Sir Tom Stoppard was born Tomáš Straussler in the Czechoslovakian town of Zlín on July 3, 1937. Both his parents were Jewish and the family fled the National Socialists in 1939, first to the British crown colony of Singapore and from there to India. Following the death of his father and his mother’s remarriage to a British officer, Tom Stoppard moved to England with his family in 1946.
In 1954 he began his journalistic career in Bristol, working as a theater critic for the Western Daily Press and the Bristol Evening World. In 1960 he discovered his own gift as a writer with his first play A Walk on the Water, which was later renamed Enter a Free Man. He gained wide recognition in 1966 with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, his play about the two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It was particularly his early plays that earned Stoppard his reputation as a “dramatist of the absurd.” These so-called sophisticated comedies deal with philosophical questions using elements of broad comedy. Situational comedy and above all brilliant wordplay are characteristic features of this style. Stoppard’s most well-known works for the stage include Jumpers (1972), Travesties (1974) and Arcadia (1993). He has also translated and adapted works by other playwrights such as Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, Sławomir Mrożek and Arthur Schnitzler as well as writing a series of radio plays for, among others, the BBC.
When in 1977 he was commissioned to write the screenplay for DESPAIR, which at the time was the most expensive film project undertaken by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Stoppard was already a star on the international literary scene, enjoying a reputation comparable to that of Harold Pinter. Stoppard’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Despair was both true to the original and free in equal measure. He went on to write other film scripts that brought him international acclaim. The screenplay he wrote with Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown for Brazil (1985) was nominated for an Oscar in 1986. In 1999 he finally received the coveted Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (1998).
Tom Stoppard in Interview in Robert Fischer‘s documentary THE CINEMA AND ITS DOUBLE: RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER‘S “DESPAIR” (2011).
Photos: © 2011 Jemal Countess / Getty Images North America