March 30, 1897|
New York City, New York
|Died||September 20, 1955
Los Angeles, California
(m. 1942-1955; his death)
Riskin began his career as a playwright, writing for many local New York City playhouses. Two of his plays, Bless You, Sister and Many a Slip, managed to have successful runs on Broadway. He moved to Hollywood in 1931 after Columbia Pictures bought the screen rights to several of his plays. His first collaboration with director Frank Capra came in 1931 with the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle The Miracle Woman.
Although Riskin wrote a number of other films for Columbia, it was his string of hit ventures with Capra that brought him acclaim. Riskin received Academy Award nominations for his screenplays for the Capra films Lady for a Day (1933), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, You Can't Take It with You (1938) with Lionel Barrymore and James Stewart, and Here Comes the Groom (1951) with Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman. He was awarded the Oscar for his much-lauded screenplay for 1934's It Happened One Night.
By 1941, when Capra directed Riskin's Meet John Doe, the screenwriter had tired of Capra's knack for taking credit for Riskin's work. After several confrontations with the director while working on Meet John Doe, Riskin never willingly collaborated with Capra again. (According to Hollywood legend, he brandished a blank page in Capra's face and challenged: "Put the famous Capra touch on that!") In 1945, Riskin wrote the story for The Thin Man Goes Home and had an uncredited collaboration on the 1946 film noir classic The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. The following year, he wrote and produced the minor James Stewart hit Magic Town. Directed by William Wellman, Magic Town has a similar flavor and tone to Riskin's Capra-directed films.
Riskin directed only one film, When You're in Love, a minor musical starring Grace Moore and Cary Grant. Unsuccessful at the box office, When You're in Love is now remembered (if at all) for an unusual publicity stunt: silent film-star Louise Brooks was given a chance at a comeback by appearing as a chorus girl in this movie.
Stroke and death
In 1950, Robert Riskin suffered a debilitating stroke that prevented him from writing additional scripts. His last screenplays, still in the pipeline, were produced between 1950 and 1951. Ironically, Frank Capra was assigned to Riskin's last original story, Here Comes the Groom, which he directed in 1951. Years after Riskin's death in 1955, Capra directed a remake of the 1933 film "Lady for a Day," which Riskin had written from a short story by Damon Runyon and Capra had directed. The 1961 version, with a screenplay by Hal Kanter and Harry Tugend from the Riskin-Runyon material was titled "A Pocketful of Miracles". The film became Capra's last.
Upon his death on September 20, 1955, Riskin was in the 13th year of marriage to actress Fay Wray. Riskin had two children and one adopted daughter with Wray, including Susan (born 1936, adopted 1942), Robert (born 1943), and Victoria (born 1946). Interment Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood California.
A biography by Ian Scott, In Capra's Shadow: The Life and Career of Screenwriter Robert Riskin, was published in 2006 by the University Press of Kentucky.
- The Miracle Woman (1931)
- Platinum Blonde (1931)
- American Madness (1933)
- It Happened One Night (1934)
- Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
- When You're in Love (1937) also director
- Lost Horizon (1937)
- You Can't Take It with You (1938)
- Meet John Doe (1941)
- The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
- Magic Town (1947) also producer
- Here Comes the Groom (1951)
- Half Angel (1951)
- Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
- Best Writing, Adaptation (Lady for a Day, 1934)
- Best Writing, Screenplay (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, 1937)
- Best Writing, Screenplay (You Can't Take It with You, 1939)
- Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Here Comes the Groom, 1952)
- "Robert Riskin, Who Won 'Oscar' For 'It Happened Ohe Night,' Dies." New York Times. September 22, 1955.
- Churchill, Douglas W. "Capra and Riskin to Film 'Life and Death of John Doe' for First Independent Venture." New York Times. November 7, 1939.
- "Robert Riskin Joins Metro as Producer-Writer -- Paramount and Roxy Top Holiday Marks." New York Times. January 2, 1942.
- "Fay Wray Married to Robert Riskin." New York Times. August 25, 1942.
- Robert Riskin at the Internet Movie Database
- Six Screenplays by Robert Riskin, Edited and Introduced by Pat McGilligan.
- Robert Riskin at Find a Grave