Ringgold Wilmer "Ring" Lardner Jr. (August 19, 1915 – October 31, 2000) was an American journalist and screenwriter blacklisted by the Hollywood film studios during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and 1950s.
Born in Chicago, he was the son of Ellis (Abbott) and journalist and humorist Ring Lardner, and the brother of James, John and David Lardner. He was educated at Phillips Academy, Andover, and Princeton University, where he joined the Socialist Club. In his sophomore year he enrolled at the Anglo-American Institute of the University of Moscow. Lardner returned to New York and, in 1935, briefly worked at the Daily Mirror before signing on as publicity director with David O. Selznick’s new movie company. Lardner joined the US Communist Party in 1937.
Ring Lardner Jr. moved to Hollywood where he worked as a publicist and "script doctor" before writing his own material. This included Woman of the Year, a film that won him and Michael Kanin an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay in 1942. He also worked on the scripts for the films Laura (1944), Brotherhood of Man (1946), Forever Amber (1947), and M*A*S*H (1970). The script of the latter earned him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Lardner held strong left-wing views and during the Spanish Civil War he helped raise funds for the Republican cause. He was also involved in organizing anti-fascist demonstrations. His brother, James Lardner, was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and was killed in action in Spain in 1938. Although his political involvement upset the owners of the film studios, he continued to be given work and in 1947 became one of the highest paid scriptwriters in Hollywood when he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox at $2,000 a week.
After the Second World War the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood motion picture industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people whom they accused of holding left-wing views.
Lardner appeared before the HUAC on October 30, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson, he refused to answer any questions. Known as the "Hollywood Ten", they claimed that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly gave them the right to do this. The HUAC and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress. Lardner was sentenced to 12 months in Danbury Prison and fined $1,000. He had been dismissed by Fox on October 28, 1947.
Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Lardner worked for the next couple of years on the novel The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (1954). He moved to England for a time where he wrote under several pseudonyms for television series such as The Adventures of Robin Hood. The blacklist was lifted when producer Martin Ransohoff and director Norman Jewison gave him screen credit for writing 1965's The Cincinnati Kid. Lardner's later work included M*A*S*H (1970), for which he won the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay, and The Greatest (1977). His final film project was an adaptation of Roger Kahn's book The Boys of Summer.
According to Hungarian writer Miklós Vámos—who visited Lardner several times before his death—Lardner won an Academy Award for a movie he wrote under a pseudonym. Lardner refused to tell which movie it was, saying that it would be unfair to reveal it because the writer who allowed him to use his name as a front (as Lardner's pseudonym) was doing him a big favor at the time.
Lardner married Silvia Schulman, then David O. Selznick's secretary, in 1937. They had two children, a son and a daughter, and divorced in 1945. In 1946, in Las Vegas, Nevada, Lardner married Frances Chaney, an actress, and they remained wed until his death in 2000. They had one son. Chaney had been married to Lardner's brother, David, until his death in 1944 and had two children, a daughter and a son, from that marriage.
In the episode from the second season of The West Wing entitled "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail", Sam Seaborn, while attempting to gain a pardon for someone who he believed had been falsely convicted of communist espionage in the 1950s, comments to an FBI agent "Ring Lardner's just died. How many years does he get back?"
In an episode of NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, an elderly man is discovered in the studio. When asked his name, he replies first "Bessie Bibermann", then "Scott Trumbo", then "Cole Lardner". All six names are last names of members of the Hollywood Ten.
Both the Studio 60 and West Wing episodes were written by Aaron Sorkin.