Robert E. Sherwood
The Playwright in Peace and War
An insightful biography of a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer who struggled to reconcile his principles and his politics
One of the nation's first film critics, an acclaimed speechwriter on his own and for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a propagandist during World War II, and a leading producer on Broadway, Robert E. Sherwood scripted some of the most popular plays and films of his day, including Waterloo Bridge, The Best Years of Our Lives, Idiot's Delight, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and Rebecca. His work brought him four Pulitzer Prizes and an Oscar. In his personal life, however, he was driven by a deep conviction that war was a societal evil that must be eradicated and human rights a moral responsibility that all governments should protect. At times, his belief in pacifism and his commitment to defending freedom and justice came into conflict with each other, causing frustration and emotional trauma which found their way into his writings and actions.
In this book, Harriet Hyman Alonso unravels Sherwood's inner struggle and portrays his political journey. Relying largely on his letters, diaries, plays, films, essays, and biography of Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, she traces Sherwood's obsession with the world of politics and its effects on his life and art, from his experience as a soldier in World War I to the Cold War. She also describes his participation in the Algonquin Round Table, his friendships and working relationships with such notables as Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Edna Ferber, Spencer Tracy, Harry Hopkins, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, his two marriages and uneasy relationship with his daughter, and his leadership role in the Broadway community.
Alonso brings together history, theater and film studies, and peace studies in this interdisciplinary political biography. In the process, she illuminates major currents in U.S. foreign policy, society, and culture from 1896 to 1955—the years of the remarkable life of Robert E. Sherwood.
"Alonso's highly readable Robert E. Sherwood: The Playwright in Peace and War stands out for its timely themes: politics and international conflict. . . . Alonso . . . is particularly concerned with the swelling and ebbing of Sherwood's pacifism. Turned anti-military by World War I (he was gassed in the French trenches), the playwright experiences a "sea change" in opinion during the rise of fascism. Fortunately, Alonso's attention to this particular issue doesn't blinker the wider view: She channels her pacifism-related expertise into a comprehensive and authoritative consideration of Sherwoods's life as a whole."—American Theatre
"Alonso's engagingly written study is a welcome and original addtion to the field in that she provides a thorough single volume comprehensive biography of the playwright."—Theatre Survey
"This biography of Sherwood brilliantly demonstrates the complexity of pacifism as a personal belief system. . . . The writing is wonderful, the chapters are nicely balanced, and the organization of the material on both the personal life and the writings is excellent."—Melanie Gustafson, Department of History, University of Vermont
"This reader-friendly book written in lucid, accessible prose is an extraordinary accomplishment. . . . Alonso's handling of Sherwood's journey provides pleasure, joy, and engagement for anyone interested in pacifism, war, peace, politics, theater, history, and culture."—Howard Stein, emeritus, Center for Theatre Studies, Columbia University
". . . . a valuable book for the American historian, peace history scholar, or theater historian. . . . Harriet Hyman Alonso's devotion to her subject and dogged research is evidenced in the text and thorough bibliography. Her archival work is detailed and flawless. Her seamless intertwining of the historical and the theatrical makes this work an invaluable interdisciplinary contribution."—Peace & Change