Howard Elliott Ashman
May 17, 1950
|Died||March 14, 1991 (aged 40)|
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||Oheb Shalom Cemetery|
|Alma mater||Indiana University (1974)|
|Occupation||Lyricist, librettist, musician|
(m. 1984; Ashman’s death 1991)
|Awards||Disney Legend (2001)|
Howard Elliott Ashman (May 17, 1950 – March 14, 1991) was an American playwright and lyricist. He collaborated with Alan Menken on several works and is most widely known for several animated feature films for Disney, for which Ashman wrote the lyrics and Menken composed the music. Ashman and Menken began their collaboration with the musical God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1979), for which Ashman directed and wrote both book and lyrics. Their next musical, Little Shop of Horrors (1982) for which Ashman again directed and wrote both book and lyrics, became a long-running success and led to a 1986 feature film. The partnership's first Disney film was The Little Mermaid (1989), followed by Beauty and the Beast (1991). After his death, some of Ashman's songs were included in another Disney film, Aladdin (1992).
Early life and education
Ashman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Shirley Thelma (née Glass) and Raymond Albert Ashman, an ice cream cone manufacturer. His family was Jewish. Ashman first studied at Boston University and Goddard College (with a stop at Tufts University's Summer Theater) and then went on to earn his master's degree from Indiana University in 1974.
After graduating from Indiana in 1974 he moved to New York and worked as an editor at Grosset & Dunlap. His first two plays, Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark and Dreamstuff, were met with mixed reviews. His play The Confirmation was produced in 1977 at Princeton's McCarter Theater and starred Herschel Bernardi. In 1977 he became the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. He met future collaborator Alan Menken at the BMI Workshop, where he was classmates with Maury Yeston and Ed Kleban, among others. He first worked with Menken on the 1979 musical Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, adapted from Vonnegut's novel of the same name. They also collaborated on Little Shop of Horrors with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics. He also directed the workshop of Nine by Yeston at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, and after asking why Guido's wife stays with him after she knows he has not been faithful, inspired Yeston to write "My Husband Makes Movies".
Ashman was director, lyricist, and book writer for the 1986 Broadway musical Smile (music by Marvin Hamlisch). Also in 1986, Ashman wrote the screenplay for the Frank Oz–directed film adaptation of his musical Little Shop of Horrors, as well as contributing the lyrics for two new songs, "Some Fun Now" and "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," the latter of which received an Academy Award nomination.
In 1986, Ashman was brought in to write lyrics for a song in Disney's Oliver & Company. While there, he was told about another project that they had been working on for a couple years. The film was The Little Mermaid, Disney's first fairy tale in 30 years. Ashman, along with Alan Menken, wrote all of the songs for the film. Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the Disney Renaissance. He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. He also made strong choices in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. The Little Mermaid was released in November 1989 and it was an enormous success. Ashman and Menken received two Golden Globe nominations and three Academy Award nominations including two for "Kiss The Girl" and "Under The Sea" with Ashman winning both awards for the latter.
In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin to Disney. After he wrote a group of songs with partner Alan Menken, and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements then joined the production, and the story underwent many changes, with some elements of the original treatment being dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Ashman's songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.
During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help reinvigorate and save the production of Beauty and the Beast, which was going nowhere as a non-musical. Ashman, wishing to focus on Aladdin and his health, reluctantly agreed. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and is dedicated to him.
Along with Menken, Ashman was the co-recipient of two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards. Upon receiving his second Academy Award posthumously, William P. "Bill" Lauch, his partner, accepted the award in his stead.
Illness and death
On the night of the 62nd Academy Awards, Ashman told Menken that they needed to talk when they got back to New York, where he revealed to Menken that he was sick and HIV/AIDS positive. He had been diagnosed in 1988, halfway through production of The Little Mermaid. During the making of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators were flown to work with Ashman at his home in Fishkill, New York. He grew weaker but he remained productive and continued to write songs. After the first screening for Beauty and the Beast on March 10, 1991, the animators visited Ashman in the hospital. He weighed 80 pounds, had lost his sight, and could barely speak. The animators and producer Don Hahn told him that the film was incredibly well received by the press. In the early morning of March 14, he died from heart failure caused by HIV/AIDS at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan at the age of 40. Beauty and the Beast is dedicated "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950–1991." He is buried in Oheb Shalom Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.
Awards and nominations
Over the course of his career, Howard Ashman won two Academy Awards (one posthumous) out of seven nominations. Of these nominations, four are posthumous nominations, the most in Academy Awards history. He also won a posthumous Laurence Olivier Award and five Grammy Awards (three of them posthumous), among other accolades.
- 1990 – Special Award for outstanding contribution to the success of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' anti-drug special for children, for the song "Wonderful Ways to Say No" from the TV special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue
- 2001 – Disney Legend Award (POSTHUMOUS)
On the 2002 Special Edition DVD of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators teamed up again and added a new song called "Human Again", which Ashman and Menken had written for the film, but was cut from the finished film. On Disc 2, there is a short documentary entitled Howard Ashman: In Memoriam that features many people who worked on Beauty and the Beast who talk about Howard's involvement on the film and how his death was truly a loss for them.
In March 2017, Don Hahn confirmed he was working on a documentary biographical film about Howard Ashman. The documentary film titled Howard premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, 2018, before having a limited theatrical run on December 18, 2018. It was released on Disney+ on August 7, 2020.
- The Confirmation (1977) (writer)
- God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1979) (lyricist, librettist and director)
- Little Shop of Horrors (1982) (lyricist, librettist and director)
- Smile (1986) (lyricist, librettist and director)
- Little Shop of Horrors (1986) (lyricist and screenwriter)
- Oliver & Company (1988) (lyricist for "Once Upon A Time in New York City")
- The Little Mermaid (1989) (lyricist, producer, additional dialogue)
- Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue (1990) (lyricist for "Wonderful Way To Say No")
- Beauty and the Beast (1991) (lyricist, executive producer) (dedicated)
- Aladdin (1992) (lyricist for "Arabian Nights", "Friend Like Me", and "Prince Ali").
- Obituary Variety, March 18, 1991.
- Robinson, Joanna (April 20, 2018). "Inside the Tragedy and Triumph of Disney Genius Howard Ashman". Vanity Fair. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
- "Howard Ashman Biography (1950–1991)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
- "Don Hahn interview: Beauty And The Beast, Howard Ashman, The Lion King, South Park and Frankenweenie". Den of Geek. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Glassman, Marvin. "'Beauty' cast member proud of her Jewish roots". Jewish Journal. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- "ATW's Working in the Theatre #67 Playscript (Winter 1982)". YouTube.
- "Aladdin: Crew Reunion". Animated Views. Retrieved May 31, 2009.
- "Top 10 Notable People Who Died From AIDS – Listverse". Listverse. December 1, 2011. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
- Blau, Eleanor (March 15, 1991). "Howard Ashman Is Dead at 40; Writer of 'Little Shop of Horrors'". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company.
- Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786479924.
- Howard Ashman: A short tribute. YouTube. August 19, 2013. Event occurs at 2:19.
- Hetrick, Adam (March 7, 2017). "Beauty and the Beast Lyricist Howard Ashman Subject of New Documentary Film". Playbill. New York City: Playbill, Inc. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
- Ramos, Dino-Ray (April 11, 2018). "'Howard' Clip: Tribeca Docu Spotlights Oscar-Winning Disney Lyricist Howard Ashman". Deadline Hollywood. Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation. Retrieved April 20, 2018.