Irwin Shaw Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Irwin Gilbert Shaw was the son of William Shamoroff, a Russian Jewish immigrant, and Rose Tompkins Shamoroff, an American-born daughter of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. In 1923 his father, having begun an initially successful career as a real estate developer, changed the family name to Shaw. The Great Depression destroyed William Shaw’s business; after 1932 he was unable to support his family.

Irwin Shaw attended tuition-free Brooklyn College, graduating with a B.A. in 1934, while holding various temporary positions. The most profitable of these was writing dialogue for the Dick Tracy and The Gumps radio serials, an activity permitting him to provide for his parents and younger brother while learning techniques he would put to effective use in his plays and short stories. In 1935 Shaw heard of a playwrighting contest sponsored by the New Theater League; although he did not win the prize, the group staged his play. The one-act Bury the Dead opened for two performances, March 14-15, 1936, before moving to another theater for an extended run. The experimental antiwar drama won almost universal praise, and the twenty-three-year-old author became an overnight celebrity, hailed as a major new American playwright.

Success brought Shaw a contract to write film scripts for Hollywood, the first of many occasions when he would use lucrative earnings from film work to support his serious writing and to maintain a luxurious lifestyle. In Hollywood, during the summer of 1936, Shaw met and fell in love with a young starlet, Marian Edwards. After living together for several years, they married on October 13, 1939. Their son Adam was born on March 27, 1950.

While working on his radio serials, Shaw began writing short stories. Appearing in The New Yorker, Esquire, and other magazines in the late 1930’s and 1940’s, they established his reputation as a master of short fiction. In 1939 he published the first of a dozen collections of short stories, winning praise from critics....

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Irwin Shaw began professional writing for the New Republic after graduating from Brooklyn College. He worked as a drama critic and teacher of creative writing before serving in the army from 1942 to 1945, and during the war he spent time in Africa, England, France, and Germany. He was a member of the Author’s Guild, Dramatist’s Guild, and Screen Writer’s Guild, and he received a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant in 1946. He was married and had one son. In 1951 he moved to Europe. In his later years, Shaw lived in Switzerland but spent his summers in Southampton, New York. On May 16, 1984, Irwin Shaw died, the result of a heart attack, in a hospital in Davos, Switzerland. He was seventy-one.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207208-Shaw.jpg Irwin Shaw Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff (his father changed the family name to Shaw) has been most widely acclaimed as a writer of ironically urbane short stories, which helped to define what many think of as “The New Yorker story,” and for The Young Lions, which remains one of the most noteworthy American novels about World War II. Shaw was born in New York City on February 27, 1913, to William Shaw and Rose (Tompkins) Shaw. He attended public schools in Brooklyn before enrolling in Brooklyn College. After his freshman year, however, he was forced to withdraw from college because of academic difficulties. For the next several years, he worked in a variety of jobs in local factories and retail stores in order to make his reenrollment financially feasible. In 1934 he graduated from Brooklyn College with a B.A. degree, having distinguished himself by writing several plays for the college dramatic society and a regular column for the college newspaper. He also played quarterback for the varsity football team.

After graduation, Shaw helped to support his family by writing radio scripts for the serials Dick Tracy and The Gumps. In 1936 he submitted Bury the Dead to the New Theater League, and after several Off-Broadway performances, it was produced on Broadway, establishing Shaw as an important new voice in the American theater. The play concerns the refusal of six ordinary soldiers to be buried after they have been killed in battle. In technique, it owes much to the experimental German theater of the 1920’s; in tone and theme, it is distinctly American, resembling much of the antiwar literature that followed World War I.

The success of Bury the Dead led to a Hollywood contract. Shaw’s second stage play, The Gentle People, was produced on Broadway by the Group Theater. Also during this time he published his first collection of short stories, Sailor off the Bremen, and Other Stories. The Gentle People had more commercial success than Bury the Dead, but the critical response was...

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