Robert Bushnell Ryan
November 11, 1909
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||July 11, 1973 (aged 63)|
New York City, U.S.
(m. 1939; died 1972)
Robert Bushnell Ryan (November 11, 1909 – July 11, 1973) was an American stage, film, and television actor who most often portrayed hardened cops and ruthless villains. Ryan performed for over three decades and received one nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the vicious murderer Montgomery in the film noir drama Crossfire (1947).
Ryan was born in Chicago, Illinois, the first child of Mable Arbutus (Bushnell), a secretary, and Timothy Aloysius Ryan, who was from a wealthy family who owned a real estate firm. He was of Irish (his paternal grandparents were from Thurles) and English descent. Ryan was raised Catholic and educated at Loyola Academy.
He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1932, where he held the school's heavyweight boxing title for all four years of his attendance, along with lettering in football and track. After graduation, Ryan found employment as a stoker on a ship that traveled to Africa, a WPA worker, a ranch hand in Montana, and other odd jobs.
In 1937 Ryan joined a little theater group in Chicago. The following year he enrolled in the Max Reinhardt Workshop in Hollywood. His role in the 1939 play Too Many Husbands brought an offer from Paramount. Although he had done a screen test for them in 1938 and been turned down as "not the right type", the studio offered him a $75 a week contract.
In November 1939, Paramount signed Ryan to a six month contract and announced he would play the lead in Golden Gloves (1940), citing his boxing experience at Dartmouth. However, after a screen test with Gloves director Edward Dmytryk, the lead went to Richard Denning and Ryan was cast in a minor, but important role as a boxing "ringer". He had his first credited role, while making a lasting association with the director in which they would make several films together.
In the same year, Ryan had small parts in The Ghost Breakers (1940) and Queen of the Mob (1940). Ryan also had small roles in North West Mounted Police (1941) and Texas Rangers Ride Again (1941). Then Paramount dropped him.
He went to Broadway, where he was cast in a production of Clifford Odets' Clash by Night (1941–42), directed by Lee Strasberg and produced by Billy Rose starring Tallulah Bankhead and Lee J. Cobb. It had a run of 49 performances, but was high-profile and led to him being signed to a long-term contract by RKO.
He was fourth-billed in Behind the Rising Sun (1943), directed by Dmytryk, which was a huge box-office success. Ryan was third-billed in The Iron Major (1943), with O'Brien, and Gangway for Tomorrow (1943).
RKO promoted him to star status in Tender Comrade (1943), where he was Ginger Rogers's leading man, directed for the third time by Dymytryk. It was a big hit. Also popular was Marine Raiders (1944), which Ryan co-starred again alongside O'Brien.
World War II
Ryan enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served as a drill instructor from January 1944 to November 1945 at Camp Pendleton, in Southern California. At Camp Pendleton, he befriended writer and future director Richard Brooks, whose novel The Brick Foxhole he greatly admired. He also took up painting.
Return to acting
When Ryan was discharged from the Marine Corps, he returned to RKO. They immediately cast Ryan in the Randolph Scott western, Trail Street (1947), which was very popular. However, his next film made with Joan Bennett, The Woman on the Beach (1947), lost money; it was directed by Jean Renoir.
Ryan's breakthrough role was as an anti-Semitic killer in the Dmytryk directed film noir Crossfire (1947), co-starring Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, and Gloria Grahame. Based on Brooks' novel, the film was highly successful at the box office, and received several Academy Award nominations including a Best Supporting Actor for Ryan's performance.
Ryan co-starred with Merle Oberon in Berlin Express (1948) for director Jacques Tourneur; it was the first movie made in Germany after the end of the second world war. He was reunited with Scott in Return of the Bad Men (1948), and with O'Brien in The Boy with Green Hair (1948). The latter film was directed by Joseph Losey and produced by Dore Schary, who was head of production at RKO.
