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Artie Shaw Learned Character from His Parents

by Ron Kurtus (7 October 2012)

Artie Shaw was a famous clarinet player from the Big Band Era of the 1930s and 1940s. He was best known for his rendition of the 1938 song Begin the Beguine, as well as his eight marriages.

Although very talented, Shaw was a perfectionist and very abusive to those around him. A large part of his character was based on the behavior he learned from his parents, as well as his own feeling of self-importance.

Besides being divorced numerous times, Shaw did not seem to suffer consequences from his poor social character traits.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Lessons learned from parents

Artie Shaw was born as Abraham Ben-Yitzhak Archasky in 1910 in the New York lower east side. His parents both worked in the needle trades.

His father would often criticize and mock young Abraham in a cruel manner. His father later abandoned the family to let them fend for themselves. Shaw learned the "lessons" that being verbally abusive and uncaring were the ways to deal with people.

Shaw's mother was considered overbearing and controlling. He also picked up these rules of behavior that showed up later in his life.

Treated people poorly

Shaw was a handsome man and a very talented musician. However, he treated the many women who were drawn to him with condescension.

He was married eight times, including to Lana turner and Ava Gardner, two of the most beautiful women in movies at the time. Four of the marriages lasted a year or less and three lasted less than four years. At the very least, it was an indication that he was difficult to live with.

His marriages ended in a pattern. As soon as he married someone, he would start to pick her apart. Both Lana Turner and Ava Gardner described Shaw as being extremely emotionally abusive. Turner had a nervous breakdown soon after she divorced him, apparently due to his controlling nature and incessant verbal abuse.

Shaw treated other people rudely and heartlessly, including friends and family members. He even refused his mother's deathbed plea to visit her.

Consequences of behavior

Did Shaw ever get punished for his bad behavior? There certainly were a number of people who despised Shaw, after having dealings with him. On the other hand, he had many fans who adored him for his musical talent.

Was Shaw sorry for how he treated people? He did admit that he wasn't a very nice person, but I don't know if he was sorry.

In 1954, Shaw stopped playing the clarinet, citing his own perfectionism. He later turned to writing. He had two children from different wives. Both children became estranged from their father.


Famous clarinet player Artie Shaw was very talented, but he was abusive to those around him. A large part of his character was based on the rules of behavior he learned from his parents and his own feeling of self-importance. He was married and divorced eight times, due to his abusive behavior. Shaw did not seem to suffer consequences from his poor social character traits, primarily because people admired his talent.

Talent can sometimes overshadow poor character

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Artie Shaw - Notable Biographies

Artie Shaw - Wikipedia

When Everything Was Jumpin' by Daniel Askt - Wall Street Journal (24 May 2010)

Character Resources


Three Chords for Beauty's Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw by Tom Dolan; W. W. Norton & Company (2010)

The Essential Artie Shaw - Audio CD Original recording remastered (2005)

Top-rated books on Artie Shaw

Top-rated books on Character

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