Ring Lardner

Ring Lardner

Ring Lardner Jr., the son of the famous journalist and humorist, Ring Lardner, was born on 19th August, 1915. After being educated at Princeton University he became a reporter on the New York Daily Mirror.

Lardner moved to Hollywood where he worked as a publicist and script doctor. His first two films, uncredited, were Nothing Sacred (1937) and A Star Is Born (1937).

Lardner held strong left-wing views and during the Spanish Civil War he helped raise funds for the Popular Front government. His younger brother, James Lardner, went to Spain as a newspaper reporter. As John Gates later pointed out in his autobiography: "One day, he asked me what I thought about his volunteering for the Lincoln Battalion. I told him that the war was in its final stages, that things looked bad. The stream of volunteers from the States had stopped. Lardner volunteered. The morale of the men in the Brigade was strongly affected at the news. In the last days of action by the Lincoln Battalion, young Lardner was killed."

Lardner began writing his own material, this included Woman of the Year, a film that won an Academy Award for the best screenplay in 1942. Other notable scripts included The Cross of Lorraine (1943), Marriage Is a Private Affair (1944), Laura (1944), Brotherhood of Man (1946), Cloak and Dagger (1946) and Forever Amber (1947)

Lardner was an active member of the Screen Writers and Authors Guild. He was also involved in organizing anti-fascist demonstrations. Although his political involvement upset the owners of the film studios, he continued to be given work and in 1947 became one of the highest paid scriptwriters in Hollywood when he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox at $2,000 a week.

After the Second World War the House Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

In 1947 nineteen members of the film industry who were suspected of being communists were called to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. This included Lardner, Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Larry Parks, Waldo Salt, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Robert Rossen, Lewis Milestone and Irving Pichel.

Lardner appeared before the HUAC on 30th October, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson, he refused to answer any questions. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. Lardner refused to confirm that he was a member of the Screen Writers Guild and the American Communist Party. He told John Parnell Thomas that he was unwilling to answer the follow-up question on identifying other members of these organisations. He added: "It depends on the circumstances. I could answer it, but if I did I would hate myself in the morning." He told the New York Herald Tribune: "I have always associated the words I'll hate myself in the morning with a situation in which a previously chaste woman is succumbing to the indecent blandishment of a scoundral and very likely launching herself on the road to prostitution. That is the analogy I wished to suggest."

Lardner had written a statement but he was not allowed to read it to the House of Un-American Activities Committee. It included an account of his record of screen writing: "My principal occupation is that of screen writer, I have contributed to more than a dozen motion pictures, among them Woman of the Year, for which I received an Academy Award. The Cross of Lorraine, about the anti-fascist movement in France during the war, the screen version of the play Tomorrow the World, about the effects of Nazi education, Cloak and Dagger, about the heroic work of our Office of Strategic Services, and an animated cartoon called The Brotherhood of Man, based on the pamphlet, The Races of Mankind, and exposing the myth that any inherent differences exist among people of different skin color and geographical origin.... My record includes no anti-democratic word or act, no spoken or written expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Negro feeling or opposition to American democratic principles as I understand them."

The House Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed with the Hollywood Ten and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress and Lardner was sentenced to twelve months in Danbury Federal Correctional Institution and fined $1,000. Lardner was sacked by 20th Century Fox on 28th October, 1947.

Lardner and his wife decided to go and live in Mexico City. They were joined by their friends, Ian McLellan Hunter, Dalton Trumbo, Hugo Butler, Jean Rouverol and Albert Maltz. On Saturday mornings this group and their children used to have picnic lunches and play baseball together. The FBI were spying on them in Mexico and according to declassified reports, the agents believed that these picnics were cover for "Communist meetings." They were later joined by Martha Dodd and Frederick Vanderbilt Field.

Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Lardner worked for the next couple of years on the novel, The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (1954). In 1955 Lardner and Ian McLellan Hunter moved back to the United States and went to live in Manhattan. The two men were approached by Hannah Weinstein, a blacklisted journalist who had moved to London. As Lardner later explained: "Hannah, the former executive secretary of the leftish Independent Citizen Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, was living in England and running a TV production company.... We were grateful, as well, to find that Hannah had chosen, for our maiden effort in the new medium, a literary property filled with stimulating possibilities. Set in medieval England and filmed largely in around Hannah's appropriately historic estate, Foxwarren, outside London, The Adventures of Robin Hood gave us plenty of opportunities for oblique social comment on the issues and institutions of Eisenhower-era America. And the series was a great success. Using our pilot script and a preview of episodes to come, Hannah sold the package to networks on both sides of the Atlantic; with Richard Greene in the title role, Robin Hood ran for four years, generating profits for everyone concerned and perhaps, in some small way, setting the stage for the 1960s by subverting a whole new generation of young Americans." Adrian Scott and Robert Lees also worked as writers on The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Lardner also wrote under several pseudonyms before the blacklist was lifted. Lardner's later work included The Cincinnati Kid (1965), MASH (1970), for which he won another Academy Award, and The Greatest (1977). His autobiography, I'd Hate Myself in the Morning, was published in 2000.

