The most important thing is to enjoy your life - to be happy - it's all that matters.

The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Past chats with our guests.

Moderators: Sue Sue Applegate, movieman1957, moira finnie, Lzcutter

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8175
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby moira finnie » July 7th, 2015, 2:59 pm

This is the forum where questions for our guest author, J.R. Jones can be posted on Friday, July 10th and Saturday, July 11th. All are welcome!

On Friday, July 10, and Saturday, July 11, The Silver Screen Oasis is looking forward to talking with J.R. Jones, author of THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN.

Image
Notice the plural in the title: This new biography deals with both the public and private lives of the great film actor Robert Ryan.

Robert Ryan never became a star of the magnitude of Cary Grant or Humphrey Bogart, but most lovers of classic film come to admire his work, whether he's playing the hero or the villain, the leading man or a supporting actor. Some of his best films, like ACT OF VIOLENCE and ON DANGEROUS GROUND, let him play aspects of both the villain and the hero in the same role.

Ryan excelled in a variety of genres. Film noir was a great fit for him, but westerns like THE NAKED SPUR and THE PROFESSIONALS also showcased his talent well. And then there's Ryan in domestic melodrama (CLASH BY NIGHT), Ryan in romantic drama (ABOUT MRS. LESLIE), Ryan in serious drama (THE ICEMAN COMETH). On stage he played Shakespeare's Coriolanus.

J.R. Jones is an award-winning film critic and editor for the Chicago Reader, and his writing has appeared in many publications, from New York Press to Kenyon Review to Noir City. He did an outstanding job of introducing ON DANGEROUS GROUND at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs this May, and as SSO member kingrat can attest, he enjoys chatting with fans about our classic films.

What would you like to know about Robert Ryan? How he got interested in acting, what his favorite films were, how his politics affected his career? Unlike most Hollywood stars, he was only married once, and the marriage lasted until his wife Jessica died of cancer.

J.R. Jones has written an informative, easy-to-read biography which I strongly recommend. It should be a lot of fun to talk with him about Robert Ryan."

Please note:
In 2008 we had the pleasure of hosting Robert Ryan's daughter, Lisa as our memorable guest at the SSO as well. That Q & A is now available in our Archive here: http://silverscreenoasis.com/oasis3/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=2658

Below are links to explore this essential biography and obtain your own copy of this critically hailed book:

J.R. Jones published interview:

http://chicagoist.com/2015/05/21/jrjones_explores_the_lives_of_rober.php

J.R. Jones video interview:

phpBB [video]


J.R. Jones publisher's site:

http://www.upne.com/0819573728.html
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8175
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby moira finnie » July 10th, 2015, 5:39 am

Good morning, Mr. Jones and thanks very much for visiting and for your well-written portrait of this great film actor.

Many of us are great Robert Ryan fans, and have our favorites among his deeply-etched portrayals, so I wondered if you can recall which of the actor's films first shaped your perception of Ryan?

Did your view of him as an actor and an individual change after writing this biography?

For those who would like to know Ryan's work better could you please relate what you consider to be Essential Ryan?

Thanks in advance for your reply.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
J.R. Jones
Posts: 0
Joined: July 8th, 2015, 7:36 am

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 10th, 2015, 7:56 am

Thank you for your warm welcome, Moira. By an odd coincidence, I turn 52 today, and I can't think of a better way to spend the day.

Your first question is an easy one. In fall 1977 I was a freshman at Loyola Academy, a Jesuit high school in the north suburbs of Chicago. Students at Loyola were required to study religion all four years, and in my first year the teacher, a young seminarian whose name escapes me now, showed us BILLY BUDD (1962). Of course BILLY BUDD is a Christian allegory, with young Billy making the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow man. In my case the lesson didn't really pan out, however, because for me the most fascinating character was the brutal sadist Mr. Claggart, played by our man Robert Ryan. I was surprised to learn that Ryan had been a student at Loyola back in the 1920s, when it was still located in Chicago near the Loyola University campus. There was a hallway in the school where all the class portraits were hung, and I remember locating Ryan's portrait and wondering how this nice-looking young man had become such a vicious SOB.

My perception of Ryan changed a great deal as I was researching the book, in ways too numerous and subtle to precis here. In general, however, I was struck by how deeply pacifist he was; he really was a peacenik before the term was coined. Even though he never saw combat, his brief time in the Marines seems to have really done a number on him. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, which was a giant operation during World War II, with more than 86,000 people--more like a city than a military base. I think the experience taught him that war is a business and that, in America, business is good. Before the Marines he had always been focused on his career, but afterward he was a different person. His many years of antiwar activism, first with the United World Federalists and later with the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, began with his experience at Pendleton.

