Tom Stoppard (Tomash Straussler) - biography
Sir Tom Stoppard OM, CBE, FRSL (born Tomáš Straussler 3 July 1937) is an influential British playwright, knighted in 1997. He has written prolifically for TV, radio, film and stage, finding prominence with plays such as Arcadia, The Coast of Utopia, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, Professional Foul, The Real Thing, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. He co-wrote the screenplays for Brazil and Shakespeare in Love and has won one Academy Award and four Tony Awards. Themes of human rights, censorship and political freedom pervade his work along with exploration of linguistics and philosophy. Stoppard has been a key playwright of the National Theatre and is one of the most internationally performed dramatists of his generation.
In 1939, Stoppard left Czechoslovakia as a child refugee, fleeing imminent Nazi occupation. He settled with his family in Britain after the war, in 1946. After being educated by schools in Nottingham and Yorkshire, Stoppard became a journalist, a drama critic and then, in 1960, a playwright. He has been married twice, to Josie Ingle (1965–1972) and Miriam Stoppard (1972–1992), and has two sons, one from each marriage, including actor Ed Stoppard.
Life and career
Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler, in Zlín, a "Shoe Town", in the Moravia region of Czechoslovakia. He was the son of Martha Beckova and Eugen Straüssler, a doctor with the Bata shoe company. Both parents were Jewish, though neither practising. Just before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the town's patron, Tomáš Baťa, helped re-post his Jewish employees, mostly physicians, to various branches of his firm all over the world. On 15 March 1939, the day that the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the Straussler family fled to Singapore, one of the places Bata had a company. Before the Japanese occupation of Singapore, the two sons and their mother were sent on to Australia. Stoppard's father remained in Singapore as a British army volunteer, knowing that, as a doctor, he would be needed in its defence. From there, in 1941, when Tomas was five, the three were evacuated to Darjeeling in India. The boys attended the Mount Hermon American multi-racial school where Tomas became Tom and his brother Petr became Peter. The father planned to follow the family later. In the book Tom Stoppard in conversation, Stoppard tells how his father died in Japanese captivity, a prisoner of war although Straussler is also commonly reported to have drowned on board a ship bombed by Japanese forces.
The boys' mother died in 1996. The family had not talked about their history and neither brother knew what had happened to the family left behind in Czechoslovakia. In the early 1990s, with the fall of communism, Stoppard found out that all four of his grandparents had been Jewish and had died in Terezin, Auschwitz and other camps, along with three of his mother's sisters. In 1998, following the deaths of his parents he went back, for the first time, to Zlín after 60 years. He has expressed grief both for a lost father and a missing past, but he has no sense of being a survivor, at whatever remove. "I feel incredibly lucky not to have had to survive or die. It's a conspicuous part of what might be termed a charmed life."
In 1945, his mother Martha married British army major Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and, in 1946, after the war, moved the family to England. His stepfather believed strongly that "to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life", telling his small stepson: "Don't you realise that I made you British?" setting up Stoppard's desire as a child to become "an honorary Englishman". "I fairly often find I'm with people who forget I don't quite belong in the world we're in", he says. "I find I put a foot wrong - it could be pronunciation, an arcane bit of English history - and suddenly I'm there naked, as someone with a pass, a press ticket." This is reflected in his characters, he notes, who are "constantly being addressed by the wrong name, with jokes and false trails to do with the confusion of having two names". Stoppard attended the Dolphin School in Nottinghamshire, and later completed his education at Pocklington School in East Riding, Yorkshire.
Stoppard left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for Western Daily Press in Bristol, never having received a university education. He remained there from 1954 until 1958, when the Bristol Evening World offered Stoppard the position of feature writer, humor columnist, and secondary drama critic, which took Stoppard into the world of theatre. At the Bristol Old Vic – at the time a well-regarded regional repertory company – Stoppard formed friendships with director John Boorman and actor Peter O'Toole early in their careers. In Bristol, he became known more for his strained attempts at humor and unstylish clothes than for his writing.
