He collaborated with Alan Menken on several films, notably animated features for Disney, Ashman writing the lyrics and Menken composing the music. He is also best known for being the lyricist of "Codinome Beija-Flor" and "O Tempo Não Para", two of the biggest hits of the Brazilian rock singer Cazuza, who also died of AIDS, 9 months before in 1990.
Ashman was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Shirley Thelma (née Glass) and Raymond Albert Ashman, an ice cream cone manufacturer. He was the artistic director of the WPA Theater in New York. 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. He first worked with Alan Menken on a 1979 musical adapted from Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. They also collaborated on Little Shop of Horrors with Ashman as director, lyricist, and librettist, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics.
Ashman was director, lyricist and bookwriter 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.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Howard Ashman was an American playwright and lyricist. His life partner was William P. "Bill" Lauch. He collaborated with Alan Menken on several films, notably animated features for Disney, Ashman writing the lyrics and Menken composing the music. He is also best known for being the lyricist of two of the biggest hits of the Brazilian rock singer Cazuza, who also died of AIDS, 9 months before in 1990. His second Academy Award in 1992 was accepted by his partner, Bill Lauch.
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 Menken, wrote all of the songs for the film. Ashman became a driving force in the Disney Company becoming as influential as Walt Disney. 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", for Ashman won both awards for the latter. Ashman and Menken worked with Disney again on their next project Beauty and the Beast. At the same time, they had started writing songs for a project that Ashman had put forward himself, Aladdin.
Along with Menken, Ashman was the co-recipient of two Grammy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards.
On the night of the Academy Awards, Ashman told Menken that they needed to have an important talk when they got back to New York. When they got back, he revealed to Menken that he was HIV positive. He had been diagnosed in 1988. During the making of Beauty and the Beast, the Disney animators were told to go work with Ashman and Menken in New York, but nobody told them why they were being flown out there. A lot of the animators thought it was because he was a big shot, but then it became clear to them that that he was seriously ill. He grew weaker, but he remained productive and continued to write songs. On March 10, 1991, the Disney animators had their first screening for Beauty and the Beast and it was an enormous success. Afterward, they visited Howard in the hospital. He was 80 pounds, lost all of his sight, and could barely speak. His mother showed the animators that he was wearing a Beauty and the Beast sweatshirt. The animators told him that the film was incredibly well received by the press and described to him in detail how it had gone. He nodded appreciatively to the news. As everyone said their goodbyes, producer Don Hahn leaned over to Howard and said, "Beauty and the Beast was going to be a great success. Who'd have thought it?", to which Ashman replied with "I would have." Four days later, on March 14, Ashman died following complications from AIDS at the age of 40 in New York City. Beauty and the Beast is dedicated to him: "To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950–1991."
Beauty and the Beast was released in November 1991, eight months after his death, and it was an enormous success, both financially and critically. The film received four Golden Globe nominations winning three (including Best Picture making it the first animated film to win) and six Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) winning two. Ashman was posthumously nominated for two Golden Globes ("Beauty and the Beast", "Be Our Guest") and three Academy Awards ("Beauty and the Beast", "Be Our Guest", "Belle"). He won both the Golden Globe and Academy Award for "Beauty and the Beast". His second Academy Award in 1992 was accepted by his partner, Bill Lauch.
Ashman and Menken had also written eleven songs intended for Aladdin. They had an idea for a song involving a magic carpet ride, but Ashman died before the song could be written. As a result, Menken wrote several new songs with Tim Rice. However, "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali" were the only songs that Ashman wrote to be included in the finished film. Aladdin was also an enormous critical and financial success. Ashman was once again posthumously nominated for two Golden Globes ("Friend Like Me", "Prince Ali") and one Academy Award ("Friend Like Me"). Rice paid tribute to Ashman while accepting the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "A Whole New World" on March 29, 1993.
Ashman was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 2001. On the 2001 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 passing was truly a loss for them.
An album of Ashman singing his own work entitled Howard Sings Ashman was released on November 11, 2008, by PS Classics as part of the Library of Congress "Songwriter Series."
The 2010 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, about Disney's animation renaissance, is dedicated to him, as well as Frank Wells, Joe Ranft, and Roy E. Disney.
Ashman was survived by his life partner Bill Lauch, his sister Sarah Ashman-Gillespie, and his mother Shirley Gershman.
Smile by Howard Ashman, Jerry Belson and Marvin Hamlisch
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Samuel French, Inc. (November 24, 2010)
Musical based upon the screenplay by Jerry Belson
Characters: 6 male, 7 female, plus ensemble
This touching and satiric musical by the creators of Little Shop of Horrors, A Chorus Line and They're Playing Our Song, follows the intrigue and exploits onstage and behind-the-scenes as Santa Rosa, California plays host to the Young American Miss Pageant.
"A swift paced and thoroughly professional entertainment."-Time
"Wonderful Marvin Hamlisch melodies. Smart, clever move the story lyrics from Howard Ashman...This is the best Broadway score in years...Smile? I did. Your will."-ABC
"This good looking show has a lot to like...Sit back and enjoy the pageant."-Women's Wear Daily
"Impressively crafted lyrics."-The New York Times
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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