Doing press for the book, I've gotten your last question a lot. It's a hard one, because he gave so many great performances. I'm still partial to BILLY BUDD, but in terms of his noir persona I think you would have to go with CROSSFIRE (1947) or ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952). Coincidentally, when I first wrote about Ryan in the Chicago Reader back in 2009, I had a little sidebar called "The Essential Robert Ryan," which readers can access at http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-essential-robert-ryan/Content?oid=1223009. By the way, the Reader site also has my story "The Actor's Letter" (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/film-noir-icon-robert-ryan-his-chicago-childhood-the-ryan-construction-fire/Content?oid=1223003), which became the raw material for chapter one of my book, as well as the full text of the memoir Ryan left behind for his children (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/actor-robert-ryans-letter-to-his-children/Content?oid=1223014) and a recently published excerpt from THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN covering his involvement in the Eugene McCarthy campaign in 1968 (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/robert-ryan-jr-jones-the-lives-of-robert-ryan-excerpt/Content?oid=17801641).

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8175
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby moira finnie » July 10th, 2015, 8:30 am

Thanks for the thorough reply and the excellent references to your work at The Chicago Reader. This next question comes from ChiO, a fellow Chicagoan and a member who could not be here:

You point out a number of times that Robert Ryan's exposure, through his family, to the pragmatic rough-and-tumble politics in Chicago helped him navigate through Hollywood in both the business and political realms. Do you have the sense that he called upon his Chicago experience consciously and in a calculating manner, or was it just an integral part of the fabric of his personality?
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
Sue Sue Applegate
Administrator
Posts: 3312
Joined: April 14th, 2007, 8:47 pm
Location: Texas

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby Sue Sue Applegate » July 10th, 2015, 9:03 am

Thank you so much for your visit here, Mr. Jones. We are all appreciative of your visit.

As an avowed pacifist, Robert Ryan seemed to inhabit his villainous roles with a sense of relish, and also with purpose. It seems to me that he felt his performance might elicit a sea change in the perceptions and prejudices of those who might need to embrace an alternative, more modern approach to controversial ideologies, and I was curious if this might be an aspect of your research that you have come to embrace. Did you find this to be true?

And thanks in advance for your response.
Blog: http://suesueapplegate.wordpress.com/
Twitter:@suesueapplegate
TCM Message Boards: http://forums.tcm.com/index.php?/topic/ ... ue-sue-ii/
Sue Sue : https://www.facebook.com/groups/611323215621862/
Thelma Ritter: Hollywood's Favorite New Yorker, University Press of Mississippi-2018
Avatar: Ginger Rogers, The Major and The Minor

User avatar
J.R. Jones
Posts: 0
Joined: July 8th, 2015, 7:36 am

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 10th, 2015, 10:21 am

You point out a number of times that Robert Ryan's exposure, through his family, to the pragmatic rough-and-tumble politics in Chicago helped him navigate through Hollywood in both the business and political realms. Do you have the sense that he called upon his Chicago experience consciously and in a calculating manner, or was it just an integral part of the fabric of his personality?


In the political realm it was fairly conscious; his wife, Jessica, noted his amusement and/or dismay at Hollywood liberals with no sense of how issues would play on the street level, with typical Americans. Growing up with an insider's view of the Democratic machine, he saw the kind of corruption that kept the wheels of government greased, but he also understood what we now call "the ground game" of politics, how power in a democracy is secured by, on the one hand, getting people to the polls and, on the other hand, making sure their garbage got picked up.

On the business side, it may have been more unconscious. Like most Chicagoans, Ryan had a really strong work ethic--his father worked morning to night, five days a week--and I think that made a big difference when he got into the movie business. He loved his work and he worked his ass off, which is why, except for a rough patch from around 1963 to 1965, he was steadily employed for 30 years in a business where performers come and go quickly. Movies are terrifically expensive to shoot, and actors who showed up on the set late, or unprepared, or drunk, became a financial liability and (unless they were Marilyn Monroe) didn't last long. This sort of behavior baffled Ryan; he couldn't comprehend why people wouldn't just show up and do their jobs.
Last edited by J.R. Jones on July 10th, 2015, 11:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Robert Regan
Posts: 290
Joined: June 12th, 2012, 3:59 pm

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby Robert Regan » July 10th, 2015, 10:37 am

Happy Birthday, Mr. Jones. I have a rather esoteric question that may be beyond the range of your research, but I would like to preface it with an story that I have wanted to tell to our friends on the Oasis for a long time.

About thirty-five years ago, I took a dear friend to see Inferno. She was very curious to see Robert Ryan, as he had lived in her neighborhood in Bronxville NY when she was growing up. She remembered him as a very nice man, often seen walking his dog. After the film she said, "Now I know why all the moms were excited when he moved into town!"

