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  • Writer's pictureLoren Javier

PROFILE: Howard Ashman

Continuing our celebration of LGBTQ Pride Month, we look at Disney lyricist Howard Ashman.

Ashman might have had a short career at Disney, but it was a legendary one. He began his career there with his writing partner Alan Menken when they were asked to choose a property to develop for the company. They chose The Little Mermaid for which they wrote seven songs. Ashman also served as a producer on the movie. For the movie, the writing duo won an Academy Award for Best Song for "Under The Sea." They were also nominated for "Kiss The Girl" as well.

After they received the Academy Award, Ashman called Menken over to his apartment and told him that he was sick and was HIV/AIDS Positive having been diagnosed half way through The Little Mermaid.

But, the pair soldiered on and began writing songs for Aladdin. However, Disney wanted to have them write for Beauty and the Beast first. Although, sadly, Ashman got progressively more ill over the production of the movie. But, they managed to write all the songs for the film. For its grand Broadway style of musical storytelling, Ashman chose several Broadway actors including Paige O'Hara, Jerry Orbach, and Angela Lansbury to voice the characters. The duo eventually won an Academy Award for "Beauty and the Beast." They were also nominated for "Be Our Guest" and "Belle."

Unfortunately, Ashman passed before Beauty and the Beast was released. His longtime partner New York architect Bill Lauch accepted the award for him.

"This is the first Academy Award given to someone we've lost to AIDS," Lauch said. "In working on 'Beauty and the Beast,' Howard faced incredible personal challenges but always gave his best, and what made that possible was an atmosphere of understanding, love and support. That's something everyone facing AIDS not only needs, but deserves.

"There's an inscription on Howard's grave in Baltimore," Lauch continued. "It reads: 'Oh, that he had one more song to sing.' We'll never hear that song, but I'm deeply grateful for this tribute you've given for what he left behind."

After Ashman's death, Disney started work on Aladdin which was the project he and Menken had worked on before Beauty and the Beast. Three of Ashman's songs - "Arabian Nights," "Friend Like Me," and "Prince Ali" - ended up in the movie. Lyricist Tim Rice then stepped in to complete the film.

Don Hahn, who has produced many Disney animated movies including Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, has produced a documentary about Howard Ashman. Titled simply Howard, it will be streamed soon on Disney+.

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