Irwin Shaw

Irwin Shaw (February 27, 1913 May 16, 1984) was an 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 two siblings after World War II. In 1976, it was made into a popular miniseries starring Peter Strauss, Nick Nolte, and Susan Blakely.

Irwin Shaw
Irwin Shaw in his CUNY years.
BornIrwin Gilbert Shamforoff
(1913-02-27)February 27, 1913
Bronx, New York City, United States
DiedMay 16, 1984(1984-05-16) (aged 71)
Davos, Switzerland
OccupationPlaywright, Screenwriter, Novelist
Notable worksBury the Dead (1936)
The Young Lions (1948)
Rich Man, Poor Man (1969)
Beggarman, Thief (1977)
Notable awardsO. Henry Award (1944, 1945)
National Institute of Arts and
Letters Grant
Playboy Award (1964, 1970, 1979)
Honorary Doctorate, Brooklyn College
SpouseMarian Edwards (1916-1996)

Personal life

Shaw was born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff in the South Bronx, New York City, to Jewish immigrants from Russia.[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.

He began screenwriting in 1935 at age 21. In 1939 he married actress and producer Marian Edwards daughter of silent film actor Snitz Edwards. [3] The couple divorced in 1967, remarrying two years before Irwin's death in 1982.

During World War II, he was approached by William Wyler to join his film unit. Unable to be commissioned as an officer due to his age and 1-A draft status,[4] Shaw decided to enter the Regular Army. Later, the Army, noting his background, sent him to George Stevens' film unit.[5] He was one of four writers attached to Stevens' command, in which he became a warrant officer. After the war, he returned to his career as a writer.

Shaw died in Davos, Switzerland on May 16, 1984, at age 71, after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.[6]



In the 1930s, Shaw wrote scripts 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:

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?

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 Pine Brook Country Club, located in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut, which became the 1936 summer home of the Group Theatre (New York), whose roster included Elia Kazan, Harold Clurman, Harry Morgan, John Garfield, Frances Farmer, Will Geer, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb.[7][8]

Novels and Miniseries

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, feeling it soft-pedaled some of the serious issues from his book, but it did well at the box office.

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[9] (made into a 1978 TV movie).

Rich Man, Poor Man was adapted into a highly successful ABC television miniseries with six 2-hour episodes shown for February 1 to March 15, 1976. The series ranked third in the seasonal Nielsens and garnered twenty-three Emmy nominations. A further adaptation, which Shaw had very little to do with, Rich Man, Poor Man--Book II was aired from Sept. 21, 1976, to March 8, 1977. This was not as successful as the first series.[10][11]

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.[12]

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". Emmys. August 20, 2007. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  4. Miller, Gabriel William Wyler: The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director University Press of Kentucky, 19 Jul. 2013
  5. Harris, Mark Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War Canongate Books, 20 Feb. 2014
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-10-22. Retrieved 2013-12-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. "Pinewood Lake website retrieved on 2010-09-10". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
  8. Images of America, Trumbull Historical Society, 1997, p. 123
  10. RICH MAN, POOR MAN: U.S. Miniseries, Museum of Broadcast Communications.
  11. Total Television: A Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present, Alex McNeil, Penguin Books, 1984.
  12. ""Top of the Hill" at IMDB".
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