For the actor also credited as Martin T. Sherman, see Martin Sherman (actor)

Martin Gerald Sherman (born December 22, 1938) is an American dramatist and screenwriter best known for his 20 stage plays which have been produced in over 55 countries. He rose to fame in 1979 with the production of his Pulitzer Prize-nominated play Bent, which explores the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. Bent was a Tony nominee for Best Play in 1980 and won the Dramatists Guild's Hull-Warriner Award. It has been produced in 35 countries and was adapted first by Sherman for a major motion picture in 1997 and later by independent sources as a ballet in Brazil. Sherman is an openly gay Jew,[1][2] and many of his works dramatize "outsiders," dealing with the discrimination and marginalization of minorities whether "gay, female, foreign, disabled, different in religion, class or color."[3] He has lived and worked in London since 1980.[4]

Life and career

Early life

Sherman was an only child, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Russian Jewish immigrants,[5] Julia (née Shapiro) and Joseph T. Sherman, an attorney. Growing up in Camden, New Jersey, he was first introduced to the theater at age six, when he saw a pre-Broadway version of Guys and Dolls (1950) starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.[6] Sherman's parents encouraged his passion. In an interview with London Times writer Sheridan Morley in 1983, Sherman recalled, "At 12 I joined the Mae Desmond Children's Players and went all around Pennsylvania being a tall dwarf in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."[7] As a young teen, Sherman despised school, but consoled himself by often taking the bus into Philadelphia to see plays. He also traveled to New York City once a year to visit an aunt who shared his love of theater. "I was the only kid in junior high school to have seen Camino Real," he told interviewer Matt Wolf.[8]

In 1956 Sherman enrolled at Boston University College of Fine Arts, where he earned a BFA in dramatic arts. Upon graduating in 1960, he moved to New York City where he joined the Actors Studio to study under the legendary director Harold Clurman.[3] Though he would soon abandon his acting career to pursue writing full-time, Sherman credits this experience with shaping his technique as a playwright, explaining "all my plays are written for actors rather than the directors or critics that my contemporaries seem to write for."[7] After spending several years in New York, Sherman was appointed playwright in residence at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his rock musical, A Solitary Thing, premiered in 1963.[3]

Professional career

Sherman returned to New York City in the mid-1960s where he premiered Fat Tuesday (1966), Next Year in Jerusalem (1968), and The Night Before Paris (1969). Things Went Badly in Westphalia,—which takes its name from a line in Candide by Voltaire— was next, and became Sherman's first published play when the dramatic rock musical was included in The Best Short Plays of 1970.[6] In the 1970s, Sherman traveled to London where he worked with the founding members of the infamous Gay Sweatshop.[8][9]

After more than a decade of writing plays, Sherman found widespread fame in 1979 with his first blockbuster hit, Bent. First produced in London's West End starring Ian McKellen, the play tells the story of Max, a gay man in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. After Max and his boyfriend are forced to flee the city following the Night of the Long Knives, the two live in hiding for two years before being captured by the gestapo and sent to a concentration camp.[10] The play was considered extremely controversial, both for its violence and its assertion that homosexuals received worse treatment than Jews during the Holocaust. Despite the uproar, Bent transferred to Broadway, where it became an instant hit and was nominated for a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Following the success of this production, Sherman claimed to have gotten everything he wanted from New York City and promptly moved to London, where he has lived since 1980.[11]

Despite his status as an expatriate, Sherman continued to write successfully for both the British and the American stage. His most recent success came from his re-write of the book for the musical The Boy from Oz, based on Peter Allen's life and career, earning him a second Tony nomination. He has also written two collections of plays dealing with gay themes, and found success in the genre of one-woman plays with Rose, which was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play when it premiered in London in 2000. Later that year, the show transferred to Broadway where it starred Olympia Dukakis.[6]

