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

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

Postby moira finnie » July 11th, 2015, 2:15 pm

Thanks to Paula! I am so glad that she brought up the underrated, almost unknown movie from Anthony Mann, Men in War (1957)*, which gave Ryan, Aldo Ray and James Edwards good roles in a spare, unvarnished story devoid of phony patriotism. I was surprised to read in your book that Philip Yordan had to convince Mann to put more dialogue back into the film after the director had pared it down---it's almost a silent as it is! Clearly, when Mann cast the actor in The Naked Spur, God's Little Acre, and Men in War, he allowed Ryan to play more varieties of characters than he was usually offered.

I realize that Ryan did not have control over who his directors were throughout his career, but could you please offer your assessment of Ryan's best directors? Which ones did he respect and like---and which ones brought out the best in him?


In his early days at Dartmouth, Ryan felt that he might be a playwright and as those who have read The Actor's Letter can attest, he expressed himself well. During his years on film sets did he ever write much of his dialogue as he grew older?

Thanks again for your insights and I hope that your book earns the widest possible audience--it is an absorbing and fascinating portrait.

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* Men in War (1957) can be seen in full here.
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Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 11th, 2015, 3:07 pm

moira finnie wrote:I realize that Ryan did not have control over who his directors were throughout his career, but could you please offer your assessment of Ryan's best directors? Which ones did he respect and like---and which ones brought out the best in him?


The two directors Ryan revered most were Max Reinhardt, who directed him onstage during his student days, and Jean Renoir, who directed him in THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH (1947). He liked working with Robert Wise, Nicholas Ray, Anthony Mann, Samuel Fuller, and John Frankenheimer, all of whom got tremendous performances out of him. He also did great work for Fritz Lang (CLASH BY NIGHT) and Max Ophuls (CAUGHT), though I don't know what he thought of them. Like almost everyone else on THE WILD BUNCH, he clashed with Sam Peckinpah, but he was impressed by the film, and I think his performance is excellent.

moira finnie wrote:In his early days at Dartmouth, Ryan felt that he might be a playwright and as those who have read The Actor's Letter can attest, he expressed himself well. During his years on film sets did he ever write much of his dialogue as he grew older?


You know, I've never heard or read anything indicating that Ryan presumed to write his own dialogue. If he ever did, it was probably on pictures where the script was terrible.

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

Postby J.R. Jones » July 11th, 2015, 5:46 pm

moira finnie wrote:Also, Robert Ryan's own values politically appear to have grown over time without becoming doctrinaire or rigid. How deeply influenced was R.R.'s political evolution by the Quakerism of his wife, writer-actress Jessica Cadwalader?


Very much so, especially given that she and their children often did charity work for the American Friends Service Committee. Members of the AFSC were also among the founders of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, which Ryan was heavily involved in. He was raised as a liberal Democrat, but I don't think the pacifist element in his activism would have been nearly as pronounced without Jessica Ryan's influence.

moira finnie wrote:One of the saddest portions of your book touches on Mrs. Ryan's feelings at Hollywood social gatherings, when she and other wives of prominent men were almost invisible. Given the actor's sensitivity, did his awareness of her difficulties there lead him to evaluate his career differently?


I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "evaluate his career," but I think he tried to consider his family in making his career choices. For instance, in the mid-50s he was quoted as saying he didn't want to get into series television because he didn't want to play "Sidewinder Sam" for the rest of his life; ten years later he was telling a reporter that he hoped to get a TV series because then he could stay at home more and wouldn't have to spend 2-3 months at a time in Europe shooting some movie.

Now, I'm not sure all his children would agree with my assessment because when Ryan's career was foundering in the late 50s and early 60s, there was a lot of moving around--ultimately, from Los Angeles to New York City--that was really rough on them. But sometimes parents make decisions like that in hope that the situation will eventually work out for the better.

Regarding Jessica Ryan's disdain for Hollywood society, I don't think Ryan had to trim his sails much to accommodate her because he basically shared that disdain.

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

Postby Lzcutter » July 11th, 2015, 8:43 pm

Mr. Jones,

Good evening! Sorry to be so late to the party but we just finished moving and today got away from me.

I have long been a big fan of Robert Ryan. One of my favorite roles of his is in The Wild Bunch and his portrayal of Deke Thorton. I was wondering how Ryan got along with director Sam Peckinpah given how different their personalities and personal beliefs were.

One of the big travesties of that film is that it was cut after its release for US distribution and for too many years, movie goers were robbed of the valuable scenes that explained Deke and Pike's partnership and friendship. Also, did he enjoy working with William Holden in that film? Deke's total disdain for the characters, T.C.(L.Q. Jones) and Coffer (Strother Martin) is one of the best parts of that film. How did he like working with those two?

Thank you so much for spending yesterday and today with us!
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Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby pvitari » July 11th, 2015, 8:46 pm

Hope it's not too late to continue the conversation!

Mr. Jones, the quote from Nanette Fabray is in Laurence Bergreen's biography of Irving Berlin, As Thousands Cheer: The Life of Irving Berlin. Here is the quote:

"His dramatic scenes were wonderfully timed," Fabray commented "but when it came to comedy, he didn't know how to carry a laugh. He would stand there frozen until the last person had finished laughing before he gave his next line."

Bergreen continues about Mr. President's premiere performance: "Even worse, the biggest laugh [Ryan] received was unintentional. At the end of the performance, he sang a patriotic anthem called "This Is a Great Country." It could have been a new "God Bless America," the audience humming the tune as they left the theater, but Ryan flubbed the lines introducing the song. The audience snickered at his confusion, and the drama of the moment was destroyed."