Ring Lardner Jr died on 31st October 2000.

Primary Sources

(1) Ring Lardner, statement (30th October, 1947)

I wish to speak briefly on two matters which seem to me very pertinent to these proceedings. The first is my own record as it has been impugned by the testimony of some of your witnesses.

My father was a writer in the best tradition of American literature. That tradition is very closely allied to the democratic ideal in American life. Not only I but my three brothers have also been writers. Two of these brothers were killed in separate chapters of the same great struggle to preserve that democratic ideal, one as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain in 1938, the other as a war correspondent in Germany in 1944. I make no claim to the genius of my father or the courage of my brothers, but I do maintain that everything I have done or written has been in keeping with the spirit that governed their work, their lives, and their deaths.

My principal occupation is that of screen writer, I have contributed to more than a dozen motion pictures, among them Woman of the Year, for which I received an Academy Award. The Cross of Lorraine, about the anti-fascist movement in France during the war, the screen version of the play Tomorrow the World, about the effects of Nazi education, Cloak and Dagger, about the heroic work of our Office of Strategic Services, and an animated cartoon called The Brotherhood of Man, based on the pamphlet, The Races of Mankind, and exposing the myth that any inherent differences exist among people of different skin color and geographical origin. It doesn't matter to me what kind of preposterous documents your investigators produce from unnamed sources describing my affiliations under some such heavily cloaked pseudonym as "Ring L." My record includes no anti-democratic word or act, no spoken or written expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Negro feeling or opposition to American democratic principles as I understand them.

Secondly, about un-American activities in Hollywood. The atmosphere there, where I have lived for the last ten years, is considerably different than that of the small segment of Washington to which I have been exposed in the last ten days. There are a few frightened people there-men like Adolphe Menjou and John C. Moffit throw so many furtive glances over their shoulders that they run a serious risk of dislocation. And we have a certain amount of un-American activity there; anti-Semitism, white supremacy nonsense and other efforts to subvert the democratic idea. Every note exchanged between the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and this Committee contributes to an anti-American purpose. I wish there were a committee qualified and competent to investigate these matters. But compared to what I have seen and heard in this room, Hollywood is a citadel of freedom. Here anti-American sentiments are freely expressed and their spokesmen heartily congratulated. Here there is such fear of the effects of free speech that men are forbidden to read statements and are cut off in mid-sentence lest they expose too much of what is going on here to the public.

What I am most concerned about is the ultimate result that might come from a successful fulfillment of your purpose. On Tuesday, the Chairman said that there was subversive material in motion pictures and proposed that it be prevented in the future by an industry blacklist. The motion picture producers have not indicated that they are gullible enough to fall for such a ruse, but if they ever did, the fact that I might be prevented from working at my profession would be of little account. The really important effect would be that the producers themselves would lose control over their pictures, and that the same shackling of education, labor, radio and newspapers would follow. We are already subject in Hollywood to a censorship that makes most pictures empty and childish. Under the kind of censorship which this inquisition threatens, a leading man wouldn't even be able to blurt out the words "I love you" unless he had first secured a notarized affidavit proving she was a pure white, Protestant gentile of old Confederate stock.

(2) Ring Lardner, New York Herald Tribune (7th January, 1948)

Like most of my responses, that one was delivered in pieces, though I insist that I make more sense when I speak than Mr. Thomas does, I will concede him a clear superiority in volume and words per minute. In trying to give my reply to the question about Communist Party membership, I started to say, "I could answer the question exactly the way you want, Mr. Chairman." Thomas broke in with some thoughts which had just occurred to him on the subject of "real Americanism." I waited until he drew a breath, determined to get one complete passable sentence into the record, if' only to justify the efforts of my childhood English teachers. This time I picked up the thought with "I could answer it," the words "exactly the way you want" being incorporated in the implication.

What I meant, therefore, was that I would subsequently reproach myself if I ever yielded to the Committee's terms entirely. I have always associated the words "I'll hate myself in the morning" with a situation in which a previously chaste woman is succumbing to the indecent blandishment of a scoundrel and very likely launching herself on the road to prostitution. That is the analogy I wished to suggest.

