Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

J.R. JONES' THE LIFE OF ROBERT RYAN -- A TERRIFIC BOOK


AndyM108
 Share

Recommended Posts

I just finished reading the new bio of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones, and I'd highly recommend it to any fans of one of Hollywood's largely forgotten giants.  The author had access to Ryan's papers and to all three of his children, and the result gives us a three dimensional portrait of the man that goes way beyond mere summaries of his 80-odd films and TV dramas.

 

Rather than try to summarize the book to do it full justice, which I could never do, I'll only mention three bits of fun trivia I discovered, and then one fascinating insight.

 

First the trivia.

 

---Many of us here know about Ryan's work in various civil rights and anti-war causes, but what I didn't know that among the other stars of his time who were also involved in anti-war activity was none other than-----Lee Marvin. 

 

---While they were filming together in England late in their careers, Ryan and John Wayne---who liked and respected each other---got into a heated political dispute over drinks one night.  After Wayne persisted in his baiting, Ryan invited him to take it outside----and Wayne quickly backed down.  Since Ryan had been a boxing champion in college, Wayne's demurral was likely the better part of valor.

 

---After Ryan's wife Jessica died, Ryan moved from the Dakota Apartment to a smaller one also on Central Park West, and sold his larger apartment to---John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

 

Then the insight.

 

I'd known about Ryan's lifelong marriage to Jessica Cadwalader, and that she'd shared his political views and values along with his taciturn nature in public.  But what I didn't know is that she'd thought and written extensively on the question of women's role in society, in part reflecting the melancholy fact that in spite of her own successful career as a writer, she was always thought of as "Mrs. Robert Ryan" or "Robert Ryan's wife".  She said that Ryan understood her sense of alienation about this, but mainly "intellectually".

 

And then on pp. 242-243 the author tells us of an unpublished manuscript that Jessica Ryan wrote called Woman---The Mythless American, in which she relates that her study of violence in America led her to believe that it was fueled by our "national mythology"  I'll end this little bit of infotainment by quoting from that work:

 

"In the course of [my study], two things began to be apparent to me.  One, American mythology is entirely for men---and for men at a pre-adolescent, gang-age stage of human development; two there are no myths for women, nor are there women of any significance in the myths of men....All the legislation in the world with respect to women can change nothing if the mythology, the cultural mores of the nation do not change."

 

The manuscript hit a stone wall after 50 pages, and the author wonders just how Jessica Ryan would have applied her thoughts to Robert Ryan's lifelong repertory of gangster movies, westerns, and war movies.  Lots of food for thought in that one, and the entire book is of a similarly high quality, definitely worth a slot on any movie lover's book shelf.

 

51nGQ46tPBL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

 

  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just finished reading the new bio of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones, and I'd highly recommend it to any fans of one of Hollywood's largely forgotten giants.  The author had access to Ryan's papers and to all three of his children, and the result gives us a three dimensional portrait of the man that goes way beyond mere summaries of his 80-odd films and TV dramas.

 

Rather than try to summarize the book to do it full justice, which I could never do, I'll only mention three bits of fun trivia I discovered, and then one fascinating insight.

 

First the trivia.

 

---Many of us here know about Ryan's work in various civil rights and anti-war causes, but what I didn't know that among the other stars of his time who were also involved in anti-war activity was none other than-----Lee Marvin. 

 

---While they were filming together in England late in their careers, Ryan and John Wayne---who liked and respected each other---got into a heated political dispute over drinks one night.  After Wayne persisted in his baiting, Ryan invited him to take it outside----and Wayne quickly backed down.  Since Ryan had been a boxing champion in college, Wayne's demurral was likely the better part of valor.

 

---After Ryan's wife Jessica died, Ryan moved from the Dakota Apartment to a smaller one also on Central Park West, and sold his larger apartment to---John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

 

Then the insight.

 

I'd known about Ryan's lifelong marriage to Jessica Cadwalader, and that she'd shared his political views and values along with his taciturn nature in public.  But what I didn't know is that she'd thought and written extensively on the question of women's role in society, in part reflecting the melancholy fact that in spite of her own successful career as a writer, she was always thought of as "Mrs. Robert Ryan" or "Robert Ryan's wife".  She said that Ryan understood her sense of alienation about this, but mainly "intellectually".

 

And then on pp. 242-243 the author tells us of an unpublished manuscript that Jessica Ryan wrote called Woman---The Mythless American, in which she relates that her study of violence in America led her to believe that it was fueled by our "national mythology"  I'll end this little bit of infotainment by quoting from that work:

 

"In the course of [my study], two things began to be apparent to me.  One, American mythology is entirely for men---and for men at a pre-adolescent, gang-age stage of human development; two there are no myths for women, nor are there women of any significance in the myths of men....All the legislation in the world with respect to women can change nothing if the mythology, the cultural mores of the nation do not change."

