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Robert Ryan

Filmography

1940      

The Ghost Breakers 

Queen of the Mob

Golden Gloves

North West Mounted Police

The Texas Rangers Ride Again

 

1943      

Bombardier 

The Sky’s the Limit 

Behind the Rising Sun

The Iron Major

Gangway for Tomorrow

Tender Comrade

 

1944      

Marine Raiders 

 

1947      

Trail Street

The Woman on the Beach

Crossfire 

 

1948      

Berlin Express

Return of the Bad Men

The Boy with Green Hair 

Act of Violence

 

1949        

Caught 

The Set-Up

 I Married a Communist

 

1950      

The Secret Fury

Born to Be Bad 

 

1951      

Hard, Fast and Beautiful

Best of the Badmen

Flying Leathernecks

The Racket 

On Dangerous Ground

 

1952      

Clash by Night 

Beware, My Lovely 

Horizons West 

 

1953      

The Naked Spur

City Beneath the Sea

Inferno 

 

1954      

Alaska Seas 

About Mrs. Leslie

Her Twelve Men 

 

1955      

Bad Day at Black Rock 

House of Bamboo

Escape to Burma 

The Tall Men 

The Proud Ones

Back from Eternity

 

1957      

Men in War 

 

1958      

Lonelyhearts

God’s Little Acre

 

1959      

Day of the Outlaw 

Odds Against Tomorrow 

 

1960      

Ice Palace 

 

1961      

The Canadians 

King of Kings

 

1962      

The Longest Day

Billy Budd

 

1965      

The Crooked Road

The Dirty Game

Battle of the Bulge

 

1966      

The Professionals 

 

1967      

The Busy Body

The Dirty Dozen 

Hour of the Gun 

Custer of the West 

 

1968      

A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die 

Anzio 

 

1969      

The Wild Bunch

Captain Nemo and the Underwater City 

 

1971      

Lawman 

The Love Machine 

 

1972      

 …and Hope to Die (fr) 

 

1973      

Lolly-Madonna XXX 

The Outfit

Executive Action 

The Iceman Cometh

 

Awards

Robert Ryan receive only one Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Crossfire (1947).

[on young actors] Each one assumes that his mere presence is God’s gift to humanity and he finds out over the years that this isn’t the case, but that the acquisition of the skills is equally important. You find out that the essence of it is simplification. ~Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan: Learn more about him, review his filmography and more

Actors, Biographies

Robert Ryan was born Robert Bushnell Ryan on November 11, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois, the first child of Mable Arbutus (Bushnell), a secretary, and Timothy Aloysius Ryan, who was from a wealthy family that owned a real estate firm.

Ryan was raised Catholic and educated at Loyola Academy. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1932, having held the school’s heavyweight boxing title all four years of his attendance. After graduation, the 6′4″ Ryan found employment as a stoker on a ship, a WPA worker, and a ranch hand in Montana.

Ryan attempted to make a career in show business as a playwright, but was forced to start acting to support himself. He studied acting in Hollywood and appeared on stage and in small film parts during the early 1940s, beginning with The Ghost Breakers and Queen of the Mob, both for Paramount Pictures in 1940.

In January 1944, after securing a contract guarantee from RKO Radio Pictures, Ryan enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served as a drill instructor at Camp Pendleton, located between Oceanside and San Clemente in Southern California. At Camp Pendleton, he befriended writer and future director Richard Brooks, whose novel, The Brick Foxhole, he greatly admired. He also took up painting.

Ryan’s breakthrough film role was as an anti-Semitic killer in Crossfire (1947), a film noir based on Brooks’s novel. The role won Ryan his sole career Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor. From then on, Ryan’s specialty was tough/tender roles, finding particular expression in the films of directors such as Nicholas Ray, Jean Renoir (The Woman on the Beach), Robert Wise and Samuel Fuller. In Ray’s On Dangerous Ground (1951) he portrayed a burnt-out city cop finding redemption while solving a rural murder. In Wise’s The Set-Up (1949), he played an over-the-hill boxer who is brutally punished for refusing to take a dive. Other important films were Anthony Mann’s western The Naked Spur, Samuel Fuller’s uproarious Japanese-set gangland thriller House of Bamboo, Bad Day at Black Rock, and the socially conscious heist movie Odds Against Tomorrow. He played John the Baptist in MGM’s Technicolor epic King of Kings (1961) and the villainous Claggart in Peter Ustinov’s adaptation of Billy Budd (1962). He also appeared in several all-star war films, including The Longest Day (1962), Battle of the Bulge (1965), and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

In his later years, Ryan continued playing significant roles in major films. Among the most notable were The Dirty Dozen, The Professionals (1966) and Sam Peckinpah’s highly influential brutal western The Wild Bunch. He portrayed Larry Slade in the American Film Theatre’s 1973 film of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, Ryan, who died before the film’s premiere, won the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, the National Board of Review Award for Best Actor (in a tie with Al Pacino, for Serpico), and a special award from the National Society of Film Critics. The Iceman Cometh and Executive Action both were released in November 1973, after Ryan’s death.

Less than two years before, Ryan had tackled O’Neill’s next, and penultimate, play onstage, portraying James Tyrone in Arvin Brown’s critically acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Ryan’s relatively infrequent stage appearances also include three on Broadway, including a supporting role in the 1941 premiere of Clash by Night (whose 1952 film adaptation would again feature Ryan, this time starring opposite Barbara Stanwyck and Paul Douglas), and, two decades later, starring roles in Mr. President and a 1969 revival of The Front Page, the oft-filmed comedy drama about newspapermen.

Ryan made his debut in television in 1955 as Abraham Lincoln in the Screen Director’s Playhouse adaptation of Christopher Morley’s story “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.” As he explained to reporters, despite financial considerations, Ryan preferred to steer clear of any commitment to a TV series.

In the late 1940s, as the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) intensified its anti-Communist attacks on Hollywood, he joined the short-lived Committee for the First Amendment. Throughout the 1950s, he donated money and services to civic and religious organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, and United World Federalists. In September 1959, he and Steve Allen became founding co-chairs of The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy’s Hollywood chapter.

By the mid-1960s, Ryan’s political activities included efforts to fight racial discrimination. He served in the cultural division of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and, with Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Sidney Poitier, and other actors, helped organize the short-lived Artists Help All Blacks.

Ryan’s film work, playing cynical, prejudiced, violent characters, often ran counter to the political causes he embraced. He was a pacifist who starred in war movies, westerns, and violent thrillers. He was an opponent of McCarthyism who played a nefarious Communist agent in I Married a Communist. In socially progressive films such as Crossfire, Bad Day at Black Rock, and Odds Against Tomorrow, he played bigoted villains. Ryan was often vocal about this dichotomy. At a screening of Odds Against Tomorrow, he appeared before the press to discuss the problems of an actor like me playing the kind of character that in real life he finds totally despicable.

On March 11, 1939, he married Jessica Cadwalader. They had two sons—Cheyney, a research fellow at Oxford University and a Professor of Philosophy and Law at the University of Oregon, his oldest son, Walker T, a bluesman—and one daughter, Lisa.

Robert and Jessica remained married until her death from cancer in 1972. He died from lung cancer in New York City the following year at age 63.

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