Robert Emmet Sherwood (April 4, 1896 – November 14, 1955) was an American playwright, editor, and screenwriter.
Born in New Rochelle, New York, he was a son of Arthur Murray Sherwood, a rich stockbroker, and his wife, the former Rosina Emmet, a well-known illustrator and portrait painter known as Rosina E. Sherwood. He was a great-great-grandson of the former New York State Attorney General Thomas Addis Emmet and a great-grandnephew of the Irish nationalist Robert Emmet who was executed for high treason in an abortive rebellion attempt against the British. His aunts included the notable American portrait artists Lydia Field Emmet, Jane Emmet de Glehn and his first cousin, once removed, was artist Ellen Emmet Rand. Sherwood was educated at Fay School, Milton Academy and then Harvard University. He fought with the Royal Highlanders of Canada, CEF in Europe during World War I and was wounded. After his return to the U.S., he began working as a movie critic for such magazines as Life and Vanity Fair. The career of Robert E. Sherwood as a critic in the 1920s is discussed in For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism by Time critic Richard Schickel who also tells how Sherwood was the first New York critic invited to Hollywood by cross-country train to meet the stars and directors.
Sherwood was one of the original members of the Algonquin Round Table. He was close friends with Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley, who were on the staff of Vanity Fair with Sherwood when the Round Table began meeting in 1919. Author Edna Ferber was also a good friend. Sherwood stood 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) tall. Dorothy Parker, who was 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 m), once commented that when she, Sherwood, and Robert Benchley (6 feet (1.8 m)) walked down the street together, they resembled "a walking pipe organ." When asked at a party how long he had known Sherwood, Benchley stood on a chair, raised his hand to the ceiling, and said, "I knew Bob Sherwood back when he was only this tall."
Sherwood's first Broadway play, The Road to Rome (1927), a comedy concerning Hannibal's botched invasion of Rome, introduced one of his favorite themes: the futility of war. Many of his later dramatic works employed variations of that motif, including Idiot's Delight (1936), which won Sherwood the first of four Pulitzer Prizes. According to legend, he once admitted to the gossip columnist Lucius Beebe, “The trouble with me is that I start with a big message and end up with nothing but good entertainment.”
Sherwood's Broadway success soon attracted the attention of Hollywood; he began writing for the silver screen in 1926. While some of his work went uncredited, his films included many adaptations of his plays. He also collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock and Joan Harrison in writing the screenplay for Rebecca (1940).
With Europe in the midst of World War II, Sherwood set aside his anti-war stance to support the fight against the Third Reich. His 1940 play about Russia's invasion of Finland, There Shall Be No Night, was produced by the Playwright's Company which he co-founded and starred Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, and Montgomery Clift. Katharine Cornell produced and starred in a 1957 TV adaptation on NBC. Sherwood publicly ridiculed isolationist Charles Lindbergh as a "Nazi with a Nazi's Olympian contempt for all democratic processes".
During this period Sherwood also served as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He recounted the experience in his book Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography and a 1949 Bancroft Prize. Sherwood is credited with originating the phrase that eventually evolved to "arsenal of democracy", a frequent catchphrase in Roosevelt's wartime speeches. Sherwood was quoted on May 12, 1940 by the New York Times, "This country is already, in effect, an arsenal for the democratic Allies."
After serving as Director of the Office of War Information from 1943 until the conclusion of the war, he returned to dramatic writing with the movie The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler. The 1946 film, which explores changes in the lives of three servicemen after they return home from war, earned Sherwood an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
Sherwood died of a heart attack in New York City in 1955. A production of Small War on Murray Hill debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 3, 1957.
Sherwood was portrayed by the actor Nick Cassavetes in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.
- The Road to Rome (1927)
- The Love Nest (1927)
- The Queen's Husband (1928); adapted into the 1931 film The Royal Bed.
- Waterloo Bridge (1930) - adapted into two American films and two Brazilian soap-operas
- This is New York (1930); adapted into the 1932 film Two Kinds of Women.
- Reunion in Vienna (1931); adapted into a 1933 film.
- Acropolis (1933)
- The Petrified Forest (1935) - adapted into 1936 film with Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart.
- Tovarich (1935) - from a French comedy by Jacques Deval - adapted into a 1937 film, and a 1963 musical with Vivien Leigh and Jean Pierre Aumont.
- Idiot's Delight (1936) Pulitzer Prize for Drama - adapted into 1939 film.
- Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1938) Pulitzer Prize for Drama - adapted into 1940 film. See Abe Lincoln in Illinois (film).
- There Shall Be No Night (1940) Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
- The Rugged Path (1945) starring Spencer Tracy
- Miss Liberty (1949 book for Irving Berlin musical)
- Small War on Murray Hill (1957; produced posthumously)
- Sherwood, Robert E. (1948). Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (First ed.). New York: Harper. OCLC 908375. 1949 Pulitzer Prize (Biography)
- Sherwood, Robert E. (1923). The Best Moving Pictures of 1922-1923, Also Who's Who in the Movies and the Yearbook of the American Screen (First ed.). Boston: Small, Maynard & Company.