Saturday, June 05, 2010

A letter from Robert Ryan

Ed here: The Night Editor is an essential site for noir fans. It linked to two excellent pieces about Robert Ryan. This one details Ryan's acting life but also the family scandal that darkened his boyhood. This is from The Chicago Reader copyright 2009. Here's The Night Editor By coincidence I saw two John Garfield pictures within the last couple of weeks and as I watched I thought of how much Garfield and Ryan were the ying and yang of noir. Garfield oppressed by grief quiet, insular, melancholy; Ryan also deeply aggrieved and insular as well but haunted and volcanic. I wish these two great actors had done a picture together.

The Actor’s Letter
A reminiscence from film noir icon Robert Ryan, newly unearthed by his daughter, sheds light on his Chicago childhood—and his family’s connection to a tragic chapter in the city’s history.
By J.R. Jones

The full autobiographical letter that Robert Ryan wrote to his children can be found here; for more on Ryan's filmography and an appreciation of his work, see "The Essential Robert Ryan."
On-screen, Robert Ryan was a man with secrets. Film noir fans remember him as the bigoted army sergeant concealing his murder of a Jewish man in Crossfire (1948), or the small-town projectionist eaten up by his love for another man's wife in Clash by Night (1952), or the seething detective whose closed-door brutality against witnesses has begun to soil his reputation in On Dangerous Ground (1952). Born in Chicago on November 11, 1909, Ryan enjoyed a 30-year career in movies, and by the time he died of cancer in 1973 he'd played everything from romantic leads to western heavies, from Jay Gatsby to John the Baptist. But the persona that lingers is that of a strong, intelligent man guarding some storm of emotion—fear, guilt, helpless rage. Even in broad daylight he seemed cloaked in shadow.

Offscreen, he was also something of a mystery. In Franklin Jarlett's Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography (1990), even Ryan's closest friends describe him as moody and intensely private. Interviewed for this story, his children concurred."He was a very sweet guy," remembers Lisa Ryan, who lives in San Francisco and works for a green nonprofit. "He was incredibly shy, although—I guess this is what actors can do—he could just turn on when the situation called for that. But basically he was a very quiet, introverted guy. You wonder, looking at some of the parts that he played in movies, what it was in him that was able to access those really dark, scary characters."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ed, thanks so much for this! Just yesterday I wrote to a friend telling her how great a film actor Robert Ryan was. Now I can pass on these links so she can read about him. Yours is a very cool blog...
Terry Butler