Ring Lardner Jr. - Writer





Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Ringgold Wilmer Lardner, Jr., in Chicago, Illinois, 19 August 1915; son of the satirical writer Ring Lardner. Education: Attended Great Neck Preparatory School; Phillips Academy; Princeton University, New Jersey, two years. Family: Married 1) Silvia Schulman, 1937 (divorced 1943), two children; 2) the actress Frances Chaney, 1946, one son. Career: 1935—journalist, New York Daily Mirror ; 1936–41—worked for Selznick International, Warner Bros., RKO, and Republic; first film as writer, Meet Dr. Christian , 1940; then contracts with MGM and 20th Century-Fox; 1947—beginning of House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Lardner: served a nine-month sentence for contempt of Congress, 1950–51, and blacklisted; worked on British TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood and Sir Lancelot ,

Ring Lardner, Jr.
Ring Lardner, Jr.
and used pseudonyms Oliver Skeyne and Philip Rush (credited as Ring Lardner only after 1965); 1964—co-author of the musical play Foxy . Awards: Academy Award, for Woman of the Year , 1942; Academy Award and Writers Guild Award, for M*A*S*H , 1970. Agent: Jim Preminger Agency, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Films as Writer:

1940

Meet Dr. Christian (Vorhaus); The Courageous Dr. Christian (Vorhaus)

1941

Arkansas Judge ( False Witness ) (McDonald) (co)

1942

Woman of the Year (Stevens)

1943

The Cross of Lorraine (Garnett)

1944

Tomorrow the World (Fenton); Laura (Preminger) (uncredited)

1946

Cloak and Dagger (F. Lang); Brotherhood of Man (Cannon—short)

1947

Forever Amber (Preminger)

1948

The Forbidden Street ( Britannia Mews ) (Negulesco); Four Days Leave ( Swiss Tour ) (Lindtberg) (co)

1950

The Hollywood Ten (Berry—short)

1951

The Big Night (Losey)

1958

Virgin Island (Jackson); A Breath of Scandal (Curtiz) (co)

1965

The Cincinnati Kid (Jewison)

1970

M*A*S*H (Altman)

1971

La mortadella ( Lady Liberty ) (Monicelli) (co)

1977

The Greatest (Gries)

1978

Semi-Tough (uncredited)

Film as Actor:

1988

My Name Is Bertolt Brecht—Exile in U.S.A. (Bunge)



Publications


By LARDNER: books—

The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (novel), New York, 1954.

The Lardners: My Family Remembered , New York, 1976.

All for Love (novel), New York, 1985.


By LARDNER: articles—

In The Hollywood Screenwriter , edited by Richard Corliss, New York, 1972.

Cine Cubano (Havana), no. 98, 1980.

Film Comment (New York), September/October 1988.


On LARDNER: articles—

Olin, Joyce, in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.

Filmnews , April 1991.

Robb, D., "Naming the Right Names: Amending the Hollywood Blacklist," in The Journal: Writer's Guild of America, West (Los Angeles), November 1996.

U.S. News & World Report , 3 November 1997.

Free Inquiry , vol. 18, no. 3, Summer 1998.


* * *


Ring Lardner, Jr., had a spotty career as a writer for films. Richard Corliss described it as perhaps the most frustrating of any major screenwriter in Hollywood. He began his film work at Selznick International Pictures in 1936, where he wrote the ending of A Star Is Born with Budd Schulberg and married Selznick's secretary Silvia Schulman. He soon moved to Warner Bros., however, because of the lack of other opportunities with Selznick. But here, too, he failed to establish himself as a screenwriter of notice, and in the fall of 1938 he moved again, this time to RKO where he finally received his first screen credits in 1940 for two run-of-the-mill film adaptations of Jean Hersholt's Dr. Christian radio series.

Lardner's big break finally came when, before being inducted into the army, Garson Kanin, who had been directing at RKO, turned over an idea for a Katharine Hepburn film to his brother, Michael, and Lardner. The two young screenwriters did a 90-page treatment for a film, later to be titled Woman of the Year , and sent it to Hepburn. She directed it to Louis B. Mayer and negotiated a contract for them. The movie became the first of the nine Tracy–Hepburn films and garnered an Academy Award for best screenplay. It proved to be the first of a run of successes for Lardner during the 1940s, including Tay Garnett's The Cross of Lorraine , Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger , Otto Preminger's Forever Amber , and Jean Negulesco's Forbidden Street .