By 1960, he had completed his first play, A Walk on the Water, which was later re-titled Enter a Free Man (1968). Stoppard noted that the work owed much to Robert Bolt's Flowering Cherry and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Within a week after sending A Walk on the Water to an agent, Stoppard received his version of the "Hollywood-style telegrams that change struggling young artists' lives." His first play was optioned, staged in Hamburg, then broadcast on British Independent Television in 1963. From September 1962 until April 1963, Stoppard worked in London as a drama critic for Scene magazine, writing reviews and interviews both under his name and the pseudonym William Boot (taken from Evelyn Waugh's Scoop). In 1964, a Ford Foundation grant enabled Stoppard to spend 5 months writing in a Berlin mansion, emerging with a one-act play titled Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Meet King Lear, which later evolved into his Tony-winning play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In the following years, Stoppard produced several works for radio, television and the theatre, including "M" is for Moon Among Other Things (1964), A Separate Peace (1966) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank (1966). On 11 April 1967 — following acclaim at the 1966 Edinburgh Festival — the opening of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in a National Theatre production at the Old Vic made Stoppard an overnight success. Jumpers (1972) places a professor of moral philosophy in a murder mystery thriller along side a slew of radical gymnasts and Travesties (1974), explored the 'Wildean' possibilities arising from the fact that Lenin, Joyce, and Tristan Tzara had all been in Zurich during the First World War. In his early years, he also wrote extensively for BBC radio, often introducing surrealist themes. He has also adapted many of his stage works for radio, film and television winning extensive awards and honours from the start of his career.
Stoppard has written one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966), set in contemporary London. Its cast includes the 18th-century figure of the dandified Malquist and his ineffectual Boswell, Moon, and also cowboys, a lion (banned from the Ritz) and a donkey-borne Irishman claiming to be the Risen Christ.
In the 1980s, in addition to writing his own works, Stoppard translated many plays into English, including works by Slawomir Mrozek, Johann Nestroy, Arthur Schnitzler, and Václav Havel. It was at this time that Stoppard became influenced by the works of Polish and Czech absurdists. He has been co-opted into the Outrapo group, a far-from-serious French movement to improve actors' stage technique through science.
Stoppard has worked also co-written screenplays including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Spielberg states that though Stoppard was uncredited, "he was responsible for almost every line of dialogue in the film". It is also rumoured that Stoppard worked on Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, though again Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role. He worked in a similar capacity with Tim Burton on his film Sleepy Hollow. In 2008, Stoppard was voted the number 76 on the Time 100, Time magazine's list of the most influential people in the world. Stoppard serves on the advisory board of the magazine Standpoint, and was instrumental in its foundation, giving the opening speech at its launch.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966–7) was Stoppard's first major play to gain recognition. The story of Hamlet, as told from the viewpoint of two courtiers echoes Beckett in its double act repartee, existential themes and language play. Critic Dennis Kennedy notes "It established several characteristics of Stoppard's dramaturgy: his word-playing intellectuality, audacious, paradoxical, and self-conscious theatricality, and preference for reworking pre-existing narratives. [...] Stoppard's plays have been sometimes dismissed as pieces of clever showmanship, lacking in substance, social commitment, or emotional weight. His theatrical surfaces serve to conceal rather than reveal their author's views, and his fondness for towers of paradox spirals away from social comment. This is seen most clearly in his comedies The Real Inspector Hound (1968) and After Magritte (1970), which create their humour through highly formal devices of reframing and juxtaposition." Stoppard himself went so far as to declare "I must stop compromising my plays with this whiff of social application. They must be entirely untouched by any suspicion of usefulness." "Stoppardian" became a term describing works using wit and comedy while addressing philosophical concepts.
