Ryskind, Morrie, 1895-1985Variant names
Morrie Ryskind, playwright, poet, and columnist, was born on October 20, 1895 in Brooklyn. After high school he attended The Columbia University School of Journalism where he served as editor of Columbia's humor magazine The Jester . In 1917, six weeks from graduation, Ryskind was expelled for writing an editorial which called Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler, "Czar Nicholas". Ryskind was later awarded his degree in 1942.
Ryskind's professional career as a writer began soon after his expulsion when he was hired as a reporter by The World, a post he held until 1921. That year he published a book of light verse called Unaccustomed as I Am, which received favorable reviews. Ryskind's poetry had appeared in numerous collegiate as well as professional publications. In 1924 Ryskind wrote shorts for the Garrick Gaieties drawing the attention of George Kaufman who asked him to collaborate on the musical Cocoanuts, a Marx Brothers vehicle with music by Irving Berlin. Ryskind worked with Berlin again in 1940 on the Broadway hit, The Louisiana Purchase . His collaboration with Kaufman included Animal Crackers and the film A Night at the Opera . Ryskind later adapted Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers for the screen, both successes for the Marx Brothers. When he married Mary House in 1929, Groucho Marx was his best man.
Ryskind and Kaufman also collaborated with George and Ira Gershwin on three musicals, Strike Up the Band, Let 'Em Eat Cake, and Of Thee I Sing for which they shared the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Of Thee I Sing was such a hit, that the phrase "to be a Throttlebottom," referring to one of the play's characters, entered into the cultural vocabulary of the country and Ryskind was prompted to write the book, The Diary of an Ex-President, from the point of view of the fictitious Wintergreen, Commander-in-Chief of the United States.
In 1935 Ryskind left for Hollywood where he received two Academy Award nominations for the films, My Man Godfrey (1936) and Stage Door (1939). He also wrote the screenplays for Room Service, Man About Town, and Claudia .
By the late 1940's Ryskind had ceased to write for either the stage or screen. In 1947 he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on the Communist infiltration of Hollywood. As a result of his testimony, Ryskind later said that he had been professionally ostracized. Ryskind became more involved with conservative politics as the years went on, serving as one of the original directors of The National Review . In 1960 he became a columnist for The Los Angeles Times Syndicate . He resigned in 1965 when one of his columns was suppressed. Later that year he joined The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where he remained until he retired in 1978. Morrie Ryskind died in his home in Washington DC in 1985; he was 89 years old.
From the guide to the Morrie Ryskind papers, 1911-1985, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)
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