(3) John Gates, The Story of an American Communist (1959)

We did, however, get one more volunteer. James Lardner, youngest son of the famous Ring Lardner, had come to Spain as a newspaper correspondent. A quiet, serious young man, he had been deeply stirred by the war. One day, he asked me what I thought about his volunteering for the Lincoln Battalion. I told him that the war was in its final stages, that things looked bad. The stream of volunteers from the States had stopped. Lardner volunteered. The morale of the men in the Brigade was strongly affected at the news. In the last days of action by the Lincoln Battalion, young Lardner was killed. Later Vincent Sheean wrote, in Not Peace But a Sword, the chapter entitled "The Last Volunteer."

(4) Ring Lardner Jr., I'd Hate Myself in the Morning (2000)

In 1955, having finished my book, I needed work that was more immediately and predictably remunerative, and a producer named Hannah Weinstein came through for me, as she did for many others. Hannah, the former executive secretary of the leftish Independent Citizen Committee of the Arts, Sciences, and Professions, was living in England and running a TV production company. Her first project was a series starring Boris Karloff and written by the blacklisted team of Abraham Polonsky and Walter Bernstein; only moderately successful, it was not renewed for a second year. Now she had another venture in mind, for which she approached me and Ian Hunter...

We were grateful, as well, to find that Hannah had chosen, for our maiden effort in the new medium, a literary property filled with stimulating possibilities. Set in medieval England and filmed largely in around Hannah's appropriately historic estate, Foxwarren, outside London, The Adventures of Robin Hood gave us plenty of opportunities for oblique social comment on the issues and institutions of Eisenhower-era America. And the series was a great success. Using our pilot script and a preview of episodes to come, Hannah sold the package to networks on both sides of the Atlantic; with Richard Greene in the title role, Robin Hood ran for four years, generating profits for everyone concerned and perhaps, in some small way, setting the stage for the 1960s by subverting a whole new generation of young Americans.

(5) Ronald Bergan, The Guardian (4th November, 2000)

In 1947, Hollywood became the subject of a fullscale investigation by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC). Ten "unfriendly" witnesses - producers, directors and writers - refused to answer the question, "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?", choosing to regard the committee as unconstitutional, and were thus indicted and imprisoned for contempt of the US Congress.

Ring Lardner Jr, who has died aged 85, was the last surviving member of the Hollywood 10. The other nine were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo and Edward Dmytryk. Only Dmytryk co-operated with the committee, and named names, including Lardner's; after serving their sentences, the other nine were blacklisted.

Lardner had been recruited by the Communist party in Hollywood in 1937. He later became a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, the Citizens Committee for the Defence of Mexican-American Youth, the Hollywood Writers Mobilisation Against the War and the board of the Screen Writers Guild, all tainted with the "red" brush.

Although Lardner allowed his party membership to lapse, he still said, in Moscow, in 1987: "I've never regretted my association with communism. I still think that some form of socialism is a more rational way to organise a society, but I recognise it hasn't worked anywhere yet."

Lardner Jr was born in Chicago, the son of Ring Lardner, one of America's greatest humorists, and joined the socialist club while studying at Princeton. After his second year, he travelled to the Soviet Union - and was impressed. In 1935, he returned to New York, aged 20, where he worked as a reporter before going to Hollywood as a publicist for David O Selznick's new film company.

Soon afterwards, Selznick secretly asked Lardner and Budd Schulberg, a young man in the story department, to rewrite several scenes in William Wellman's A Star Is Born (1937). Although not credited, they are said to have come up with some of the best lines - such as the publicity agent's remark after the alcoholic actor Norman Maine (Fredric March) has drowned: "How do you wire congratulations to the Pacific Ocean?" Lardner also contributed - uncredited again - to the dialogue in Wellman's acerbic comedy, Nothing Sacred (1937).

His first screen credits were as co-writer on two films in the folksy medical series, Dr Christian. But his breakthrough came with the script for George Stevens's Woman Of The Year (1942), about the love-hate marriage of a sophisticated political columnist and a gruff sportswriter, based on Lardner Sr's relationship with Dorothy Parker. The first - and one of the best - of the nine Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films, emphasised the feminist angle until the ending (rewritten by Michael Kanin), in which Hepburn's character submits to domesticity to keep the man she loves. It won Lardner (with Kanin) his first Oscar for best original screenplay.

After wartime army service, Lardner co-wrote three po-faced anti-Nazi screenplays: The Cross Of Lorraine (1944), Tomorrow The World (1944) and Cloak And Dagger (1946).

In 1947, Lardner signed a lucrative contract with 20th-Century Fox to write Forever Amber, from Kathleen Winsor's bodice-ripper about a poor girl (Linda Darnell) who sleeps her way to Charles II. However, due to the censorship of the time, Lardner and his co-writers had to suggest, rather than show, eroticism.