The accusations of favouring intellectuality over political commitment or commentary were met with a change of tack, as Stoppard produced increasingly socially engaged work. From 1977, he became personally involved with human rights issues, in particular with the situation of political dissidents in Central and Eastern Europe. In February 1977, he visited the Soviet Union and several Eastern European countries with a member of Amnesty International. In June, Stoppard met Vladimir Bukovsky in London and travelled to Czechoslovakia (then under communist control), where he met dissident playwright and future president Václav Havel. Stoppard became involved with Index on Censorship, Amnesty International, and the Committee Against Psychiatric Abuse and wrote various newspaper articles and letters about human rights. He was also instrumental in translating Havel's works into English. Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977), ‘a play for actors and orchestra’ was based on a request by composer André Previn; inspired by a meeting with a Russian exile. This play as well as Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (1979), The Coast of Utopia (2002), Rock ‘n’ Roll (2006), and two works for television Professional Foul (1977) and Squaring the Circle (1984) all concern themes of censorship, rights abuses, and state repression.
His later works have sought greater inter-personal depths, whilst maintaining their intellectual playfulness. The Real Thing (1982) uses a meta-theatrical structure to explore the suffering that adultery can produce and The Invention of Love (1997) also investigates the pain of passion. Arcadia (1993) explores the meeting of chaos theory, historiography, and landscape gardening.
Stoppard has been married twice, to Josie Ingle (1965–1972), a nurse, and to Miriam Stoppard (née Stern and subsequently Miriam Moore-Robinson, 1972–1992), whom he left to begin a relationship with actress Felicity Kendal. He has two sons from each marriage, including the actor Ed Stoppard and Will Stoppard, who is married to violinist Linzi Stoppard. In 1979, the year of Margaret Thatcher's election, Stoppard noted to Paul Delaney: "I'm a conservative with a small c. I am a conservative in politics, literature, education and theatre." In 2007, Stoppard described himself as a "timid libertarian".
Stoppard sat for sculptor Alan Thornhill, and a bronze head is now in public collection, situated with the Stoppard papers in the reading room of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The terracotta remains in the collection of the artist in London. The correspondence file relating to the Stoppard bust is held in the archive of the Henry Moore Foundation's Henry Moore Institute in Leeds.
The Tom Stoppard Prize was created in 1983 (in Stockholm, under the Charter 77 Foundation) and is awarded to authors of Czech origin.
Selected awards and honours
- 1967: Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright (U.K.)
- 1967: Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (U.K.)
- 1968: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead - Tony Award for Best Play, New York Drama Critics' Circle Best Play of the Year (U.S.), Prix Italia (Italy), Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award for Best New Play (U.K.)
- 1972: Jumpers - Evening Standard Award for Best Play, Plays and Players London Theatre Critics Award for Best New Play (U.K)
- 1974: Travesties - Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the Year (U.K)
- 1976: Travesties - Tony Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award for Best Play (U.S.)
- 1978: Night and Day - Evening Standard Award for Best Play (U.K)
- 1982: The Real Thing - Evening Standard Award for Best Play (U.K.)
- 1984: The Real Thing - Tony Award for Best Play, New York Critics Award for Best Foreign Play (U.S.)
- 1993: Arcadia - Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for Best New Play, Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year
- 1994: Arcadia - Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play (U.K.)
- 1997: The Invention of Love - Evening Standard Award for Best Play (U.K)
- 1998: Shakespeare in Love - Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (U.S.)
- 2000: The Real Thing - Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play (U.S.)
- 2000: The Real Thing - Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play (U.S.)
