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Howard Ashman

Howard Ashman

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Also Known As: Howard Elliot Ashman Died: March 14, 1991
Born: May 17, 1950 Cause of Death: complications resulting from AIDS
Birth Place: Baltimore, Maryland, USA Profession: lyricist, producer, director, librettist, playwright, theater administrator, screenwriter, book editor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

This celebrated producer and stage director is remembered as the lyricist for three of Disney animated blockbusters of the late 1980s and early 90s, including "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). Howard Ashman actually began his professional career as a book editor at Grosset & Dunlap before becoming artistic director of the newly-revived WPA Theatre in New York in 1977. Despite his administrative duties, he found time to write and direct. His first two efforts, "'Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark" and "Dreamstuff" (both 1976) were met with mixed results. After a directing stint at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, Ashman returned to Manhattan and launched "Little Shop of Horrors". The hit Off-Broadway musical based on Roger Corman's 1961 minor classic centered on the improbable relationship between a nebbish and a man-eating plant. Working with composer Alan Menken, Ashman wrote the book and lyrics and directed the original 1982 production. Its success seemed to bode a major career for Ashman, but he stumbled with his follow-up stage effort, the 1986 Broadway musical "Smile". Adapted from Michael Ritchie's 1975 satire, "Smile" teamed the lyricist-director with Marvin...

This celebrated producer and stage director is remembered as the lyricist for three of Disney animated blockbusters of the late 1980s and early 90s, including "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). Howard Ashman actually began his professional career as a book editor at Grosset & Dunlap before becoming artistic director of the newly-revived WPA Theatre in New York in 1977. Despite his administrative duties, he found time to write and direct. His first two efforts, "'Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark" and "Dreamstuff" (both 1976) were met with mixed results. After a directing stint at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, Ashman returned to Manhattan and launched "Little Shop of Horrors". The hit Off-Broadway musical based on Roger Corman's 1961 minor classic centered on the improbable relationship between a nebbish and a man-eating plant. Working with composer Alan Menken, Ashman wrote the book and lyrics and directed the original 1982 production. Its success seemed to bode a major career for Ashman, but he stumbled with his follow-up stage effort, the 1986 Broadway musical "Smile". Adapted from Michael Ritchie's 1975 satire, "Smile" teamed the lyricist-director with Marvin Hamlisch and while there was much to admire in the project, the overall result failed to impress critics or find an audience.

The same year that "Smile" folded, the film version of "Little Shop of Horrors" debuted. A modest success, the film brought Ashman and Menken their first Oscar nomination for Best Song for their original, rhythm-and-blues tinged "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space". The Walt Disney Company approached the pair in 1986 about collaborating on an animated feature; the result was 1989's "The Little Mermaid". Menken and Ashman produced seven songs for the film, including "Part of Your World", "Kiss the Girl" and the Oscar-winning "Under the Sea". Ashman's lyrics brought a contemporary tenor to the project and in his function as one of the film's producer, he brought a unifying concept, utilizing standard conventions of Broadway musicals. Their follow-up, "Beauty and the Beast" (1991), was acclaimed as one of the year's best films and earned a surprising Best Picture Oscar nomination. With strong, well-defined characters and a classic, timeless love story, the creators again approached the material more as a stage musical than an animated feature. From its spirited opening number ("Belle") to the showstopper ("Be Our Guest") to the lovely eleven o'clock title tune, "Beauty and the Beast" followed the contours of a book show. (These three songs garnered Oscar nominations, with the award going to the latter.) It was not unexpected when Disney announced its first theatrical production would be a stage version of this instant classic.

Suffering with complications from AIDS, Ashman still persevered and began working on a third animated feature, "Aladdin" (1992). While he died before the film was completed, he nevertheless had completed half the irreverent lyrics, earning another posthumous Oscar nomination for the Genie's showstopping "Friend Like Me". Four years after his death, the lyricist was saluted with "Hundreds of Hats", a revue of his songs produced by the theater he had co-founded, the WPA.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

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Milestones close milestones

1974:
Moved to New York; became an editor at Grosset & Dunlap
1976:
First produced play, "'Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark"
1977:
Worked as artistic director of the off-off-Broadway WPA Theater from the time of the theater's re-opening
1979:
Garnered attention as lyricist, co-librettist (with Dennis Green) and director of "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater"; also marked first collaboration with composer Alan Menken
1982:
Directed and wrote the book and lyrics for the Off-Broadway hit "Little Shop of Horrors"; music by Menken
1986:
Broadway debut as director, book writer and lyricist (to Marvin Hamlisch's music), "Smile", a musical adapted from Michael Ritchie's satirical 1975 film
1988:
Debut as film/animation lyricist, "Oliver and Company"
1989:
Produced and wrote the song lyrics for the Disney animated feature "The Little Mermaid"; won first Academy Award for the song "Under the Sea", written with Alan Menken
1991:
Served as executive producer and song lyricist for Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"; received a posthumous Best Song Oscar for the title tune
1992:
Final feature credit, as co-lyricist for Disney's "Aladdin"; film completed and released after Ashman's death
1995:
Was the subject of the musical revue "Hundreds of Hats" at the WPA Theatre in NYC
2008:
Received a posthumous Tony award nomination for the Broadway musical version of "The Little Mermaid"
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Education

Boston University: Boston , Massachusetts -
Goddard College: Plainfield , Vermont - 1971
Indiana University: Bloomington , Indiana - 1974

Notes

"The intensity of a life coming to an end really came through in those songs [for "Beauty and the Beast"]. It's tragic what didn't get written. We had a great career ahead of us, and when [Ashman] died I really did feel that my career was going to die with his passing." --Alan Menken on working with Howard Ashman in THE NEW YORK TIMES, July 13, 1997

The film "Beauty and the Beast" carried the dedication: "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul."

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Bill Lauch. Architect. Accepted Ashman's posthumous 1991 Best Song Oscar for "Beauty and the Beast" at the Academy Awards.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Raymond Albert Ashman. Ice cream cone manufacturer.
mother:
Shirley Thelma Ashman.

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