Ring Lardner

Ringgold Wilmer "Ring" Lardner (March 5, 1885[1] – September 25, 1933) was an American sports columnist and short-story writer best known for his satirical writings on sports, marriage, and the theatre. His contemporaries Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all professed strong admiration for his writing.

Ring Lardner
BornRinggold Wilmer Lardner
(1885-03-05)March 5, 1885
Niles, Michigan, United States
DiedSeptember 25, 1933(1933-09-25) (aged 48)
East Hampton, New York, United States
OccupationWriter, journalist
SpouseEllis Abbot
ChildrenJohn, James, Ring Jr., and David.

Personal life

Born in Niles, Michigan, Ring Lardner was the son of wealthy parents, Henry and Lena Phillips Lardner. He was the youngest of nine children. Lardner's name came from a cousin of the same name. The cousin had been named by Lardner's uncle, Rear Admiral James L. Lardner, who had decided to name his son after a friend, Rear Admiral Cadwalader Ringgold, who was from a distinguished military family. Lardner never liked his given name and abbreviated it to Ring, naming one of his sons Ring Jr.

In childhood he wore a brace for his deformed foot until he was eleven. He also had a passion for baseball, stage, and music.[1] He later attended the Armour Institute in Chicago.[1]

Lardner married Ellis Abbott of Goshen, Indiana, in 1911. They had four sons, John, James, Ring Jr., and David.

Lardner died on September 25, 1933, at the age of 48 in East Hampton, New York, of a heart attack due to complications from tuberculosis.[2]

Writing career

Lardner started his writing career as a sports columnist, finding work with the newspaper South Bend Times in 1905. In 1907, he relocated to Chicago, where he got a job with the Inter-Ocean. Within a year, he quit to work for the Chicago Examiner, and then for the Tribune.[2] Two years later, Lardner was in St. Louis, writing the humorous baseball column Pullman Pastimes for Taylor Spink and the Sporting News. Some of this work was the basis for his book You Know Me, Al. Within three months, he was an employee of the Boston American.

In 1913, Lardner returned to the Chicago Tribune, which became the home newspaper for his syndicated column In the Wake of the News (started by Hugh Keough, who had died in 1912). The column appeared in more than 100 newspapers, and is still published in the Tribune. Lardner's Tribune and syndicated writing was not exclusively sports related: his dispatches from/near the World War One front were collected in the book My Four Weeks in France, and his immersive coverage of the 1920 Democratic Convention resulted in Lardner receiving 0.5 votes on the 23rd ballot.

In 1916, Lardner published his first successful book, You Know Me Al, an epistolary novel written in the form of letters by "Jack Keefe", a bush-league baseball player, to a friend back home. The letters made much use of the fictional author's idiosyncratic vernacular. It had initially been published as six separate but interrelated short stories in The Saturday Evening Post, causing some to classify the book as a collection of stories, others as a novel. Like most of Lardner's stories, You Know Me Al employs satire, in this case, to show the stupidity and avarice of a certain type of athlete. The journalist Andrew Ferguson wrote that "Ring Lardner thought of himself as primarily a sports columnist whose stuff wasn't destined to last, and he held to that absurd belief even after his first masterpiece, You Know Me Al, was published in 1916 and earned the awed appreciation of Virginia Woolf, among other very serious, unfunny people." Ferguson termed the book one of the top five pieces of American humor writing.[3]

Sarah Bembrey has written about a singular event in Lardner's sportswriting experience: "In 1919 something happened that changed his way of reporting about sports and changed his love for baseball. This was the Black Sox scandal when the Chicago White Sox sold out the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Ring was exceptionally close to the White Sox and felt he was betrayed by the team. After the scandal, Ring always wrote about sports as if there were some kink to the outcome."[2] Lardner's last fictional baseball writing was collected in the book Lose with a Smile (1933).

Lardner later published such stories as "Haircut", "Some Like Them Cold", "The Golden Honeymoon", "Alibi Ike", and "A Day with Conrad Green". He also continued to write follow-up stories to You Know Me Al, with the protagonist of that book, the headstrong but gullible Jack Keefe, experiencing various ups and downs in his major league career and in his personal life. Private Keefe's World War I training camp letters home to his friend Al were collected in the book Treat 'Em Rough: Letters From Jack the Kaiser Killer. The sequel, The Real Dope, followed Keefe overseas to the trenches in France.

Lardner also had a lifelong fascination with the theatre, although his only Broadway three-act successes were the thrice-filmed Elmer The Great, co-written with George M. Cohan, and June Moon, a comedy authored with Broadway veteran George S. Kaufman. Lardner also wrote skits for the Ziegfeld Follies. and a series of brief nonsense plays that ridiculed the conventions of the theatre using zany humor and outrageous, impossible stage directions, such as "The curtain is lowered for seven days to denote the lapse of a week."

He was a dedicated composer and lyricist: both his first – Zanzibar (1903) – and last – June Moon (1920) – published stage works included several Lardner tunes. He wrote at least one recorded song for Bert Williams, and provided the lyrics for the song "That Old Quartet" (1913) by Nathaniel D. Mann. Other collaborators of note included Aubrey Stauffer, Jerome Kern, and Vincent Youmans – with whom he toiled on the Ziegfeld Astaires musical, Smiles (1930).

