Robert Sherwood, wordman for FDR

September 4, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, journalism, writers, writing.

When Franklin Roosevelt was president during World War II, the words he spoke publicly took on a heightened importance and had to be weighed carefully. When he had to give a speech or a radio address, he turned to the people he trusted the most to help him weigh those words.

One of the people he turned to most often was Robert Sherwood.

Sherwood certainly knew his words.

Sherwood grew up near New York City, scion of a family deeply involved in the arts and letters. His mother was a prominent artist, and three of his relatives had been noted portraitists. Sherwood, after serving with the Canadian Royal Highlanders in World War I and being wounded, chose writing as a career.

He began as a film critic and quickly fell in with notable writers such as Edna Ferber, Robert Benchley, and Dorothy Parker. He was one of the original members of the Algonquin Roundtable, a group of prominent writers who met daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City for about ten years and became known for their repartee and wit.

Sherwood stood out among with group — literally. He was six-foot-eight-inches tall.

His writing was also noteworthy. His first Broadway play was produced in 1927, and his 1936 play Idiot’s Delight won him the first of three Pulitzer Prizes for playwriting. During World War II, he served as director of the Office of War Information and was often called upon by Roosevelt to help shape FDR’s ideas into coherent and inspiring sentences.

After the war, Sherwood wrote Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History, which won him his fourth Pulitzer in 1949, this time for biography and autobiography. Sherwood also wrote the screenplay for the movie The Best Years of Our Lives, which won an academy award for best screenplay in 1949.

Sherwood died suddenly of a heart attack in 1955 in New York City. He was only 59 years old.

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