In 2003, Franco Zeffirelli directed Sherman's adaptation of Luigi Pirandello's play, Right You Are, if You Think So. The pair retitled the work Absolutely! {perhaps} when it premiered at the Wyndham Theatre on London's West End where it was nominated that year for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Revival. Following that critical acclaim, Sherman also premiered stage adaptations of the novels A Passage to India by E.M. Forster and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams.[11] He also found success as a screenwriter in the 1990s, his most successful film having been adapted from his own play, Alive and Kicking (known in the UK as Indian Summer) and directed by Nancy Meckler. Sherman also adapted Bent for the big screen in 1997 with the help of director Sean Mathias and starring such actors as Clive Owen, Ray Fiennes, Ian McKellen, and Mick Jagger.[12]

Other film titles include Clothes in the Wardrobe in 1992 (released in the US as The Summer House, 1993), an adaptation Alice Thomas Ellis's novel, as well as a collaboration with Franco Zeffirelli on Callas Forever (2002), a biopic of opera star Maria Callas. Sherman also produced The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003), a made-for-TV movie of his earlier stage adaptation and Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005), the tale of an eccentric World War I widow, Laura Henderson who buys the old Windmill Theatre in London and relaunches it as a venue for female all nude revues. The latter starred Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, and Christopher Guest,[13] and earned Sherman a nomination for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Original Screenplay.[14]


Theatre Productions
Acting roles
  • Indian Summer (1996)
  • Bent, S. French, 1979
  • Messiah, Amber Lane, 1982
  • Cracks, S. French, 1986
  • When She Danced, Amber Lane, 1988; S. French, 1988
  • A Madhouse in Goa, Amber Lane, 1989; S. French, 1998
  • Some Sunny Day, Amber Lane, 1996
  • Rose, Methuen, 1999
  • "Things Went Badly in Westphalia," in The Best Short Plays of 1970, 1970
  • "Passing By," in Gay Plays, Volume 1, 1984


  1. ^ a b Nathan, John (14 Oct 2010). "Interview: Martin Sherman, The Playwright, Best Known for Writing the Holocaust Drama "Bent", Explains Why he is Fascinated by the Ruthless Shipping Tycoon". The Jewish Chronicle Online. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  2. ^ Helbing, Terry (10 Jan 1980). "Behind the Scenes at Broadway's Big Shocker—Bent". The Advocate. The Advocate Archives. pp. 29–33.  |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ a b c Dace, Tish; Letitia Dace. Martin Sherman: Skipping Over Quicksand. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 0786466626. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Capra, Steve; Martin Sherman (2004). "Interview with Martin Sherman: London, August 20, 1997." in Theater Voices: Conversations on the Stage. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. pp. 89–94. ISBN 0810850478. 
  5. ^ Jewish Journal: "‘Bent’ but not broken" by Naomi Pfefferman retrieved June 14, 2015
  6. ^ a b c Boles, William C. (2000). Christopher J. Wheatley, ed. "Martin Sherman." Twentieth-Century American Dramatists: Second Series. Detroit: Gale Biography in Context. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Morley, Sheridan (11 February 1983). "The Gift of Big Writing". The Times. London, UK. p. 10. 
  8. ^ a b Wolf, Matt (17 November 1997). "Martin Sherman". New York Magazine. 30 (44): 60–61. 
  9. ^ Clum, John M. (2000). "Dramatizing Gay Male History." in Still Acting Gay: Male Homosexuality in Modern Drama. New York: St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 159–95. ISBN 0312223846. 
  10. ^ Sherman, Martin (2003). Benjamin A. Hodges, ed. "Bent." in Forbidden Acts: Pioneering Gay & Lesbian Plays of the Twentieth Century. New York: Applause. pp. 519–92. ISBN 155783587X. 
  11. ^ a b ""Martin Sherman." in Contemporary Authors Online". Literature Resource Center: Detroit: Gale. 2006. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Holden, Stephen (26 November 1997). "Movie Review: Bent (1997) Sent From Gay Berlin To Labor at Dachau". New York Times. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  13. ^ Morrison, John (17 November 2005). "Mrs Henderson's House of Delights: The Notorious Nudity of the Great Windmill Theatre Offers Rich Pickings for the Cinema". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  14. ^ "Gardener Up for 10 Bafta Awards". BBC News. 19 January 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2012.