Over the course of his distinguished career, lyricist Stephen Sondheim has penned some of Broadway and Hollywood's most memorable song lyrics known for their sophistication and intelligence. Having won almost every major American entertainment industry award available, he is responsible for changing the course of the American musical from pure froth to something that is as substantial as it is entertaining. Some of his best-known musicals include West Side Story and Gypsy. He also penned movie soundtracks. During the '60s, Sondheim played a key role in making British crossword puzzles popular in the U.S. His fascination with language puzzles resulted in his co-writing the screenplay for the unique The Last of Sheila with Anthony Perkins. The film is a mystery patterned after a British crossword and is filled with enough puzzles and movie-making in-jokes to please both film buffs and crossword lovers. Among his works that have been filmed include Sweeney Todd, Company, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Biography by Sandra Brennan
- Having been abandoned as a child by his father and emotionally scarred by his mother, he found a father figure and mentor in family friend Oscar Hammerstein II.
- Made his mark on Broadway as lyricist for the groundbreaking 1957 musical West Side Story.
- Broadway credit as a composer was delayed when Ethel Merman balked at his hiring two years later for the musical Gypsy; he did write the lyrics, while Jule Styne composed the music.
- First music-and-lyrics credit came with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1962.
- Wrote "Send in the Clowns" for 1973's A Little Night Music; it was recorded by Judy Collins in 1975 and became a pop hit.
- A fondness for puzzles led to cowriting, with actor Anthony Perkins, an original screenplay for the intricate mystery The Last of Sheila (1973).
- Won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for the musical Sunday in the Park With George, about pointillist painter George Seurat.
- National Endowment for the Arts awarded him the National Medal of Freedom in 1996.
- Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.