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Sidney Coe Howard (26 June 1891 – 23 August 1939) was an American playwright and screenwriter. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1925 and a posthumous Academy Award in 1940 for the screenplay for Gone with the Wind.


Early life

Howard was born in Oakland, Californiamarker, the son of Helen Louise Coe and John Lawrence Howard. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeleymarker in 1915 and went on to Harvard Universitymarker to study the art of playwriting under George Pierce Baker in his "47 workshop." Along with other students of Harvard professor A. Piatt Andrew, Sidney Howard volunteered with Andrew's American Field Service, serving in France and the Balkans during World War I. After the War, Howard, competent at foreign languages, translated a number of literary works from French, Spanish, Hungarian and German.


A particular admirer of the understated realism of French playwright Charles Vildrac, Howard adapted two of his plays into English, under the titles, S. S. Tenacity (1929) and Michael Auclair (1932). One of his greatest successes on Broadway was an adaptation of a French comedy by Rene Fauchois, The Late Christopher Bean. In 1921, Howard had his first Broadwaymarker production, with a neo-romantic verse drama, Swords, which failed to win approval from either audiences or critics. It was with his realistic romance, They Knew What They Wanted in 1924 that Howard found recognition. The story of a middle-aged Italian vineyard owner who woos a young woman by mail with a false snapshot of himself, married her, and then forgives her when she becomes pregnant by one of his farm hands, it was praised for its non-judgmental and unmelodramatic view of adultery, and its warm-hearted, tolerant view of all its characters. The play won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was thrice adapted into film (1928, 1930, and 1940) and later became the Broadway musical, The Most Happy Fella. Lucky Sam McCarver, a coolly observed, unsentimental account of the marriage of a New York speakeasy owner on his way up in the world with a self-destructive socialite on her way down, failed to attract audiences but won the admiration of some reviewers. The Silver Cord, a drama about a mother who is pathologically close to her sons and works to undermine their romances, was one of the most successful plays of the 1926-27 Broadway season. Yellow Jack an historical drama about the war against yellow fever was praised for its high purpose and innovative staging when it premiered in 1934.

A prolific writer, and a founding member of the Playwrights' Company, he wrote or created more than seventy plays; he also directed and produced a number of works. In 1922 he married actress Clare Eames (1896-1930) who had played the female lead in Swords. She went on to star in Howard's Lucky Sam McCarver (1925), and Ned McCobb's Daughter (1926) on Broadway, and The Silver Cord in London (1927). Clare Eames was the niece of opera singer Emma Eames on her father's side, and of the inventor Hiram Percy Maxim on her mother's side, and a granddaughter of former Maryland governor, William Thomas Hamilton. Howard and Eames had a daughter, Jennifer Howard. They separated in 1927, and Howard's anger and frustration at the disintegration of his marriage is reflected in his bitter satire of modern matrimony, Half Gods (1929). Following the unexpected death of Eames in 1930, Sidney Howard married Leopoldine (Polly) Damrosch, daughter of the conductor Walter Johannes Damrosch in 1931, with whom he had three children.

Hired by Samuel Goldwyn, Howard worked in Hollywoodmarker, writing a number of very successful screenplays. In 1932, Howard was nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel Arrowsmith, and again in 1936 for Dodsworth, which he had adapted for the stage in 1934. Posthumously, he won the 1939 Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for Gone with the Wind (he was the only one honored, despite the fact that his script was revised by several other writers). This was the first time a posthumous nominee for any Oscar won the award.

Accidental Death

A lover of the quiet rural life, Sidney Howard died in Tyringham, Massachusettsmarker while working on his 700-acre hobby farm. Howard was crushed to death in a garage by his two and one half ton tractor. He had turned the ignition switch on and was cranking the engine to start it when it lurched forward, pinning him against the wall of the garage. Apparently an employee had left the transmission in high gear.

He is buried in the Tyringham Cemetery.

Howard left behind a number of unproduced works. Lute Song, an adaptation of an old Chinese play co-written with Will Irwin, premiered on Broadway in 1946. A lighthearted reworking of the Faust legend, Madam, Will You Walk?, closed out of town when produced by the Playwrights Company in 1939, but was more warmly received as the first production of the Phoenix Theatre in 1953.


In 1950, Howard's daughter Jennifer Howard (1925-1993) married Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. with whom she had four children including business executive Francis Goldwyn, actor Tony Goldwyn and studio executive, John Goldwyn.


Further reading

Arthur Gewirtz. Sidney Howard and Clare Eames: American Theater's Perfect Couple of the 1920s. Jefferson: McFarland Publishers, 2004. ISBN 0-7864-1751-X

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