Back at RKO, Ryan had one of his best roles in The Set-Up (1949), directed by Robert Wise, as an over-the-hill boxer who is brutally punished for refusing to take a dive. The Set-Up was a favorite of Ryan's. He was top billed in The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), an anti-communist melodrama directed by Robert Stevenson, that was made at the prompting of RKO's new owner, Howard Hughes.
Ryan next appeared in several film noirs: The Secret Fury (1950) with Claudette Colbert directed by Mel Ferrer, and Born to Be Bad (1950) directed by Nicholas Ray. In 1950, the studio bought The Miami Story as a vehicle for him.
He then made the Western Best of the Badmen (1951), and costarred with John Wayne in Flying Leathernecks (1951), a World War II film directed by Ray. It was announced he was working on an original film story called The Alpine Slide about avalanches, but no film resulted.
In 1951, Ryan was reunited with Crossfire costar Robert Mitchum in The Racket, directed by John Cromwell; that same year, Ray again directed him in a film noir, On Dangerous Ground, with Ida Lupino. Ryan then made the film adaptation of Clash by Night (1952) with Barbara Stanwyck and Marilyn Monroe under Fritz Lang's direction. According to film critic David Thomson, "at RKO Ryan created the character of a modern neurotic such as the American screen had not dreamed of before."
His last film at RKO for a number of years was Beware, My Lovely (1952) with Lupino, made for her production company.
He was the leading man for Shirley Booth in About Mrs. Leslie (1954) and Greer Garson in Her Twelve Men (1954). The latter was made at MGM, now being run by Dore Schary, RKO's previous studio head, who cast Ryan as the head villain in Bad Day at Black Rock (1954).
Ryan returned to RKO for Escape to Burma (1955) with Stanwyck. More widely seen was Sam Fuller's House of Bamboo (1955) and Raoul Walsh's The Tall Men (1955), both at Fox. By now his fee was reported as $150,000 per film.
Ryan made his television debut in 1955 as Abraham Lincoln in the Screen Director's Playhouse adaptation of Christopher Morley's story "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog." As he explained to reporters, despite financial considerations, Ryan preferred to steer clear of any commitment to a TV series:
The only money in TV is in the series, and I want to stay out of those. Sure, I might make a million or so in a series, but I'd wind up being 'Sidewinder Sam' for the rest of my life.
Ryan remained true to these convictions, appearing in many television series, but always as a guest star. He was in Screen Directors Playhouse, Mr. Adams and Eve, Goodyear Theatre, Alcoa Theatre, Playhouse 90 (playing The Great Gatsby), and Zane Grey Theater.
He continued to star in features, however, including God's Little Acre (1958) for Mann and Security Pictures, Lonelyhearts (1959) written and produced by Schary, Day of the Outlaw (1959) for Security Pictures, and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) for Wise.
Ryan narrated the CBS television documentary series World War One that aired from September 1964 to September 1965.
Ryan remained in high demand throughout the 1960s: he appeared in Ice Palace (1960) with Richard Burton; a TV version of The Snows of Kilimanjaro directed by John Frankenheimer; The Canadians (1961) for Burt Kennedy; played John the Baptist in MGM's Technicolor epic King of Kings (1961) for Nicholas Ray; was the villainous Claggart in Peter Ustinov's adaptation of Billy Budd (1962).
Ryan continued to appear in TV shows such as Kraft Suspense Theatre, Breaking Point, The Eleventh Hour, Wagon Train, The Reporter and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. Ryan's only partial concession to featuring in an entire television series was his role as Narrator in CBS's 26-episode acclaimed documentary homage to World War One, released in prime-time during the 1964–65 season.
Ryan never appeared in Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, but he was considered for the role of Commodore Matt Decker in the 1967 episode "The Doomsday Machine". Episode author Norman Spinrad had written the script with Ryan in mind to play Commodore Decker, but Ryan had prior commitments. That role went to William Windom.
Ryan went to Europe for A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (1968) and Anzio (1969) for Dmytryk. He had a good support role in The Wild Bunch (1969) for Sam Peckinpah. Ryan had the lead in Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969).