There is a house in Bronxville that always gave me a feeling of deja vu. Do you know if they may have used his house for an exterior in About Mrs. Leslie? I know I'm not exactly thinking about the Art of Cinema here, but this has been on my mind for many years.

User avatar
J.R. Jones
Posts: 0
Joined: July 8th, 2015, 7:36 am

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 10th, 2015, 10:51 am

Sue Sue Applegate wrote:As an avowed pacifist, Robert Ryan seemed to inhabit his villainous roles with a sense of relish, and also with purpose. It seems to me that he felt his performance might elicit a sea change in the perceptions and prejudices of those who might need to embrace an alternative, more modern approach to controversial ideologies, and I was curious if this might be an aspect of your research that you have come to embrace. Did you find this to be true?


That was certainly a primary motive in doing movies like CROSSFIRE (1947), BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955), and ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (1959), which were explicitly about bigotry. However, Ryan was a complicated personality, and there was a measure of self interest involved as well. He thought playing Montgomery in CROSSFIRE would make his career, and he was right (though it might easily have blown up in his face). He might have chafed against being typecast as a heavy, but he readily accepted such roles if doing so meant working with Spencer Tracy (BLACK ROCK), or working with James Stewart (THE NAKED SPUR), or being involved in a screen adaptation of Herman Melville, whom he adored (BILLY BUDD).

Also, we should remember that our contemporary notion of actors cherry-picking roles is not really consistent with how the studio system worked. An actor with a standard seven-year contract could turn down any script, but that only extended the term of his contract. And as soon as you were perceived a certain way by the public, that tended to constrict what the studio offered you. I doubt that Ryan was terribly excited about his bad-guy roles in THE RACKET (1951) or BEWARE, MY LOVELY (1952), but under Howard Hughes there was so little product coming out of RKO that Ryan probably took those roles just to keep busy, and because the other scripts floating around the studio were even less promising.

User avatar
J.R. Jones
Posts: 0
Joined: July 8th, 2015, 7:36 am

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 10th, 2015, 11:09 am

Robert Regan wrote:Happy Birthday, Mr. Jones. . . . About thirty-five years ago, I took a dear friend to see Inferno. She was very curious to see Robert Ryan, as he had lived in her neighborhood in Bronxville NY when she was growing up. She remembered him as a very nice man, often seen walking his dog. After the film she said, "Now I know why all the moms were excited when he moved into town!"


Thank you for the birthday wishes, and for your story, which made me laugh. When I was working on the book, a friend of mine asked his mother if she remembered Robert Ryan and she replied darkly, "Oh, yes."

Robert Regan wrote:There is a house in Bronxville that always gave me a feeling of deja vu. Do you know if they may have used his house for an exterior in About Mrs. Leslie? I know I'm not exactly thinking about the Art of Cinema here, but this has been on my mind for many years.


I don't think so, because ABOUT MRS. LESLIE came out in 1954 and the Ryans didn't move to Bronxville until 1962, when Ryan was starring in MR. PRESIDENT on Broadway. Also, though ABOUT MRS. LESLIE was supposed to be set in New York, the exteriors were all shot in LA.

User avatar
Robert Regan
Posts: 290
Joined: June 12th, 2012, 3:59 pm

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby Robert Regan » July 10th, 2015, 11:45 am

Thanks, Mr. Jones. You have set my mind at rest.

kingrat
Posts: 2207
Joined: August 20th, 2009, 2:46 pm

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby kingrat » July 10th, 2015, 11:56 am

Welcome to SSO! I've been looking forward to this ever since May when you had such a good conversation with Alan K. Rode after the showing of ON DANGEROUS GROUND at the film noir festival in Palm Springs. By the way, ON DANGEROUS GROUND is being shown this evening on TCM, which is a great introduction to the art of Robert Ryan.

We've already had some really good questions about Robert Ryan, and I'd like to throw out a few others.

1. What did Ryan think about ON DANGEROUS GROUND? Was this one of his personal favorites?

2. You've already mentioned Ryan's troubles at RKO. Troubles with Howard Hughes? Who'd have thunk it? How do you think Ryan's career would have been different at another studio? He doesn't seem to fit the MGM mold, for instance.

3. Where will you be doing some additional appearances to promote your book? Will you be attending some of the other film noir festivals?

Thanks so much for time and for your book.

David

User avatar
Rita Hayworth
Posts: 10098
Joined: February 6th, 2011, 4:01 pm

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby Rita Hayworth » July 10th, 2015, 11:57 am

How Robert Ryan feels about his role in these following movies below:

Battle of the Bulge as General Gray
The Longest Day as Brig. Gen. James M. Gavin
King of Kings as John the Baptist
Flying Leathernecks as Capt. Carl 'Griff' Griffin

I watched a lot of his movies when he plays Military Roles and my personal favorite is the Battle of the Bulge - he and Henry Fonda were superb together.

