Robert E. Sherwood made his reputation as a dramatist, although he received considerable recognition and a Pulitzer Prize for Roosevelt and Hopkins (1948), a detailed historical study of the relationship between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins during the war years; the British edition, entitled The White House Papers of Harry Hopkins, followed in 1949. Sherwood also wrote The Virtuous Knight (1931), a badly received novel. Both of these works demonstrate Sherwood’s interest in history. The Virtuous Knight is set in the time of the Crusades and was a product of the period during which some of Sherwood’s plays, most notably The Road to Rome and Acropolis, were based on historical events.
Robert E. Sherwood was not a dramatic innovator. He produced fifteen full-length plays, two of which—The Love Nest and Tovarich—were adaptations, the former based on a Ring Lardner short story, the latter based on a comedy by Jacques Deval. Miss Liberty was a musical for which Irving Berlin wrote the music. Sherwood also wrote the ending for Philip Barry’s Second Threshold (pr. 1951) after Barry’s death. Nine of his plays ran for more than one hundred performances on Broadway, making them commercial successes. Abe Lincoln in Illinois had the longest run, 472 performances.
Sherwood received Pulitzer Prizes in drama for Idiot’s Delight, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and There Shall Be No Night. Roosevelt and Hopkins won for Sherwood a fourth Pulitzer Prize. His film script The Best Years of Our Lives took an Academy Award for Best Screenplay of 1946, one of nine Academy Awards garnered by the film. Sherwood also received the Gold Medal for Drama of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1941, the Gutenberg Award in 1949, and the Bancroft Prize for Distinguished Writing in American History in 1949. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Dartmouth College (1940), Yale University (1941), Harvard University (1949), and Bishop’s University (1950).
Sherwood was also an activist in his profession and in national affairs. In 1935, he became secretary of the Dramatists’ Guild and rose to the presidency of that organization in 1937, the year in which he combined forces with Maxwell Anderson, S. N. Behrman, Sidney Howard, and Elmer Rice to form the...
Alonso, Harriet Hyman. Robert E. Sherwood: The Playwright in Peace and War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007. This is an extensively researched biography that sheds light on the life and times of Sherwood and the ways in which he shaped American history.
Brown, John Mason. The Ordeal of a Playwright: Robert E. Sherwood and the Challenge of War. Edited by Norman Cousins. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. Brown’s uncompleted second biography furnishes a fragmentary but telling portrait of Sherwood as being wrenched away from devout pacifism to become aroused by world affairs. Includes an index and a complete text of There Shall Be No Night.
Brown, John Mason. The Worlds of Robert E. Sherwood: Mirror to His Times, 1897-1939. 1965. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. This thoroughly documented and admiring biography extends from Sherwood’s early childhood and up through his career as a critic and playwright to include the writing of Abe Lincoln in Illinois. Contains a list of Sherwood’s work and an index, in addition to twenty-eight illustrations of Sherwood, his family and friends, and several productions.
Meserve, Walter J. Robert E. Sherwood: Reluctant Moralist. New York: Pegasus, 1970. In addition to examining Sherwood as a dramatist, Meserve considers the playwright’s role as an adviser and speech writer for Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a prominent member of the Author’s League, and as a founding partner in the Playwright’s Company. The book offers a detailed analysis of all Sherwood’s plays and includes a bibliography and an index.
Mishra, Kshamanidhi. American Leftist Playwrights of the 1930’s: A Study of Ideology and Technique in the Plays of Odets, Lawson, and Sherwood. New Delhi, India: Classical, 1991. The author looks at the political and social views of Sherwood, Clifford Odets, and John Lawson. Includes bibliography.
Shuman, R. Baird. Robert E. Sherwood. New York: Twayne, 1964. An accessible and comprehensive biographical and critical treatment of the playwright and his work. It contains a chronology, a detailed examination of Sherwood’s plays within the context of his life and career, and an annotated listing of secondary sources.