Morrie Ryskind
Bottom, left to right: George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, (top) Ira Gershwin, George Gershwin
Bottom, left to right: George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, (top) Ira Gershwin, George Gershwin
BornMorris Ryskind
(1895-10-20)October 20, 1895
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 24, 1985(1985-08-24) (aged 89)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
OccupationDramatist, screenwriter, lyricist, newspaper columnist
EducationColumbia University
Years active1929-1972
SpouseMary House (1929–1985)

Morris "Morrie" Ryskind (October 20, 1895 – August 24, 1985) was an American dramatist, lyricist and writer of theatrical productions and movies who became a conservative political activist later in life.

Life and career

Ryskind was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants Ida (Edelson) and Abraham Ryskind.[2] He attended Columbia University but was suspended shortly before he was due to graduate after he called university president Nicholas Murray Butler "Czar Nicholas" in the pages of the humor magazine Jester in 1917. Ryskind was criticizing Butler for refusing to allow Ilya Tolstoy speak on campus.[3]

From 1927 to 1945, Ryskind was author of numerous scripts and musical lyrics for Broadway productions and Hollywood films, and he later directed several productions. He collaborated with George S. Kaufman on several Broadway hits. In 1933, he earned the Pulitzer Prize for drama for the Broadway production Of Thee I Sing, a musical written in collaboration with composer George Gershwin.[4]

Ryskind wrote or cowrote several Marx Brothers theatrical and screenplays, including the book for the Broadway musical Animal Crackers (1929) (with Kaufman), and he wrote the screenplays for the film versions of The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930).

Later he cowrote, again with Kaufman, the screenplay for A Night at the Opera (1935), which helped revive interest in the Marx Brothers and was selected by the American Film Institute as among the top 100 comedy films. In working on that script, Ryskind was heavily involved in the "cleanup process," watching the brothers repeatedly perform sections of the play before live audiences to determine which lines worked and which did not. In an interview with Richard J. Anobile in The Marx Brothers Scrapbook, Groucho Marx said that he was so appalled by an early draft of the script, which was reportedly written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, that he screamed "Why fuck around with second-rate talent, get Kaufman and Ryskind [to write the screenplay]!"[5]

Ryskind also rewrote the stage version of Room Service (1938), reworking the plot to make the film suitable for the Marx Brothers.[6]

During that period, Ryskind was twice nominated for an Academy Award for his part in writing the films My Man Godfrey (starring Carole Lombard, 1936) and Stage Door (starring Katharine Hepburn, 1937). Later, he wrote the screenplay for the successful Penny Serenade, wrote the stage musical Louisiana Purchase (which soon became a film starring Bob Hope) and supervised the production of The Lady Comes Across.[7]

Political activism

For many years, Ryskind had been a member of the Socialist Party of America, and during the 1930s he participated in party-sponsored activities, even performing sketches at antiwar events, but he split with the party's Old Guard faction led by Louis Waldman. His politics soon moved to the political right. In 1940, Ryskind abandoned the Democratic Party, and he opposed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's pursuit of a third term, writing the campaign song for that year's Republican Party presidential nominee Wendell Willkie.[8] He maintained some ties to the Socialist Party throughout the 1940s and served as a vice chairman of the Keep America Out of War Congress.

He became a friend to writers Max Eastman,[9] Ayn Rand,[10] John Dos Passos,[11] Suzanne La Follette[12] and Raymond Moley.[13] Later, he would become a friend to William F. Buckley, Jr. and future president Ronald Reagan.[14] In 1947, he appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities as a "friendly witness." Ryskind never sold another script after that appearance, and he believed that his appearance before HUAC was responsible, although there is no direct evidence of an organized campaign against the "friendly witnesses."[15]

In the 1950s, Ryskind contributed articles to The Freeman,[16] In 1954, he was also a board member of the American Jewish League Against Communism.[17]

He lent money to Buckley to help start The National Review,[18] which began publication in 1955, another journal to which he was an early contributor. Ryskind briefly joined the John Birch Society but soon disassociated himself from the group after it began to claim that Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower were part of the Soviet conspiracy.[19] He was also a vocal sympathizer with the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism.

In 1960, Ryskind started to write a feature column in the Los Angeles Times that promoted conservative ideas for the next 11 years. His son Allan H. Ryskind was the longtime editor of the conservative weekly Human Events.[20]

The elder Ryskind's autobiography I Shot an Elephant in My Pajamas: The Morrie Ryskind Story details his adventures from Broadway to Hollywood as well as his conversion to conservative politics.

Stage productions




  1. ^ Schmalz, Jeffrey (25 August 1985). "Morrie Ryskind Dies at 89; Wrote Plays and Screen Comedies". The New York Times.
  2. ^ "I Shot an Elephant in My Pajamas: The Morrie Ryskind Story by Morrie Ryskind, John H Roberts - Alibris for Libraries} (hereafter, "Ryskind, Pajamas")".
  3. ^ Rosenthal, Michael, Nicholas Miraculous: The Amazing Career of the Redoubtable Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, 2006, Columbia University Press, pp.238-239.
  4. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, p.88, 99.
  5. ^ Marx, Groucho; Anobile, Richard J. (1973). The Marx Bros. scrapbook – Groucho Marx, Richard J. Anobile – Google Boeken. Darien House. ISBN 9780517515464. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
  6. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.101-117.
  7. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.119-141.
  8. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.169-171.
  9. ^ Diggins, John, Up From Communism, Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 201-233; Ryskind, Pajamas, p.184; and, O'Neill, William L., The Last Romantic: a Life of Max Eastman, 1991, Transaction
  10. ^ Burns, Jennifer, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, 2009, Oxford Univ. Press, p.131.
  11. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, p.179, 184.
  12. ^ Chamberlain, John, A Life with the Printed Word, Regnery, 1982, p.138.
  13. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, p.189.
  14. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, p.178, pp.206-208.
  15. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.165-166.
  16. ^ Chamberlain, John, A Life With the Printed Word, p.138.
  17. ^ Piper, Michael Collins (2006). The Judas Goats: The Enemy Within. American Free Press. ISBN 9780981808628. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  18. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.183-184.
  19. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.198-199.
  20. ^ Ryskind, Pajamas, pp.186-187.