Childhood & Early Life
Irwin Shaw was born on February 27, 1913, in South Bronx, New York City, to William Shamoroff, a Russian Jewish immigrant, and Rose Tompkins Shamoroff, an American-born Lithuanian Jewish immigrant. He had a younger brother, David Shaw, who became a famous Hollywood producer and writer.
The family moved to Brooklyn soon after his birth and by 1923 his father was a thriving real estate developer. However, the Great Depression gradually ruined his business and after 1932 he couldn’t sustain his family financially.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Shaw graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1934. While entering college, he changed his surname and worked in temporary positions to support his family.
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In 1935, Irwin Shaw began his career by writing dialogues for radio shows such as ‘Dick Tracy’, ‘The Gumps’ and ‘Studio One’. This helped him to hone his writing skill, as well as, support his family financially.
In 1936, he participated in a contest organised by the New Theatre League. Though he did not win, his one-act pacifist play ‘Bury the Dead’ appeared on Broadway and enjoyed an extended run in the theatres. It was an instant success and he became famous overnight. He went on to write other plays like ‘Siege’ (1937), ‘The Gentle People’ (1939) and ‘Quiet City’ (1939).
Next, he entered Hollywood and began writing scripts for films. In the 1940s, he wrote screenplays for films like ‘The Talk of the Town’ (1942), ‘The Commandos Strike at Dawn’ (1942), ‘Easy Living’ (1949), etc. The profitable income from these films helped him to finance his serious writings and afford a comfortable standard of living.
While working on film scripts, he began writing short stories. These appeared in prominent magazines like ‘The New Yorker’, ‘Esquire’, etc. and established him as a master of short narrative. The stories were acclaimed for their plots, narration, and characterization. Some of his collections of short stories published during this period are ‘Welcome to the City, and other Stories’ (1942), ‘Act of Faith, and other Stories’ (1946), etc.
He continued to write for the theatre and wrote plays such as ‘Retreat to Pleasure’ (1940), ‘Sons and Soldiers’ (1943), ‘The Assassin’ (1945) and ‘The Survivors’ (1948) all through the same period.
During World War II, he was recruited in the U.S. Army as a Warrant Officer. His first novel, ‘The Young Lions’ (1948), was based on his experiences in Europe during the war. The novel became a best-seller and was later adapted into a film in 1958.
On being accused of being a communist, he left the United States for Europe in 1951 and lived in Paris and Switzerland for 25 years. Thereafter, he dedicated most of his career to writing novels, short stories and occasionally film scripts.
He wrote twelve novels in total, including ‘The Troubled Air’ (1951), ‘Lucy Crown’ (1956), ‘Two Weeks in Another Town’ (1960), ‘Evening in Byzantium’ (1973), ‘Beggarman, Thief’ (1977), etc. His most popular novel, ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ (1970) was adapted into a successful television miniseries later in 1976.
While in Europe, he wrote several screenplays, such as ‘Act of Love’ (1953), ‘Fire Down Below’ (1957), ‘Desire Under the Elms’ (1958), ‘In the French Style’ (1963), etc. Furthermore, he published his collections of short stories like ‘Tip on a Dead Jockey, and other stories’ (1957), ‘Love on a Dark Street, and other stories’ (1965), ‘Short Stories: Five Decades’ (1978), etc.
He tried his hand at non-fiction writing as well, for example, ‘Paris! Paris!’ (1976). His concluding works were novels ‘Bread upon the Waters’ (1981) and ‘Acceptable Losses’ (1982).
His first one-act play ‘Bury the Dead’ (1935) made him an overnight success in America. The pacifist play highlighted the story of a group six dead soldiers killed in a war who refuse to be buried.
His experiences in Europe as part of the US army during World War II inspired his first novel ‘The Young Lions’ (1948). The story is about three young soldiers — a German and two Americans, during wartime.
His second novel, ‘The Troubled Air’ (1951) chronicled the rise of McCarthyism. Eventually, he was accused of being a communist and was placed on the Hollywood blacklist.
Personal Life & Legacy
Irwin Shaw married Marian Edwards, daughter of famous actor Snitz Edwards, on October 13, 1939. In 1950, their son Adam was born. Adam grew up to be a non-fiction and magazine-article writer.
Irwin Shaw died on May 16, 1984 in Davos, Switzerland, at the age of 71. He was suffering from prostate cancer.