Oh well... Mr. President is available on CD. And if you put "Mr. President Robert Ryan" into a Youtube search, you will come up with several numbers from the cast album. Youtube also has Robert Ryan and Nanette Fabray, "the co-stars of Mr. President," in an episode of "What's My Line" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzprpqJ1PQg. Their appearance was the day after the premiere and there is some talk about Ryan's singing.

To change the subject, before I picked up the bio I would have thought that Ryan and Pat O'Brien would not have gotten along because O'Brien was so conservative politically, but it's good to know they were friends. To be honest, usually I'm not a fan of O'Brien's -- usually I find him too much of a blowhard on screen -- but I really admired his unusually low-key performance in another film he made with Ryan, The Boy With Green Hair. Ryan's part as a child psychologist was quite small, but his character -- warm, gentle, compassionate -- seems to me to be as close to the real man as ever he was on screen.

Finally, this is really for Moira -- you mentioned James Edwards in Men In War. I thought he was also terrific in his small role in The Set-Up with Ryan and if he had been born 60 years later, he'd be an A-list star today, I have no doubt of it. Moira wrote a wonderful piece on him back in 2007 -- here is the link: http://moviemorlocks.com/2007/10/17/jam ... e-a-stand/ Also Patrick Culliton's fabulous article about James Edwards, with whom he was good friends. http://www.houdinisghost.com/jamesedwards.html (Sorry for going off-topic!)

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

Postby kingrat » July 11th, 2015, 11:14 pm

We've really had some great questions for J.R. Jones about Robert Ryan. I have a couple of others:

1. I'm a big Ida Lupino fan, and love her work with Robert Ryan in ON DANGEROUS GROUND. Although the material in BEWARE, MY LOVELY, isn't nearly so good, I think both of the stars do their best with what they've got and work well together. Did he enjoy working with Ida Lupino?

2. Another question about some of his leading ladies: Did he enjoy working with Barbara Stanwyck in CLASH BY NIGHT? I'd guess that two hardworking pros like Ryan and Stanwyck liked working together. (I'm very put off by the Clifford Odets dialogue, but like the acting in this film quite a lot.) What did he think of Marilyn Monroe?

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

Postby J.R. Jones » July 12th, 2015, 7:09 am

kingrat wrote:Did he enjoy working with Ida Lupino? Did he enjoy working with Barbara Stanwyck in CLASH BY NIGHT? What did he think of Marilyn Monroe?


Ryan enjoyed working with Lupino and Stanwyck. He thought Monroe was an innocent and a lost soul, though he was working with her near the beginning of her career. Ryan asked Fritz Lang to go easy on Monroe when the director took to berating her on the set; Monroe found out about this and was grateful to Ryan. Years later Ryan took his son Cheyney to meet Monroe when he was shooting LONELYHEARTS at Samuel Goldwyn Studios and she was shooting SOME LIKE IT HOT on a neighboring soundstage; Cheyney was struck by her evident affection for Ryan.

Lzcutter wrote:One of my favorite roles of his is in The Wild Bunch and his portrayal of Deke Thorton. . . . [D]id he enjoy working with William Holden in that film? Deke's total disdain for the characters, T.C.(L.Q. Jones) and Coffer (Strother Martin) is one of the best parts of that film. How did he like working with those two?


I'm afraid I can't be of any help with those questions. Ryan was not caught up in the Hollywood social scene and didn't expend a great deal of energy dishing about his costars (though he did speak candidly to journalists about Monroe and Montgomery Clift subsequent to their deaths). In researching the book, I interviewed a handful of Ryan's costars but quickly discovered that this was not going to get me much closer to understanding him (two exceptions were Harry Belafonte and James Naughton). Ryan was a collegial man but not a gregarious one, and he tended to reveal very little of himself to coworkers.

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

Postby J.R. Jones » July 12th, 2015, 7:28 am

J.R. Jones wrote:He also did great work for Fritz Lang (CLASH BY NIGHT) and Max Ophuls (CAUGHT), though I don't know what he thought of them.


I should corrrect this statement. Ryan did talk about Lang and Ophuls in an interview for the French publication Cinema 70 (please note that his comments are translated from the French and therefore two generations removed from his actual words):

"I like Lang very much, he is a great director and a sensitive man. The three European directors with whom I have had the pleasure of working--Renoir, Ophüls and Lang--know how to use that which is best in an actor and achieve much more positive and profound results than others. . . . When you work with Renoir, you have the impression that, in spite of the planning and the cutting, the things arrive . . . like nothing was planned in advance. You always have this sensation whether you improvise or not. . . . With Lang, everything happens differently. He is 'the German.' In his work, everything obeys a great precision, a great rigor. He leaves nothing to chance. He plans everything in advance."

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

Postby moira finnie » July 12th, 2015, 10:01 am

J.R.,
Thank you so much for taking the time to discuss the life and work of an actor whose best work has only become richer over time. Your book burnished Robert Ryan's status as an individual in my eyes by blending his striking complexity, stringent artistry, and vulnerable humanity in a well-rounded portrait. How I wish he could have known that his reputation only continues to grow--though that acknowledgement might have made the reserved actor rather uncomfortable!
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Re: The Q & A with J.R. Jones about THE LIVES OF ROBERT RYAN

Postby J.R. Jones » July 12th, 2015, 1:14 pm

You're welcome, and thanks to all who participated for their kind words and informed questions.

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

Postby kingrat » July 12th, 2015, 2:21 pm

Thank you so much for chatting with us, and even more for writing about one of our favorite classic actors. I look forward to talking with you again, either online or in person at another festival. The best of luck with your book and with your regular reviewing.


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