A reporter tells the “Writing’s on the Wall” singer that Howard Ashman was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar in the Best Original Song category
This celebrated producer and stage director is remembered as the lyricist for three of Disney animated blockbusters of the late 1980s and early 90s, including "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). Howard Ashman actually began his professional career as a book editor at Grosset & Dunlap before becoming artistic director of the newly-revived WPA Theatre in New York in 1977. Despite his administrative duties, he found time to write and direct. His first two efforts, "'Cause Maggie's Afraid of the Dark" and "Dreamstuff" (both 1976) were met with mixed results. After a directing stint at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, Ashman returned to Manhattan and launched "Little Shop of Horrors." The hit Off-Broadway musical based on Roger Corman's 1961 minor classic centered on the improbable relationship between a nebbish and a man-eating plant. Working with composer Alan Menken, Ashman wrote the book and lyrics and directed the original 1982 production. Its success seemed to bode a major career for Ashman, but he stumbled with his follow-up stage effort, the 1986 Broadway musical "Smile." Adapted from Michael Ritchie's 1975 satire, "Smile" teamed the lyricist-director with Marvin Hamlisch and while there was much to admire in the project, the overall result failed to impress critics or find an audience.
The panel that sat in front of the press that day included Ron Clements and John Musker, the geeky animation-directing team whose last film, The Great Mouse Detective, had performed reasonably well, but not well enough for Eisner’s taste, Jodi Benson, the Broadway veteran who voiced Ariel, and Alan Menken, a composer from Westchester, New York. In this crowd, the last member of the panel—Alan’s collaborator, lyricist Howard Ashman—stood out like a sore, sickly thumb.