Sorry, that I can't be here tomorrow - I have a previous engagement to attend.

Thanks J.R. Jones for your assistance here.

kingrat
Posts: 2207
Joined: August 20th, 2009, 2:46 pm

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby kingrat » July 10th, 2015, 11:59 am

I'd like to post these questions from ChiO, whom you know. In fact, I believe you had dinner with him, his wife, and Lisa Ryan recently. Anyway, he has some great questions he wanted me to pass along:


Welcome, J.R.!

First, thank you again for the marvelous biography of my favorite actor. It is a much-needed companion piece to Robert Ryan (Franklin Jarlett), providing a deep background that makes viewing his movies richer. Second, please excuse the number of questions, but we are out of town this weekend and I can't space them out.

1. You point out a number of times that his exposure, through his family, to the pragmatic rough-and-tumble politics in Chicago helped him navigate through Hollywood in both the business and political realms. Do you have the sense that he called upon his Chicago experience consciously and in a calculating manner, or was it just an integral part of the fabric of his personality?

2. If you were to name the five (or so) movies best to introduce someone to Robert Ryan as an actor, what would they be? If different, at least in part, what are your five (or so) favorite Ryan film performances?

3. Your primary public role at the Reader seems to be reviewing current film releases. Do you have any craving for greater opportunities to review and critically analyze older films? If so, was the book an outlet?

4. What was your first reaction when you were asked to fill a role at the Reader that had previously been held by Dave Kehr and Jonathan Rosenbaum? (Personal aside: You have continued to make the Reader the preferred source of thoughtful mass media film criticism in Chicago.)

5. Do you see the role - or the publicly perceived role - of the professional film critic as being altered with the rapid and constant rise of social media? What new challenges and opportunities does it present?

6. If you can disclose without breaching any proprietary information: Are you involved in "Uncle Cecil"? Inquiring readers need to know.

Thanks. And a copy of The World Greatest Sinner awaits for your next visit. Here's hoping it may inspire you to write an essential biography of Timothy Carey.

User avatar
moira finnie
Administrator
Posts: 8175
Joined: April 9th, 2007, 6:34 pm
Location: Earth
Contact:

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby moira finnie » July 10th, 2015, 2:14 pm

As Lisa Ryan made us realize when she visited us a few years ago, our perceptions of Robert Ryan were shaped by his roles and his apparent typecasting which you explored in your book--but that was only a part of him as a person--and a performer. I was delighted to read your account that Ryan shared with his parents a "love of musical theater; among his favorite performers were Fanny Brice and the great Irish-American showman George M. Cohan." Along those lines SSO member Vienna has asked the following:
Vienna wrote:Love Robert Ryan's films.
I was always surprised that Robert had appeared in a musical on Broadway,MR PRESIDENT. Was that a good experience for him and how was his singing voice?
Thank you.
Avatar: Frank McHugh (1898-1981)

The Skeins
TCM Movie Morlocks

User avatar
J.R. Jones
Posts: 0
Joined: July 8th, 2015, 7:36 am

Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 10th, 2015, 5:00 pm

Holy mackerel! I'm going to have to take these one at a time.

Vienna wrote:Love Robert Ryan's films. I was always surprised that Robert had appeared in a musical on Broadway, MR PRESIDENT. Was that a good experience for him and how was his singing voice? Thank you.


By all accounts, MR. PRESIDENT was a terrible experience for Ryan. His Hollywood career was in the doldrums at that point, and his friend Katharine Hepburn, who knew he'd always dreamed of doing a musical, recommended him to her friend Howard Lindsay, cowriter of the show. Ryan's singing voice was so-so, but to his mind he wasn't any worse than Rex Harrison or Robert Preston, both of whom had gone from lackluster movie careers to become giant stars on Broadway (in MY FAIR LADY and THE MUSIC MAN, respectively).

Unfortunately it didn't work out that way. MR. PRESIDENT had phenomenal advance ticket sales because it marked the comeback of Irving Berlin after ten years in retirement. Lindsay, his writing partner Russel Crouse, and director Joshua Logan all had sterling track records in the musical theater. But the book wasn't very good, and as everyone involved began to realize the show would flop, the company descended into a snake pit of backstage feuds. When MR. PRESIDENT opened in October 1962--smack in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis--reviews were withering. But because of all the advance sales, the show ran until June 1963.

Ryan was humiliated, and when he returned to Broadway seven years later in an acclaimed production of THE FRONT PAGE, he treasured it as a personal vindication. But he still couldn't shake the song-and-dance bug: he loved to entertain friends with a soft-shoe routine he'd done in MR. PRESIDENT, and just before his death in July 1973, Variety announced that he would star in a musical adaptation of SHENANDOAH. (The role ultimately went to John Cullum.)


Return to “Archived Guest Stars”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest