-09-10
  5. ^ Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
  6. ^ Top of the Hill" at IMDB""". 

External links

  • Brooklyn College Archives
  • LitWeb: Irwin Shaw
  • George Plimpton and John Phillips (Winter 1953). "Irwin Shaw, The Art of Fiction No. 4". The Paris Review. 
  • Lucas Matthiessen, Willie Morris, John Marquand (Spring 1979). "Irwin Shaw, The Art of Fiction No. 4 (Continued)". The Paris Review. 
  • Irwin Shaw at the Internet Movie Database Retrieved on 2008-02-07
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