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The Lives of Robert Ryan (Wesleyan Film) Hardcover – May 11, 2015
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“As self-effacing yet as solid and as ethically engaged as Robert Ryan himself, J.R. Jones offers a comprehensive and sensitive chronicle of one of the giants of American movie acting.” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, author of Movie Wars)
“Too many critical biographies lurch back and forth between biography and criticism. Jones weaves the criticism in the biographical fabric, and the finished product has a very friendly mien―The Lives of Robert Ryan is a book you will want to spend time with.” (Kent Jones, author of Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism)
“J.R. Jones’s meticulous, revealing book on Robert Ryan places the actor’s life and career against the turbulent politics of the Cold War and the Red Scare in Hollywood. Jones is especially adept at moving between the life and the work, the films and their contexts. He introduces political history throughout, in ways that are both relevant and revelatory.” (Foster Hirsch, author of The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir)
“The Lives of Robert Ryan is a well-written, insightful biography on an important Hollywood actor who is finally getting the attention he deserves. Ryan was a fearless liberal who embraced controversial causes during a time when most Hollywood stars remained apolitical. Even many film scholars are unaware of this aspect of Ryan’s career. This biography emphasizes it.” (Richard B. Jewell, author of RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born)
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He really mesmerized me in how flawless he was -his so-natural style of acting - other actors would have played some of those explosive parts so over the top, unnatural like, were as when Ryan did it was so real, that it was "so natural", in it was himself! You accept it, hands down.
We all know how great Spencer Tracy was, and it was due to how he approached it by not acting; you never knew he was acting. In Ryan you get that same, yet from a different view, a tough guy, that of what he most associated with, although he showed tenderness in other vehicles he did; "About Mrs. Leslie" (1954) - "King of Kings" (1961). He also shows the heartfelt comedic performance in "Gods Little Acre" (1958). He was very versed as an actor, but his tough guy performances are bar-non tops - from a simple stare to a physical beaten, no one can match his naturalism.
When in looking at Tracy and Ryan acting approaching similarities, there is a non better way to see it than when you watch them at the same time on screen such as in the movie, "Bad Day At Black Rock", (1955) - although their characters are different in nature, in real life, their acting approach is the same, that you are convince its not an act but to real people simply living it in front of your eye. To prove this, while taking a break on the set of "Bad Day At Black Rock", Tracy mentions to Ernest Borgnine, who is playing a character role in the movie, if he too was scared of Ryan? Were Borgnine ask what he meant by that? Tracy says; that he's not sure if Ryan is going to really hurt him (physically speaking) in the a scene coming up. Meaning Ryan is so himself that not even one of the best actors that ever lived can be sure!
The book gets into a lot of the Ryan's personal family lives; he and his wife's (Jessica Cadwalader ) involvements in politics and children schooling. Theirs and other close friends financial involvement, and personally involved hands on in starting/building Oakwood School for children in North Hollywood, California; none discriminatory school, which was big deal, for discrimination was so rampant in those days; Jews (Anti-Semitic) and Negroes.
His also heavy involvement of Liberal politics in being on the forefront in trying to get certain delegates into the Whitehouse or Governors mansions. He was always a tough liberal and outspoken about it, and true to his persona; didn't care if he was not favored by his peers - Ryan was who he was - not a follower, as he lived on/by his terms - he was very family orientated and did not hob-nob in the Hollywood scene, such as parties or other flamboyant activities . He was a guy that worked hard at no mater what he did, and always came home after work to his family. He really was a family man, not what one expects from a so-called Hollywood star.
Directors and producers could always depend on Ryan for as good as it gets performance no mater the paycheck, big or small, he was a true professional.
This book allows you to know and understand the person you only knew on screen - behind close doors - he was not much different than that of what you seen on the screen, yet in other ways, he had a side we learn about we did not know, such as his family life.
You also learn about person that was very approachable, as a person; not wanting all the fame and hoopla, just to be able to do his work, as good as he could and get a decent paycheck for it, and through it all, live a life in a normal fashion.
I got the feeling in reading the book that his approach to everything he did was to keep it real and "Simple", whether it was work, play or just everyday life itself. He was the guy you wanted living next door to you, you know the neighbor ready to offer a hand helping you mend your fence if needed. He frowned on that guy," hey don't touch me I am Star!" type; in all, he was just a very simple and cool guy, with a great talent.