Robert Ardrey

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Robert Ardrey (October 16, 1908, Chicago, Illinois – January 14, 1980, South Africa) was an American playwright and screenwriter who returned to his academic training in anthropology and the behavioral sciences in the 1950s.[1][2]

African Genesis (1961) and The Territorial Imperative, two of Robert Ardrey's most widely read works, as well as Desmond Morris' The Naked Ape (1967), were key elements in the public discourse of the 1960s that challenged earlier anthropological assumptions. Ardrey's ideas notably influenced Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in the development of 2001: A Space Odyssey,[3][4][5][6] as well as Sam Peckinpah, to whom Strother Martin gave copies of two of Ardrey's books.[7][8][9][10][11]


As a science writer for the informed non-specialist reader in paleoanthropology, which encompasses anthropology, ethology, paleontology, zoology and[12] human evolution, Robert Ardrey was among the proponents of the hunting hypothesis and the killer ape theory.

Ardrey postulated that precursors of Australopithecus survived millions of years of drought in the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, as the savannah spread and the forests shrank, by adapting the hunting ways of carnivorous species. Changes in survival techniques and social organisation gradually differentiated pre-humans from other primates. Concomitant changes in diet potentiated unique developments in the human brain.

The killer ape theory posits that aggression, a vital factor in hunting prey for food, was a fundamental characteristic which distinguished prehuman ancestors from other primates.

These themes have also been investigated in academia by, among others:


Some of the scientists whose research particularly informed Robert Ardrey's scientific investigations, and with several of whom Ardrey consulted at length while developing his four major works in Africa from the 1940s through the 1970s, include:



  • World's Beginning (1944) (Cited in Everett F. Bleiler's The Checklist of Fantastic Literature, 1948.)
  • The Brotherhood of Fear (1952)






Robert Ardrey was the son of Robert Leslie Ardrey, an editor and publisher, and the former Marie Haswell.[2] He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Chicago, where his mentor was Thornton Wilder. Ardrey was married to Helen Johnson, whom he met at the University, from 1938 until they divorced in 1960. They had two sons, Ross and Daniel. In 1960 Ardrey married the South African stage actress Berdine Grunewald, who later illustrated his books.

The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center in the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University currently houses the Robert Ardrey Collection.[16]


  1. ^ "Finding Aid for the Robert Ardrey Papers, 1935-1960". Online Archive of California. 
  2. ^ a b c Bruce Eder. "Robert Ardrey". Allmovie (The New York Times). Equally comfortable dealing with literary editors such as Bennett Cerf or moguls like Darryl F. Zanuck, he also retained his credibility in the intellectual realm by authoring texts on anthropology, history, and sociology that remain widely respected decades after their publication. The widening dates between Ardrey's film projects came as a result of his increasing literary activity, as he began generating screenplays and novels on his own in the early 1950s and subsequently returned to his academic training in anthropology and the behavioral sciences. From the end of the 1950s, he kept his oar in both fields, film and academia, and occupied a virtually unique position in the Hollywood pecking order because of his dual career. In 1962, he took on the daunting task of turning the World War I-era novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse into relevant entertainment for the early 1960s, authoring the screenplay for Vincente Minnelli's gargantuan 1962 all-star release. 
  3. ^ Clarke, Arthur C. (1972). "2001 Diary (excerpts)". The Lost Worlds of 2001. New American Library (New York). 
  4. ^ Stanley Kubrick (February 27, 1972). "Letter to the editor". The New York Times. Kubrick Site. 
  5. ^ Richard D. Erlich et al. (1997–2005). "Strange Odyssey: From Dart to Ardrey to Kubrick and Clarke". English studies/Film theory course, Science fiction and Film. Miami University. 
  6. ^ Daniel Richter (2002). "Moonwatcher's Memoir: A Diary of 2001, a Space Odyssey". New York City: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 978-0-7867-1073-7. …the longest flash forward in the history of movies: three million years, from bone club to artificial satellite, in a twenty-fourth of a second. (From the Foreword by Arthur C. Clarke.) 
  7. ^ "Peckinpah: Primitive Horror". Time. December 20, 1971. 
  8. ^ David Weddle. If They Move . . . Kill 'Em!: The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah (p. 396). 1994 first edition: Grove Press, ISBN 0-8021-3776-8, ASIN 0802137768.
  9. ^ Paul Cremean (23 May 2006). "Peckinpah's West vs. Mann's Metropolis". Grover Watrous' Golden Egg. Drawing heavily from the work of Robert Ardrey, controversial sociologist and author of ‘African Genesis’ and ‘The Territorial Imperative,’ Peckinpah ascribed to the belief that man is by nature territorial, brutal and elementally animal. 
  10. ^ Garner Simmons. Peckinpah: A Portrait in Montage (p. 128). 1982 first edition: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-76493-6, ASIN 0292764936. 2004 paperback edition: Limelight, ISBN 978-0-87910-273-9, ASIN 087910273X.
  11. ^ Marshall Fine. Bloody Sam: The Life and Films of Sam Peckinpah. 1991 first edition: Dutton Books, ISBN 1-55611-236-X, ISBN 978-1-55611-236-2. 2006 paperback edition: Miramax Books, ISBN 1-4013-5972-8, ISBN 978-1-4013-5972-0.
  12. ^ African Genesis
  13. ^ "Robert Ardrey (10/16/1908 - 1/14/1980) Other Credits". AMC (TV network) website. 
  14. ^ The Schumann Story (1950) at the Internet Movie Database
  15. ^ "Robert Ardrey Filmography". Most Worked With: 1. Peter Ustinov 2. Pandro S. Berman 3. Raoul Walsh 4. Van Heflin 5. Angela Lansbury 6. Christopher Kent 7. Frank Allenby 8. Gene Kelly 9. George Sidney 10. Gladys Cooper 
  16. ^ "Ardrey, Robert". Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center (HGARC), Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University. Also included in the collection is Ardrey’s last manuscript, The Education of Robert Ardrey: An Autobiography (c. 1980), edited and prefaced by Ardrey’s son, Daniel Ardrey. 

External links[edit]


Plays and screenplays