"A good editor understands what you're talking and writing about and doesn't meddle too much.""A writer is a human being. He has to live with a sense of honor.""All writers are the same - they forget a thousand good reviews and remember one bad one.""An absolutely necessary part of a writer's equipment, almost as necessary as talent, is the ability to stand up under punishment, both the punishment the world hands out and the punishment he inflicts upon himself.""At the height of the McCarthy period, writers were being hounded.""Curiously, the United States is full of writers who have one big work in their life and that's all.""Ernest Hemingway did a great deal toward making the writer an acceptable public figure; obviously, he was no sissy.""Every novelist has a different purpose - and often several purposes which might even be contradictory.""I am forced to say that I have many fiercer critics than myself.""I cringe when critics say I'm a master of the popular novel. What's an unpopular novel?""I don't think that the writer is regarded as a freak by Americans.""I haven't stuck to any formula. Most great writers stick to the same style, but I wanted to be more various.""I imagine that my characters have become much more complicated than when I first began, which would be normal.""I never drink while I'm working, but after a few glasses I get ideas that would never have occurred to me dead sober.""I never show anything to anybody until I've finished it.""I reach my readers regardless of what the critics have written.""I'm not as hopeful as I was when I was young.""I've gone on the wagon, but my body doesn't believe it.""If you're young enough, any kind of writing you do for a short period of time is a marvelous apprenticeship.""In a novel, it's hard to keep track of everybody.""In America, we have the feeling of the doomed young artist. Fitzgerald was the great example of that.""In Europe, a writer is supposed to improve up until he's about 75.""In the theater, characters have to cut the umbilical cord from the writer and talk in their own voices.""Isaac Singer was born in Poland and doesn't write in English. Still, he's an American.""It's those damn critics again.""Kennedy was a man who liked writers and even I got invited to the White House.""My attitudes have changed, but somebody would have to read all my books to find out how they have.""My favorite short-story writer is John Cheever.""My views naturally have mellowed. Most of the critics have been more or less nice to me.""No writer need feel sorry for himself if he writes and enjoys it, even if he doesn't get paid.""People who light up like Roman candles come down in the dark very quickly.""Posterity makes the judgments. There are going to be a lot of surprises in store for everybody.""Special-interest magazines are dangerous places for writers to start out in because the writing quickly falls into a routine and people are likely to find themselves artistically exhausted when they want to work on something of their own.""The great writers just kept bringing them out. They didn't care if they repeated themselves.""The last paragraph, in which you tell what the story is about, is almost always best left out.""The romantic idea is that everybody around a writer must suffer for his talent. I think a writer is a citizen of humanity, part of his nation, part of his family. He may have to make some compromises.""The writer works in a lonely way.""There are too many books I haven't read, too many places I haven't seen, too many memories I haven't kept long enough.""When I started out in the early 1930s, there were a great many magazines that published short stories. Unfortunately, the short-story market has dwindled to almost nothing.""Writers of fiction, when they begin, are more likely to try the short form.""Writing for the theater, you find yourself living a nocturnal life.""Writing is finally play, and there's no reason why you should get paid for playing.""Writing is like a contact sport, like football. You can get hurt, but you enjoy it.""You have to expect the raps when you have achieved popularity as a writer.""You must avoid giving hostages to fortune, like getting an expensive wife, an expensive house, and a style of living that never lets you aford the time to take the chance to write what you wish."
Shaw was born Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff in the South Bronx, New York City, to Russian Jewish immigrants. His parents were Rose and Will. His younger brother, David Shaw (died 2007), became a noted Hollywood producer. Shortly after Irwin's birth, the Shamforoffs moved to Brooklyn. Irwin changed his surname upon entering college. He spent most of his youth in Brooklyn, where he graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1934. Shaw died in Davos, Switzerland on May 16, 1984, aged 71, after undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
Shaw began screenwriting in 1935 at the age of 21, and scripted for several radio show, including Dick Tracy, The Gumps and Studio One. He recaptured this period of his life in his short story "Main Currents of American Life," about a hack radio writer grinding out one script after another while calculating the number of words equal to the rent money:
Furniture, and a hundred and thirty-seven dollars. His mother had always wanted a good dining-room table. She didn't have a maid, she said, so he ought to get her a dining room table. How many words for a dining-room table?
Shaw's first play, Bury the Dead (1936) was an expressionist drama about a group of soldiers killed in a battle who refuse to be buried. During the 1940s, Shaw wrote for a number of films, including The Talk of the Town (a comedy about civil liberties), The Commandos Strike at Dawn (based on a C.S. Forester story about commandos in occupied Norway) and Easy Living (about a football player unable to enter the game due to a medical condition). Shaw married Marian Edwards (daughter of well known screen actor Snitz Edwards.) They had one son, Adam Shaw, born in 1950, himself a writer of magazine articles and non-fiction.
Shaw summered at the Pine Brook Country Club, the summer home of the Group Theatre , with; Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, John Garfield, Francis Farmer, Will Geer, Clifford Odets and Lee J. Cobb.
Shaw enlisted in the U.S. Army and was a warrant officer during World War II. The Young Lions, Shaw's first novel, was published in 1949. Based on his experiences in Europe during the war, the novel was very successful and was adapted into a 1958 film. Shaw was not happy with it.
Shaw's second novel, The Troubled Air, chronicling the rise of McCarthyism, was published in 1951. He was among those who signed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo convictions for contempt of Congress, resulting from hearings by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Falsely accused of being a communist by the Red Channels publication, Shaw was placed on the Hollywood blacklist by the movie studio bosses. In 1951 he left the United States and went to Europe, where he lived for 25 years, mostly in Paris and Switzerland. He later claimed that the blacklist "only glancingly bruised" his career. During the 1950s he wrote several more screenplays, including Desire Under the Elms (based on Eugene O'Neill's play) and Fire Down Below (about a tramp boat in the Caribbean).
While living in Europe, Shaw wrote more bestselling books, notably Lucy Crown (1956), Two Weeks in Another Town (1960), Rich Man, Poor Man (1970) (for which he would later write a less successful sequel entitled Beggarman, Thief) and Evening in Byzantium (made into a 1978 TV movie). Rich Man, Poor Man was adapted into a highly successful ABC television miniseries in 1976.
His novel Top of the Hill was made into a TV movie about the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980, starring Wayne Rogers, Adrienne Barbeau, and Sonny Bono.
His last two novels were Bread Upon the Waters (1981) and Acceptable Losses (1982).
Shaw was highly regarded as a short story author, contributing to Collier's, Esquire, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines; and 63 of his best stories were collected in Short Stories: Five Decades (Delacorte, 1978), reprinted in 2000 as a 784-page University of Chicago Press paperback. Three of his stories ("The Girls in Their Summer Dresses," "The Monument," "The Man Who Married a French Wife") were dramatized for the PBS series Great Performances. Telecast on June 1, 1981, this production was released on DVD in 2002 by Kultur Video.
In 1950, Shaw wrote a book on Israel with photos by Robert Capa, Report on Israel.
During his lifetime Shaw won a number of awards, including two O. Henry Awards, a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, and three Playboy Awards.