Ryan returned to the stage in a revival of The Front Page. It was one of the earlier productions developed by the Plumstead Playhouse (later the Plumstead Theatre Company), a Long Island-based repertory company founded by Ryan, Martha Scott and Henry Fonda; the following winter, a film of the production (produced jointly by MPC and Plumstead) was broadcast nationally over the upstart Hughes TV Network.
In 1970 Ryan discovered he had inoperable cancer of the lymph glands (he was a smoker). He decided to keep working, and said, "I've had a good shot at life."
He originally refused the lead in Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973) with Rod Steiger because he wanted to take his wife to Europe, but she died of cancer in May 1972, and he ended up playing the part. "Something very big is missing and I don't know what to put in its place," he said.
Ryan's final roles included: The Man Without a Country (1973), a TV movie for Delbert Mann; The Outfit (1973) with Robert Duvall; Executive Action (1973) with Lancaster, from a script by Dalton Trumbo; and a version of The Iceman Cometh (1973) with Lee Marvin and director Frankenheimer. Ryan, who died before the latter's premiere, won the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (in a tie with Al Pacino, for Serpico), and a special award from the National Society of Film Critics. The Iceman Cometh and Executive Action both were released in November 1973, after Ryan's death.
In the late-1940s, as the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) intensified its anti-Communist attacks on Hollywood, he joined the short-lived Committee for the First Amendment. Throughout the 1950s, he donated money and services to civic and religious organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, and United World Federalists. In September 1959, he and Steve Allen became founding co-chairs of The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy's Hollywood chapter.
By the mid-1960s, Ryan's political activities included efforts to fight racial discrimination. He served in the cultural division of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King Jr., and helped organize the short-lived Artists Help All Blacks, with Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Sidney Poitier, and several other actors.
Ryan often spoke about the dichotomy of his personal beliefs and his acting roles. At a screening of Odds Against Tomorrow, he appeared before the press to discuss "the problems of an actor like me playing the kind of character that in real life he finds totally despicable." Ryan's roles as cynical, prejudiced, violent characters, often ran counter to the causes he embraced. He was a pacifist who starred in war movies, westerns, and violent thrillers. He was an opponent of McCarthyism, but appeared in the anti-communist propaganda film I Married a Communist, playing a nefarious communist agent. In socially progressive films such as Crossfire, Bad Day at Black Rock, Odds Against Tomorrow and Executive Action, he played bigoted villains or conspirators.
On March 11, 1939, he married Jessica Cadwalader. They had three children: Timothy (b. 1946); Cheyney (b. 1948), a research fellow at Oxford University and a professor of philosophy and law at the University of Oregon; and Lisa (b. 1951). They lived in The Dakota at 72nd and Central Park West in Manhattan and eventually sub-let the apartment to John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
In the fall of 1951, the progressive Oakwood School was opened in Jessica and Robert Ryan's backyard in Los Angeles; founded by a small group of parents, created and based on their educational and child-rearing views. Three years later, the parents, including the Ryans, Sidney Harmon, Elizabeth Schappert, Wendy and Ross Cabeen, and Charles and Emilie Haas, bought and built the elementary school campus on Moorpark Street in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley.
Robert and Jessica remained married until her death from cancer in 1972. He died from lung cancer in New York City the following year at age 63.
"I've been lucky as hell with my career and my family," he said shortly before he died.
According to one profile of him written after his death:
Born to play beautifully tortured, angry souls... Ryan was a familiar movie face for more than two decades in Hollywood's classical years, his studio ups and downs, independent detours and outlier adventures paralleling the arc of American cinema as it went from a national pastime to near collapse. A little prettier and he might have been one of the golden boys of the golden age. But there could be something a touch menacing about his face (something open and sweet too), which bunched as tight as a fist, and his towering height (he stood 6 foot 4) at times loomed like a threat. The rage boiled up in him so quickly. It made him seem dangerous. He was known for his villains, and it was the complexity of these characters, their emotional and psychological kinks, that elevated even his lesser roles. He never achieved the supernova stardom of a Gable or Bogart, and these days Ryan's glower may be more familiar than his name. Yet he was the type of next-level star and B-movie stalwart that helped make old Hollywood great.
