Howard Elliott Ashman was born May 17, 1950 to Shirley and Raymond Ashman in Baltimore, MD. His mother swears she chose his name because she thought it would look good on a marquee.
The family home was filled with music - Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway musicals and operetta were the soundtrack of his childhood. Howard adored theater, discovering what would be his lifelong passion at an early age. He directed backyard musicals and his sister’s birthday parties. His first known piece of work was L’il Abner’s Poke Chops, which he wrote, directed and starred in at age ten. He also did the publicity. Indeed, he created publicity shots for shows he only dreamed of directing.
He joined the Children’s Theatre Association at the age of six. In a 1984 newspaper interview, Howard talked about CTA’s influence on him:
“My mom took me to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins at the Children’s Theater Association when I was four or five. I wanted to join the company then, but you weren’t allowed to join until you were seven. They did let me in a year early, when I was 6. And from that time until the day I graduated from high school, every Saturday morning of my life was spent downtown on Ploy Street where CTA taught dramatics and rehearsed plays.
You started in the creative dramatics classes and then you were in the plays. And then you waited until you were old enough for the ‘teenage workshops’. Getting into that was a rite of manhood. That meant you got to take on technical responsibilities, you learned about lights and sets.”
Like most gifted people, Howard spent his youth exploring outlets for his creativity. He painted and he wrote poetry and short stories, but in the end he always returned to his first love, theater.
Though he was slim, Howard loved cooking - a hobby he took up in childhood and continued to enjoy throughout his life. As an adult, his love of food would come out in song as just about every musical he worked on had - one way or another - a food song (Rosewater - “Cheese Nips”, Little Shop - “Feed Me”, Mermaid, “Les Poissons”, Beauty and the Beast - “Be Our Guest”, Smile - “Maria’s Song”. Even the unfinished Babe had “Growing Boy.”