His parents wanted him to be lawyer, but S. Yewell Tompkins decided instead to major in liberal arts at the University of Wisconsin. A professional actor from 1928, he toured in stock companies then spent several lean years in New York, during which time he changed his name to Tom Ewell. He appeared in the first of a string of Broadway flops in 1934, occasionally enjoying longer runs in such productions as Brother Rat and Family Portrait. A trip to Hollywood in 1940 led to a handful of bit parts but little else. After four years in the Navy, Ewell finally landed a bona fide Broadway hit starring in John Loves Mary in 1947. This led to his "official" screen debut as Judy Holliday's philandering husband in Adam's Rib (1949). Hardly the romantic lead type, Ewell's crumpled "everyman" countenance served him well in such screen roles as Bill Mauldin's archetypal G.I. Willie in Up Front (1951) and Willie and Joe Back at the Front (1952). Back on Broadway in 1954, he won a Tony Award for his peerless performance as a "summer bachelor" in George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch, repeating this characterization opposite Marilyn Monroe in the 1955 screen version. He went on to play wry variations of this role in Frank Tashlin's The Lieutenant Wore Skirts (1955) and The Girl Can't Help It (1956), in which his screen partners included such lovelies as Sheree North, Rita Moreno, and Jayne Mansfield. In 1960, he starred in The Tom Ewell Show, a one-season sitcom in which he played a standard harried suburbanite. Various illnesses and recurrent alcoholism made it increasingly difficult for Ewell to find work in the 1970s; his best showing during this period was as Robert Blake's disheveled pal Billy on the weekly TVer Baretta. Tom Ewell retired in 1983, after a brief stint as Doc Killian in TV's Best of the West and a character role in the Rodney Dangerfield film Easy Money.