Sir Tom Stoppard, OM, CBE (born as Tomáš Straussler on 3 July 1937) is a British Academy Award winning screenwriter and Tony Award winning playwright. Born in Zlín, Czechoslovakia, he is famous for plays such as The Coast of Utopia, Arcadia, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Rock 'N' Roll, and also for co-writing screenplays for Brazil and Shakespeare in Love.
Stoppard was born on 3 July 1937 in Zlín, Czechoslovakia and moved to Singapore with other Jews on 15 March 1939, the day the Nazis invaded. In 1941, the family was evacuated to Darjeeling, India, to escape the Japanese invasion of Singapore. His father, Eugene Straussler, remained behind as a British army volunteer, and died in a Japanese prison camp after capture.
In India, Stoppard received an English education at the Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling. In late 1945, his mother Martha married a British army major named Kenneth Stoppard, who gave the boys his English surname and moved the family with him to England after the war, in 1946. Stoppard attended the Dolphin School in Nottinghamshire, and later completed his education at Pocklington School in Yorkshire.
Stoppard left school at seventeen and began work as a journalist for Western Daily Press in Bristol. Thus, he never received a university education. He remained there from 1954 through 1958. In 1958, the Bristol Evening World offered Stoppard the position of feature writer, humor columnist and secondary drama critic, which took Stoppard into the world of theater. 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-packaged as 1968's Enter a Free Man. 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, later staged in Hamburg, and 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 & Guildenstern Are Dead. In the following years, Stoppard produced several works for radio, television and the theater, including "M" is for Moon Among Other Things (1964), A Separate Peace (1966) and If You're Glad I'll Be Frank (1966). The 1967 London opening of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead at the Vic Theatre made Stoppard an overnight success.
Over the next ten years, in addition to writing some of his own works, Stoppard translated various plays into English, including works by Slawomir Mrozek, Johann Nestroy, Arthur Schnitzler, and Vaclav 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.
"Stoppardian" has become a term used to refer to works in which an author makes use of witty statements to create comedy while addressing philosophical concepts.
In his early works, Stoppard had avoided political and social issues, once going 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." However, by 1977, Stoppard had become concerned 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.
The Tom Stoppard Prize was created in 1983 (in Stockholm, under the Charter 77 Foundation) and is awarded to authors of Czech origin. In August 2005, Stoppard visited Minsk to give a seminar on playwriting and to learn first-hand about human rights and political problems in Belarus.
Stoppard's passion for human rights influenced several of his works. He wrote Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1977) based on a request by Andre Previn; it was inspired by a meeting with a Russian exile. In Dogg's Hamlet, Cahoot's Macbeth (1979) and Squaring the Circle (1984), he attacks the oppressive old regimes of Eastern Europe.
In a 2007 interview, Stoppard described himself as a "timid libertarian".
Tom Stoppard serves on the advisory board of the magazine Standpoint, and was instrumental in its foundation, giving the opening speech at its launch.
Stoppard's plays deal with philosophical issues while presenting verbal wit and visual humour. The linguistic complexity of his works, with their puns, jokes, innuendo, and other wordplay, is a chief characteristic of his work. Many also feature multiple timelines.
In his early years, Stoppard wrote extensively for BBC radio, in many cases introducing a touch of surrealism. His original works for radio are:
Stoppard has also adapted many of his stage works for radio.
In his television play Professional Foul (1977), an English philosophy professor visits Prague, officially to speak at a colloquium, unofficially to watch a football international between England and Czechoslovakia. He meets one of his former students and is persuaded to smuggle the student's dissident thesis out of the country.
He has also adapted many of his own plays for film and TV, notably the 1990 production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Tom Stoppard has written extensively for film and television. Some of his better-known scripts and adaptations include:
Stoppard assisted George Lucas in polishing up some of the dialogue for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and 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 Stoppard received no official or formal credit in this role. He worked in a similar capacity with Tim Burton on his film Sleepy Hollow.
Stoppard has written one novel, Lord Malquist and Mr Moon (1966). It is set in contemporary London and its cast includes not only the eighteenth century figure of the dandified Malquist and his ineffectual Boswell, Moon, but also a couple of cowboys with live bullets in their six-shooters, a lion (banned from the Ritz) and a donkey-borne Irishman claiming to be the Risen Christ.
Responding to the award, Tom Stoppard paid tribute to the Critics' Circle itself, explaining that with his literal mind "your organisation is perhaps the original circle that cannot be squared."
He was appointed CBE in 1978, knighted in 1997 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 2000.
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.
Tom 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 Centre at the University of Texas. 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.