- Jarlett, Franklin (1997). Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 4. ISBN 0-7864-0476-0. Retrieved 7 September 2020 – via Google Books.
- Jones, J. R. "The Actor's Letter". Chicago Reader.
- Jones, J.R. The Lives of Robert Ryan Wesleyan University Press, 11 May 2015
- Aug 2012, Ty Burr '80 | Jul-. "The Actor Who Knew Too Much". Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 26 January 2020.
- Jarlett, Franklin (1997). Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 7. ISBN 0-7864-0476-0. Retrieved 10 December 2018 – via Google Books.
- Robert Ryan, In Search of Action: Ryan, In Search of Action By PATRICIA BOSWORTH. New York Times 1 June 1969: D1
- From Chicago Sandhog to Hollywood Star: Robert Ryan: Acting Career Has Beginning in Night School Zylstra, Freida. Chicago Daily Tribune 19 July 1950: a1.
- Robert Ryan Dies of Cancer at 63: Played in More Than 80 Films in 30-Year Career ROBERT RYAN Meagher, Ed. Los Angeles Times 12 July 1973: 3a.
- Jarlett, Franklin (1 November 1997). Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-0476-6.
- SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Paramount Signs Robert Ryan, Former Dartmouth Boxer, for 'Golden Gloves' RKO PLANS 'LITTLE ORVIE' Seeks John Barrymore 2d for Title Role--Mary Boland Gets Part in 'New Moon' RKO Signs Edmund O'Brien By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES 4 Nov 1939: 11.
- Jones, J. R. (11 May 2015). The Lives of Robert Ryan. Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 978-0-8195-7373-5.
- The Life Story of ROBERT RYAN Picture Show; London Vol. 56, Iss. 1454, (Feb 10, 1951): 10.
- ""Top Grossers of the Season" Variety (January 1944) p54". Internet Archive. January 1944. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
- Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p41
- ROBERT RYAN GETS ROLE IN RKO FILM: Out of Marines, He Will CoStar With Joan Bennett for Studio in 'Desirable Woman' Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES 4 Jan 1946: 28.
- Robert Ryan, 'Crossfire' Hit, Gets Stardom in Boxing Film By Hedda Hopper. The Washington Post 1 July 1947: 17.
- RANDOM NOTES ABOUT PICTURES AND PEOPLE: Robert Ryan on 'Berlin Express' -- New Novel Acquired and Other Items By A.H. WEILER. New York Times 20 July 1947: X3.
- Whitman, Alden (12 July 1973). "Robert Ryan, Actor, Dies at 63". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 28 January 2020.
- ROBERT RYAN GETS LEAD IN RKO FILM: To Play Opposite Joan Fontaine in 'Bed of Roses' at Studio -- Work Starts This Month By THOMAS F. BRADYS New York Times 1 June 1949: 43.
- DRATTLER DRAMA IS BOUGHT BY RKO: Studio Acquires 'Miami Story' as Vehicle for Robert Ryan --Author Named Producer Of Local Origin By THOMAS F. BRADY Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES 28 Jan 1950: 10.
- Drama: Robert Ryan Scripts Avalanche Outline; Gig Young Western Prepared Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 26 Jan 1951: A9.
- Ryan & Shaw Thomson, David. Film Comment; New York Vol. 30, Iss. 1, (Jan 1994): 68.
- Ryan Proposes 'Lost Patrol;' Zero Mostel in 'Lunatics and Lovers' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 30 July 1955: 15.
- Drama: Andes Flies Over Andes; Shannon Upped, to Star; Don McGuire to Produce Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 3 Jan 1956: B7.
- "Notes From Hollywood". The Ottawa Citizen. December 3, 1955. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
- 2 FILM FIRMS WIN CHAPLIN CASE: Roy Export and Lopert Get U. S. Injunction Barring 'Pirated' Showings By RICHARD NASON. New York Times 24 July 1959: 14.