Lardner was a good friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald and other authors of the Jazz Age. His books were published by Maxwell Perkins, who also served as Fitzgerald's editor. To create his first book of short stories Lardner had to get copies from the magazines who bought the stories — he held his own short stories in low regard and did not save copies.[4]

Lardner was in some respects the model for the tragic character Abe North of Fitzgerald's last completed novel, Tender Is the Night.[5]

Lardner influenced Ernest Hemingway, who sometimes wrote articles for his high school newspaper using the pseudonym Ring Lardner, Jr.[6] The two met during December 1928, thanks to Max Perkins, but did not become friends.[7] Lardner's gift for dialogue heavily influenced the writer John O'Hara, who said he learned from reading Lardner "that if you wrote down speech as it is spoken truly, you produce true characters, and the opposite is also true: if your characters don't talk like people they aren't good characters" and added, "it's the attribute most lacking in American writers and almost totally lacking in the British."[8]

Cultural references

J.D. Salinger referred to Lardner in two of his works, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. The protagonist says "My favorite author is my brother D.B. and my next favorite is Ring Lardner". Wayne C. Booth mentioned Lardner's famous short story "The Haircut" in his essay "Telling and Showing."[9]

In his movie Eight Men Out (1988) about the Black Sox scandal, writer-director John Sayles portrayed Lardner as one of the clear-eyed observers who was not taken in by the conspiracy. In one scene, Lardner strolls through the White Sox train, singing a parody of the song "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles", changed to "I'm Forever Throwing Ballgames".[10]

In 2016, Lardner was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.[11]

Harry Turtledove describes his short story Batboy as a Ring Lardner pastiche.[12]

Sons and great-nephew

John Lardner was a newspaperman, sports columnist, and magazine writer.

James Lardner, also a newspaperman, was killed in the Spanish Civil War fighting with the International Brigades.

Ring Lardner, Jr. was a screenwriter who was blacklisted after the Second World War as one of the Hollywood Ten, screenwriters who were incarcerated for contempt of Congress after refusing to answer questions posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He won two Academy Awards for his screenplays—one before his imprisonment and blacklisting (for Woman of the Year in 1942), and one after (for M*A*S*H in 1970).[13] His book, The Lardners, My Family Remembered (ISBN 0-06-012517-9), is a source of information on his father.

David Lardner worked for The New Yorker as a general reporter and war correspondent before he was killed by a landmine near Aachen, Germany on October 19, 1944, less than one month after his arrival in Europe.

Ring Lardner was a great-uncle to 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner George Lardner, Jr., a journalist at The Washington Post since 1963.[14]



  • Bib Ballads (1915) (Illustrated by Fontaine Fox)
  • You Know Me Al (1916)
  • Champion (1916); [later adapted into a 1949 film]
  • Gullible's Travels (1917)
  • Treat 'Em Rough (1918)
  • The Real Dope (1919)
  • The Big Town (1921; basis of 1948 movie So This Is New York)
  • My Four Weeks in France (1922)
  • How to Write Short Stories (1924)
  • Haircut (1925)
  • What Of It? (1925)
  • Round Up (1929)

Essays and other contributions

  • Lardner, Ring (April 18, 1925). "The constant Jay". The New Yorker. 1 (9): 20.


  1. Lardner, Ring. Ring Lardner Reader. Scribners.p. xiv
  2. Bembrey, Sarah, ed. (Fall 1999). "Ring Lardner, Sr". The Lardner Dynasty. Interactive Media Lab, University of Florida.
  3. Ferguson, Andrew (2 December 2006). "Five Best: Laughter that Lasts". The Wall Street Journal. p. P8. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 3 December 2006.
  4. Berg, A. Scott (1978). Max Perkins, Editor of Genius. New American Library. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-399-58483-1.
  5. Gelfant, Blanche H. (and Lawrence Graver) (2004) The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-century American Short Story, Columbia University Press. (See Ring Lardner, p.322)
  6. "Lardner Connections: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Leyner, McMillan, Newman". tridget.com. 18 March 2006.
  7. Bruccoli, Matthew J., ed. (1996). The Only Thing That Counts: The Ernest Hemingway - Maxwell Perkins Correspondence. Scribner.
  8. O'Hara, 1952, foreword to Appointment in Samarra, The Modern Library, 1994.
  9. Booth, Wayne C. (1983). The Rhetoric of Fiction, 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press. pp. 3–20. ISBN 0-226-06556-1.
  10. Eight Men Out Movie Review, DVD Release Archived 2008-03-10 at the Wayback Machine, Filmcritic.com
  11. "Ring Lardner". Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. 2016. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  12. Turtledove, Harry. (1993). Departures (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. pp. 146. ISBN 0345380118. OCLC 28124415.
  13. Roth, Katherine (February 11, 2000). "Ring Lardner Jr., blacklisted Oscar winner, dies at age 85". The Literature Network. Chicago Sun-Times.
  14. "For Feature Writing, by George Lardner Jr. for his unflinching examination of his daughter's murder by a violent man who had slipped through the criminal justice system". General Information: History of The Post.


  • "Humor’s sober side: Ring Lardner tells about it in interview of series on how humorists get that way by Josephine Van de Grift," Bisbee Daily Review, October 18, 1922, p. 4.

Online editions

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