 

The manuscript hit a stone wall after 50 pages, and the author wonders just how Jessica Ryan would have applied her thoughts to Robert Ryan's lifelong repertory of gangster movies, westerns, and war movies.  Lots of food for thought in that one, and the entire book is of a similarly high quality, definitely worth a slot on any movie lover's book shelf.

 

51nGQ46tPBL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

 

Andy, thanks for bringing this book to our attention. There are many Robert Ryan fans here who I'm sure will appreciate it.

 

Especially interesting :  the stuff about Jessica Cadwalader  (notice I didn't say "Robert Ryan's wife" ) being a feminist writer and critic. The Molly Haskell of the 1940s?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just finished reading the new bio of Robert Ryan by J.R. Jones, and I'd highly recommend it to any fans of one of Hollywood's largely forgotten giants.  The author had access to Ryan's papers and to all three of his children, and the result gives us a three dimensional portrait of the man that goes way beyond mere summaries of his 80-odd films and TV dramas.

 

Rather than try to summarize the book to do it full justice, which I could never do, I'll only mention three bits of fun trivia I discovered, and then one fascinating insight.

 

First the trivia.

 

---Many of us here know about Ryan's work in various civil rights and anti-war causes, but what I didn't know that among the other stars of his time who were also involved in anti-war activity was none other than-----Lee Marvin. 

 

---While they were filming together in England late in their careers, Ryan and John Wayne---who liked and respected each other---got into a heated political dispute over drinks one night.  After Wayne persisted in his baiting, Ryan invited him to take it outside----and Wayne quickly backed down.  Since Ryan had been a boxing champion in college, Wayne's demurral was likely the better part of valor.

 

---After Ryan's wife Jessica died, Ryan moved from the Dakota Apartment to a smaller one also on Central Park West, and sold his larger apartment to---John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

 

Then the insight.

 

I'd known about Ryan's lifelong marriage to Jessica Cadwalader, and that she'd shared his political views and values along with his taciturn nature in public.  But what I didn't know is that she'd thought and written extensively on the question of women's role in society, in part reflecting the melancholy fact that in spite of her own successful career as a writer, she was always thought of as "Mrs. Robert Ryan" or "Robert Ryan's wife".  She said that Ryan understood her sense of alienation about this, but mainly "intellectually".

 

And then on pp. 242-243 the author tells us of an unpublished manuscript that Jessica Ryan wrote called Woman---The Mythless American, in which she relates that her study of violence in America led her to believe that it was fueled by our "national mythology"  I'll end this little bit of infotainment by quoting from that work:

 

"In the course of [my study], two things began to be apparent to me.  One, American mythology is entirely for men---and for men at a pre-adolescent, gang-age stage of human development; two there are no myths for women, nor are there women of any significance in the myths of men....All the legislation in the world with respect to women can change nothing if the mythology, the cultural mores of the nation do not change."

 

The manuscript hit a stone wall after 50 pages, and the author wonders just how Jessica Ryan would have applied her thoughts to Robert Ryan's lifelong repertory of gangster movies, westerns, and war movies.  Lots of food for thought in that one, and the entire book is of a similarly high quality, definitely worth a slot on any movie lover's book shelf.

 

51nGQ46tPBL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

What exactly are the criteria for the determination that he is "largely forgotten"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What exactly are the criteria for the determination that he is "largely forgotten"?

 

Couldn't one say that any actor that has a book written about their career and life is NOT 'largely forgotten' by definition?

 

Out of all the actors in American film history how many have books written about them?   1%?  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Andy, thanks for bringing this book to our attention. There are many Robert Ryan fans here who I'm sure will appreciate it.

 

Especially interesting :  the stuff about Jessica Cadwalader  (notice I didn't say "Robert Ryan's wife" ) being a feminist writer and critic. The Molly Haskell of the 1940s?

 

Jessica Cadwalader indeed embodied much of Molly Haskell's spirit and insights, but like many women of her generation other than a handful of Simone de Beauvoirs, she never was able to find public expression for her thoughts, although she published a fair number of books under her married name and then under a pen name. 

 

That may sound contradictory, but her public writing wasn't in the realm of film criticism or feminism---it was crime novels, some of which you can still find here on abebooks.  Her writings on feminist themes were largely confined to her diaries and other unpublished works, and one of the many, many virtues of the Jones bio is that the author makes extensive use of them, particularly her diaries, all through the book.  While the book naturally has its primary focus on the actor, Jessica's spirit and influence are constantly cited in conjunction with many of the joint ventures they undertook, such as the founding of an experimental private school and their activities in various liberal causes.  If the book were little more than a pitch-by-pitch account of Robert Ryan's cinematic repertory, it wouldn't have been nearly as interesting as it is, and I think it's exactly the type of biography that both partners in that long term marriage would have approved of.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What exactly are the criteria for the determination that he is "largely forgotten"?