Then came his HUAC appearance. When he was asked if he was or ever had been a communist, Lardner replied: "I could answer the question exactly the way you want, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning."

After nine months in prison, and unable to work in Hollywood, Lardner eventually found work in London, contributing to the 1950s television series, The Adventures Of Robin Hood. Like several other blacklisted writers, he was forced to use a pseudonym to allow for American sales. The British-made Virgin Island (1958) credits "Philip Rush" with the screenplay, although a British historian of the same name wrote to the Times refuting any connection with the mediocre movie.

Rehabilitation came in 1965, when Norman Jewison got Lardner and Terry Southern to deliver a cracking script for the stud-poker classic The Cincinnati Kid, starring Steve McQueen. Writing under his own name again revitalised Lardner, and the iconoclastic, anti-war satire M*A*S*H (1970) found him at his peak. Robert Altman's film struck a chord with young audiences, who saw the Korean war setting as a reference to Vietnam.

One of the last films Lardner wrote was The Greatest (1977), in which Muhammad Ali played himself. Although most of the work is innocuous, the screenplay still has the courage to include Malcolm X's line, "A white man is a blue-eyed devil", and Ali's protest against the Vietnam war: "No Vietcong ever called me nigger".

In later years, Lardner wrote two novels; his memoir, I'd Hate Myself In The Morning, is to be published posthumously. He first married Selznick's secretary, Sylvia Schulman, whom he divorced, and then Frances Chaney, the widow of his brother David, who was killed by a landmine in Germany while reporting the Second World War for the New Yorker. She survives him, as do three sons and two daughters.

(6) Emily Farache, E-Online (1st November, 2000)

Ring Lardner Jr., the last surviving member of the Hollywood 10, a group of screenwriters who were jailed and blacklisted during the Joseph McCarthy era, died of cancer Tuesday in New York City. He was 85. Lardner won two Oscars for his screenplay work, but he is best remembered for refusing to answer questions demanded of him at the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947.

When Representative J. Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the committee, demanded to know if Mr. Lardner was or ever had been a Communist, Lardner hesitated before answering. Lardner was a Communist, but he felt that his political inclinations were none of the government's business.

"I could answer the question exactly the way you want," Lardner replied, "but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning." An angry Thomas had him removed from the witness stand.

He was eventually jailed with nine others: Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Sam Ornitz, Robert Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo. Lardner served about nine months in prison in the 1950s, and then worked in Mexico, New York and London writing TV series. He used various pen names to conceal his identity until the 1960s.

Before the Communist witch hunts, Lardner shared an Academy Award for best original screenplay with Michael Kanin in 1942 for Woman of the Year, a comedy that marked the first teaming of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In 1970, after the blacklist was lifted, he received an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for M*A*S*H.

This past August, the Writers Guild of America finally restored the credits of blacklisted writers on 1950s and 1960s films, crediting Lardner and Hugo Butler for The Big Night, a 1951 film noir starring John Drew Barrymore.

The son of sportswriting legend Ring Lardner, Lardner was born in Chicago and grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, and Great Neck, New York. He is survived by his wife, Frances Chaney, and three sons.

Lardner discovered socialism while studying at Princeton. After his sophomore year, he enrolled at the Anglo-American Institute of the University of Moscow, a center established to encourage young Americans to support the Soviet system.

When Lardner returned to Moscow in 1987, he told The New York Times, "I've never regretted my association with Communism. I still think that some form of socialism is a more rational way to organize a society, but I recognize it hasn't worked anywhere yet."

(7) BBC Online News (2nd November, 2000)

Ring Lardner Jr, the double Oscar winner and last of the Hollywood Ten, has died of cancer aged 85. The screenwriter was the last surviving member of the band of 10 writers and directors who were jailed and blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy era in the 1950s.

Ring Lardner Jr won two Oscars in a career spanning more than 50 years Lardner and others were called to the stand to answer the infamous query, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?". The writer was indeed a communist but believed that his political views were none of the government's business.

"I could answer the question exactly the way you want," Lardner said under questioning in 1947 from J Parnell Thomas, a republican representative. He added: "But if I did, I would hate myself in the morning."

He and 10 others refused to answer the question while some, such as director Elia Kazan, named names. Lardner was jailed for nine months in the 1950s because of his refusal to answer questions about his politics. From 1947 to the 1960s he found it almost impossible to find work in the US and was forced to look abroad or use pseudonyms to work in Hollywood.

Earlier this year, the Writers Guild of America corrected the credits of eight blacklisted writers on 14 films from the 1950s and 1960s. A film about the events of the period, One of the Hollywood Ten, is in production and stars Jeff Goldblum and Greta Scacchi.