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Biography of Howard Ashman
Howard Ashman (1951-1991) followed a distinguished career as a musical comedy librettist, lyricist, playwright, and director with his animated feature film debut, Disney's critically and popularly celebrated The Little Mermaid. Ashman received the 1989 Academy Award® for Best Song for "Under the Sea," written with his longtime collaborator, Alan Menken. Ashman and Menken garnered a total of six awards for The Little Mermaid, including two Academy Awards®, two Golden Globe Awards®, and two Grammy Awards®.
Born in Baltimore, Ashman received his education at Goddard College and Boston University, and earned an MFA from Indiana University. He moved to New York in 1974 and became an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, while he wrote plays, including 'Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark, The Confirmation, and Dreamstuff, a musical version of The Tempest. Dreamstuff marked the start of his association with the Off-Off Broadway WPA Theatre, of which he became Art Director when it reopened in the fall of 1977. Ashman was the WPA's guiding force from 1977 to 1982. In 1979, he and Alan Menken wrote a musical version of Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
Ashman's greatest success at WPA was the musical version of Roger Corman's film Little Shop of Horrors, also written with Alan Menken. The musical received many awards, including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the Best Musical of 1982-83. Little Shop of Horrors became the third longest-running musical in Off-Broadway history, as well as the highest-grossing musical in Off-Broadway history. The subsequent London production received the prestigious Evening Standard Award for Best Musical, and productions of Little Shop of Horrors were seen all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Mexico, Israel, South Africa, France, Austria, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Germany. Little Shop of Horrors is currently tied with Our Town as the most-produced play in high schools throughout America.
Little Shop of Horrors was subsequently filmed by Frank Oz for David Geffen. For the screen version, Ashman and Menken wrote two songs not included in the stage production. Ashman received his first Academy Award® nomination for Best Song, for "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space," in 1986.
Howard Ashman's unique theatrical gifts enabled him to create the book, lyrics, and direction for not only God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Little Shop of Horrors, but also for the 1986 Broadway production of Smile, written with Marvin Hamlisch, for which he received a Tony Award® nomination for Best Book.
Ashman completed work on the animated Disney feature Beauty and the Beast, as well as Aladdin, prior to his death in March 1991.