Ringgold Wilmer Lardner

views updated

Ringgold Wilmer Lardner

Ringgold Wilmer Lardner (1885-1933), American writer, was an important literary humorist and the author of sports fiction. His stories are distinguished by a bitterly sardonic view of humanity. He has been called the "greatest and sincerest pessimist America has produced."

Ring Lardner was born on March 6, 1885, in Niles, Mich. The family was wealthy, and Lardner was privately educated until he entered high school. At his father's insistence, he entered engineering school in 1902 but soon flunked out.

Lardner began his career as a newspaperman in 1905 on the South Bend Times in Indiana. Two years later he went to Chicago and for the next dozen years was a sports columnist on city newspapers. In 1911 Lardner married Ellis Abbott; they had four sons.

While working for the Chicago Tribune in 1914, for the Saturday Evening Post Lardner conceived of a series of illiterate letters between a baseball pitcher and his wife. The sketches were enormously popular, and their publication in book form, You Know Me, Al (1916), was a landmark in American sports fiction. In place of the idolatry traditionally lavished on sports heroes, Lardner introduced a lingering note of skepticism.

In 1917 Lardner served briefly in France as a war correspondent for Collier's magazine. More of Lardner's sports pieces appeared in Treat 'Em Rough (1918) and The Real Dope (1919), but the sports world is absent from Own Your Own Home (1917), Gullible's Travels (1917), The Young Immigrunts (1919), and The Big Town (1921).

In 1919 Lardner began to write a syndicated weekly column in which he commented on life in general. By 1924 he was earning $20,000 a year writing continuity for a daily comic strip called "You Know Me, Al."

At the prompting of his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lardner wrote his most contemptuous, nonhumorous sports collection, How to Write Short Stories (1924). It contained the famous "Champion," the story of Midge Kelly, a champion prizefighter but a wretched human being, as brutal out of the ring as in, and it includes the best idiomatic prose since Mark Twain.

The Love Nest and Other Stories (1926) was followed by The Story of a Wonder Man (1927), Lardner's zany autobiography. Lardner then collaborated on two stage productions: Elmer the Great (produced in 1928) with George M. Cohan, and June Moon (produced in 1929) with George S. Kaufman. The latter was based on Lardner's story "Some Like Them Cold." Lardner's last works, Round Up (1929) and Lose with a Smile (1933), are rueful and sardonic. He died of a heart attack on Sept. 25, 1933.

Further Reading

The standard biography is Donald Elder, Ring Lardner: A Biography (1956). Otto Friedrich, Ring Lardner (1965), is a good, short critical biography. See also Walton R. Patrick, Ring Lardner (1963). There are critical discussions in Maxwell Geismar, Writers in Crisis: The American Novel between Two Wars (1942), and in Gilbert Seldes's introduction to The Portable Ring Lardner (1946).

Additional Sources

Lardner, Ring, Some champions: sketches and fiction from a humorist's career, New York: Collier Books; Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada; New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1993; New York: Scribner, 1976.

Lardner, Ring, The story of a wonder man: being the autobiography of Ring Lardner, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975.

Yardley, Jonathan, Ring: a biography of Ring Lardner, New York: Atheneum, 1984, 1977; Random House, 1977. □