- The Lives of Robert Ryan Dick, Bernard F. Film & History; Cleveland, OK Vol. 47, Iss. 1, (Summer 2017): 90-91.
- Gross, Edward; Altman, Mark A. (28 June 2016). The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: The First 25 Years. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-250-06584-1.
- UPI-AP. "Robert Ryan Dead At 59" [sic]. The Montreal Gazette. July 12, 1973. Retrieved 2013-03-16.
- "Repertory Formed By Noted Actors". The St. Petersburg Times. August 3, 1968. Retrieved 2013-03-16.
- "TV Drama Boasts Top Cast". The Calgary Herald. January 23, 1970. Retrieved 2013-03-16.
- Du Brow, Rick. "Xerox Presents 'The Front Page'". The Sarasota Journal. January 12, 1970. Retrieved 2013-03-16.
- Robert Ryan---A New Life on Borrowed Time: Robert Ryan---No Complaints Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 5 Sep 1972: d1.
- . The New Yorker. Volume 47, Issue 3. Retrieved 2013-03-15. See also:
- "Long Day's Journey Into Night". Cue. April 1971. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
- KCFCC Award Winners 1970-1979. Kansas City Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
- Wedman, Les. "And Now... The Oscar for Gore at the Box Office". The Vancouver Sun. January 10, 1974. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
- Sarris, Andrew. "Films in Focus: A Tale of Two Circles". The Village Voice. February 14, 1974. Retrieved 2013-03-15.
- Bruce Eder (2013). "Robert Ryan Biography". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. Archived from the original on 23 May 2013.
- Jarlett, Franklin (1997). Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography. McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 132. ISBN 0-7864-0476-0. Retrieved 7 September 2020 – via Google Books.
- Philip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1959, B13.
- "Actor's Son Cheyney Ryan Brings Migrant Workers a Theater That Could Save Their Lives". PEOPLE.com.
- Jones, J R (2015). The Lives of Robert Ryan. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press. p. 281. ISBN 978-0-8195-7373-5. OCLC 907774763.
- Jones, J. R. "The Actor's Letter". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
- Robert Ryan's Quiet Furies: [Arts and Leisure Desk] Manohla Dargis. New York Times 7 Aug 2011: AR.10.
- Othman, Frederick C. "Hollywood Reporter". The Middlesboro Daily News. August 23, 1943.
- UP. "Robert Ryan Isn't Sure He Can Afford Stardom". The Milwaukee Journal. November 19, 1947.
- AP. "Robert Ryan: A Friend of the Underdog". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 14, 1948.
- "Robert Ryan's Advice to Would-Be Actors". The Deseret News. November 30, 1951.
- Finnigan, Joseph. "Actor Robert Ryan Set to Find His Relatives". The Palm Beach Post. July 4, 1961.
- Pack, Harvey. "Bob Ryan Shines on TV and Stage". The Toledo Blade. June 23, 1969.
- Otterburn-Hall, William. "Robert Ryan Recalls First Trip to Durango". The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. June 6, 1970.
- Thomas, Bob. "Robert Ryan Fights Back After Tragic Two Years". The Milwaukee Journal. August 25, 1972.
- Jones, J.R. "The Actor's Letter: A Reminiscence by Film Noir Icon Robert Ryan". The Chicago Reader. October 29, 2009.
- Dargis, Manohla. "Robert Ryan's Quiet Furies". The New York Times. August 5, 2011.
- Kennedy, Harold J. No Pickle, No Performance. An Irreverent Theatrical Excursion from Tallulah to Travolta. New York, Doubleday & Co., 1978
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Robert Ryan.|
- In Praise of Robert Ryan The L Magazine
- Robert Ryan at IMDb
- Robert Ryan at the Internet Broadway Database
- Robert Ryan at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
- Robert Ryan Tribute
- The Robert Ryan Homepage at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009)
- The Robert Ryan Centennial
- Robert Ryan at Find a Grave
- Photographs and literature on Robert Ryan