 I think I've explained this elsewhere, but I'll be glad to do it again:  By "largely forgotten", I mean that the casual "classic film" fan, of the type whose taste in movies is shaped by such whitebread forces as public television's occasional screenings and the AFI's top 25 / top 50 / top 100 lists, are far less likely to know about Robert Ryan than they are about Bogart / Bacall / Powell / Loy / Gable / Leigh / Cagney / Stewart / Cooper / Bergman / Astaire / Rogers  and so on.  The average casual fan of classic films has likely seen maybe 50 or 100 of them at most,* and in most cases I strongly doubt that they'd include any films with Robert Ryan.

 

That's what I mean by "largely forgotten".  It's all relative.  I don't mean that he's not better known than Ned Sparks or Glenda Farrell.  I don't mean that he's been forgotten by anyone who's a serious TCM viewer, or a frequenter of repertory movie houses.  But people like that are a minority of a minority of a minority.

 

And I know that there are other definitions of "forgotten".  But that's mine, and I'm sticking to it.

 

* Movies like GWTW, Casablanca, The Thin Man, It Happened One Night, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Best Years of Our Lives, a Fred & Ginger movie or two, 42nd Steet, Double Indemnity, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, Gentleman's Agreement---movies that are aimed to "entertain" or challenge us very gently,  and little else.  That's not a knock on these movies, but the average casual "classic film" fan seldom goes much beyond them.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 I think I've explained this elsewhere, but I'll be glad to do it again:  By "largely forgotten", I mean that the casual "classic film" fan, of the type whose taste in movies is shaped by such whitebread forces as public television's occasional screenings and the AFI's top 25 / top 50 / top 100 lists, are far less likely to know about Robert Ryan than they are about Bogart / Bacall / Powell / Loy / Gable / Leigh / Cagney / Stewart / Cooper / Bergman / Astaire / Rogers  and so on.  The average casual fan of classic films has likely seen maybe 50 or 100 of them at most,* and in most cases I strongly doubt that they'd include any films with Robert Ryan.

 

That's what I mean by "largely forgotten".  It's all relative.  I don't mean that he's not better known than Ned Sparks or Glenda Farrell.  I don't mean that he's been forgotten by anyone who's a serious TCM viewer, or a frequenter of repertory movie houses.  But people like that are a minority of a minority of a minority.

 

And I know that there are other definitions of "forgotten".  But that's mine, and I'm sticking to it.

 

* Movies like GWTW, Casablanca, The Thin Man, It Happened One Night, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Best Years of Our Lives, a Fred & Ginger movie or two, 42nd Steet, Double Indemnity, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, Gentleman's Agreement---movies that are aimed to "entertain" or challenge us very gently,  and little else.  That's not a knock on these movies, but the average casual "classic film" fan seldom goes much beyond them.

 

I have never meet an average casual 'classic film' fan.   I'm not cracking wise here or just trying to be contrary.   I know two people outside of this forum (my brother and a guy at work) that have seen a good amount of studio-era movies (Ok not like us here at this forum but way more than just an handful of the iconic ones).  Others have seen Oz,  GWTW and just a handful of others (they know the names of many more films, like Breakfast at Tiffany's,  and the iconic stars (Audrey, Monroe) but have never seen them in  a film).   I don't call these folks casual fans since I don't view them as fans of studio-era movies at all.

 

But hey, I don't call someone that has only heard Kenny-G a casual jazz fan!    :D  

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have never meet an average casual 'classic film' fan.   I'm not cracking wise here or just trying to be contrary.   I know two people outside of this forum (my brother and a guy at work) that have seen a good amount of studio-era movies (Ok not like us here at this forum but way more than just an handful of the iconic ones).  Others have seen Oz,  GWTW and just a handful of others (they know the names of many more films, like Breakfast at Tiffany's,  and the iconic stars (Audrey, Monroe) but have never seen them in  a film).   I don't call these folks casual fans since I don't view them as fans of studio-era movies at all.

 

There's more than one way to define a "casual" classic movie fan, but  I'd say that someone who "just loves old movies" and waxes enthusiastically about Bogie or Audrey, but can't tell you the first thing about Ryan or Lupino, would be an almost perfect example of the archetype.

 

As I've mentioned before, I owned a used book shop for many years.  Over time I ran into hundreds of customers in (just to pick one topic) military history, who would buy bestselling books on that subject  written by journalists or amateur historians, but who never even inquired about authors who wrote for university presses or specialty publishers.  That's not a knock on these customers, but compared to the "TCM" type of military history customer, they could only be described in relative terms as "casually" interested in military history.   It's a bit like baseball fans who get their historical knowledge of baseball from Ken Burns's TV specials, which almost by definition don't have the time to dig much beyond the surface. 

 

But hey, I don't call someone that has only heard Kenny-G a casual jazz fan!    :D

 

No, but what about someone who in college wore out the grooves of  "Kind of Blue" or "Time Out", but who's never heard of James Moody or Bix Beiderbecke or Teddy Wilson?  What other description could you give such a person than "casual jazz fan"?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

© 2023 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...