- 2007: The Coast of Utopia - Tony Award for Best Play (U.S)
- 2007: The Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts (presented on 3 April 2008 at the National Theatre) (U.K)
- 2008: The 2008 Dan David Prize for Creative Rendering of the Past in Theatre (Israeli)
- 1978: CBE
- 1997: Knight Bachelor
- 2000: Order of Merit
- 2000: Honorary doctorate from Yale University
- 2000: Honorary degree from Cambridge University
- 2009: Honorary Patronage of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, D
- 1964: A Walk on the Water
- 1965: The Gamblers, based on the novel The Gambler by Dostoevsky
- 1966: Tango, adapted from Slawomir Mrozek's play and Nicholas Bethell translation, premiered at the Aldwych Theatre
- 1966: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
- 1968: Enter a Free Man . Developed from A Walk on the Water. First performed 28 March 1968.
- 1968: The Real Inspector Hound
- 1969: Albert's Bridge premiered at St. Mary's Hall in Edinburgh
- 1969: If You're Glad I'll Be Frank premiered at St. Mary's Hall in Edinburgh
- 1970: After Magritte frequently performed as a companion piece to The Real Inspector Hound
- 1971: Dogg's Our Pet premiered at Almost Free Theatre
- 1972: Jumpers
- 1972: Artist Descending a Staircase
- 1974: Travesties
- 1976: Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land first performed on 6 April 1976
- 1977: Every Good Boy Deserves Favour was written at the request of André Previn. The play calls for full orchestra
- 1978: Night and Day
- 1979: Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth - two plays written to be performed together.
- 1979: 15-Minute Hamlet
- 1979: Undiscovered Country - an adaptation of Das Weite Land by the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler
- 1981: On the Razzle based on Einen Jux will er sich machen by Johann Nestroy
- 1982: The Real Thing
- 1983: English libretto for The Love for Three Oranges. Original opera by Sergei Prokofiev.
- 1984: Rough Crossing based on Play at the Castle by Ferenc Molnár
- 1986: Dalliance An adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler's Liebelei
- 1987: Largo Desolato, translation of a play by Václav Havel
- 1988: Hapgood
- 1993: Arcadia
- 1995: Indian Ink - based on Stoppard's radio play In The Native State
- 1997: The Invention of Love
- 1997: The Seagull - translation of the play by Anton Chekhov
- 2002: The Coast of Utopia is a trilogy of plays: Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage
- 2004: Enrico IV (Henry IV) - translation of the Italian play by Luigi Pirandello
First presented at the Donmar Theatre, London, in April 2004* 2006: Rock 'n' Roll - first public performance 3 June 2006 preview at the Royal Court Theatre.
Original works for radio
- 1964: The Dissolution of Dominic Boot
- 1964: 'M' is for Moon Amongst Other Things
- 1965: A Separate Peace - first performed, on British television, August 1966
- 1966: If You’re Glad I’ll be Frank
- 1967: Albert's Bridge
- 1968: Where Are They Now?, written for schools radio
- 1972: Artist Descending a Staircase
- 1982: The Dog It Was That Died
- 1991: In the Native State later expanded to become the stage play Indian Ink (1995)
- 2008: On Dover Beach
- A Separate Peace
- Another Moon Called Earth (containing some dialogue and situations later incorporated into Jumpers)
- Neutral Ground (a loose adaptation of Sophocles' Philoctetes)
- Professional Foul
- Squaring the Circle
Film and television adaptation of plays
- 1975: Three Men in a Boat adaptation of Jerome K. Jerome's novel for BBC Television
- 1975: The Boundary co-authored by Clive Exton, for the BBC
- 1977: Professional Foul
- 1985: Brazil co-authored with Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown, script nominated for an Academy Award
- 1987: Empire of the Sun (First draft of the screenplay)
- 1990: The Russia House (film) Screenplay for the 1990 film of the John Le Carre Novel
- 1990: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead - won the Golden Lion
- 1998: Shakespeare in Love co-authored with Marc Norman, script won an Academy Award
- 1998: Poodle Springs Teleplay adaptation of the novel by Robert B. Parker and Raymond Chandler
- 2001: Enigma Film screenplay of the Robert Harris novel
- 2005: The Golden Compass a draft screenplay, subsequently rejected