But in 1947 Lardner's career was suddenly halted when he was blacklisted for his leftist political activities. Until 1963, Lardner was reduced to writing anonymously for British and American television dramas with an occasional unsigned film script. He would later say of this time that it probably did him some good to be removed from the temptations of writing for the screen and southern California. During his years on the blacklist, Lardner wrote a novel, The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (1954). Nonetheless, his movie career was spectacularly resurrected in 1970 when he won both an Academy Award and the Writers Guild Award for his screenplay for Robert Altman's M*A*S*H . But since that triumph Lardner has spent less time working on screenplays and more time on fiction and journalism.

Lardner and Kanin's Woman of the Year proved the ideal Hepburn vehicle because it deals with sex roles and the difficulty of keeping private and professional lives separate. Tracy's maleness and Hepburn's femininity are both so assured that the reversal of roles is accomplished within the film as the two newspaper employees, a sportswriter and political correspondent, are able to put together a far-fromconventional marriage. Although the film finally comes down on the side of convention and Sam Craig (Tracy), it is clear that Tess Harding (Hepburn) will remain an independent woman, but one who can manage both career and home.

The screen work Lardner did between winning his Academy Award and his blacklisting reflected his leftist activities, which had begun as early as 1937 when he attended a Marxist study group with Budd and Virginia Schulberg. Lardner spent the middle 1940s scripting a number of politically committed films. After doing some uncredited rewriting on Otto Preminger's Laura and Robert Z. Leonard's Marriage Is a Private Affair , Lardner wrote The Cross of Lorraine which dealt with French capitulation to the Nazis but ended with a restatement of a commitment to fight for a free France, and Tomorrow the World , which was adapted from a Broadway play and traces the activities of a German youth who was brought to the Midwest by his father's brother after his parents perish in a concentration camp. The boy believes fervently in the Nazi cause and tries to spread anti-Semitism and steal war documents from his uncle. Finally, Lardner worked with Fritz Lang on a melodramatic spy film about the OSS called Cloak and Dagger . Although the scripts for these films are far from distinguished, they do reflect Lardner's political leanings.

Lardner's last two films before his blacklisting were for Otto Preminger at Twentieth Century-Fox, and were both costume dramas. First, he was hired to work on Michael Dunn's script for Forever Amber and then to adapt Margery Sharp's Britannia Mews into the film The Forbidden Street , another melodrama depicting the clash between classes brought on by marriage between the upper and lower orders.

Summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947, Lardner was questioned about his political values and uttered his famous retort that he could answer but that he would hate himself in the morning. He was jailed for contempt of Congress for his silent resistance and for refusing to name names and served nine months of a one-year sentence at the Federal Corrections Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. For the next ten years Lardner wrote uncredited material for television and the movies, often abroad, including work on Joseph Losey's The Big Night (1951). In 1963 Sam Peckinpah hired Lardner to adapt Richard Jessup's novel The Cincinnati Kid for the screen. Although both Peckinpah and Lardner were eventually fired from the project—Norman Jewison subsequently directed the film and Terry Southern rewrote it—Lardner was credited for the script when the movie was released in 1965, thereby breaking his long exile from the movies.

Lardner received his second Academy Award and revived his career as a screenwriter with his work on M*A*S*H , directed by Robert Altman. The script was only partially based on the novel by a former Army surgeon writing under the pseudonym of Richard Hooker. The film has been widely criticized for its violence and antifeminist tone, especially in handling the major female character, "Hot Lips" Houlihan. Much has also been made of the film's antiwar message delivered via the violence and sadism of the central characters. The film's message seemed to say the only way to remain sane during wartime is to go in sane. The film and its attitude towards its characters and the war continues to create controversy, but it restored Lardner to a position of eminence in the film world. Nevertheless, it was a position which failed to inspire him to throw himself exclusively back into script writing.

Lardner's career in the movies has been described as one of the most frustrating of any of the major screenwriting talents which came out of the Hollywood system. So, perhaps, it is understandable that in spite of his reclaimed fame he would remain leery of an industry which shut him out so completely during the years of his blacklisting. Now, although he still works on movie projects, he also continues to devote time to television and journalism as well.

—Charles L. P. Silet

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