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Biography

Jump to: Overview (2) | Mini Bio (1) | Trivia (8) | Personal Quotes (6) | Salary (2)

Overview (2)

Date of Birth 2 March 1914New York City, New York, USA
Date of Death 8 December 1990Santa Monica, California, USA

Mini Bio (1)

Martin Ritt, one of the best and most sensitive American filmmakers of all time, was a director, actor, and playwright who worked in both film and theater. He was born in New York City. His films reflect like almost none other, a profound and intimate humane vision of his characters. He originally attended and played football for Elon College in North Carolina. The stark contrasts of the depression-era South, against his New York City upbringing, instilled in him a passion for expressing the struggles of inequality, which is clearly present in the films he directed. After leaving St. John's University, Ritt found work with a theater group, and began acting in plays. His first performance was as Crown in Porgy and Bess. After his performance drew favorable reviews, Ritt concluded that he could "only be happy in the theater." Ritt then went to work with the Roosevelt administration's New Deal Works Progress Administration as a playwright for the Federal Theater Project, a federal government-funded theater support program. With work hard to find and the Depression in full effect, many WPA theater performers, directors, and writers became heavily influenced by the radical left and Communism, and Ritt was no exception. Years later, Ritt would state that he had never been a member of the Communist Party, although he considered himself a leftist and found common ground with some Marxist principles. Ritt moved on from the WPA to the Theater of Arts, then to the Group Theater of New York City. It was at the Group Theater that he met Elia Kazan. Kazan cast Ritt as an understudy to his play Golden Boy. Ritt's social consciousness and political views continued to mature during his time with the Group Theater, and would influence the social and political viewpoint that he would later express in his films. (Ritt would continue his association with Kazan for well over a decade, later assisting, and sometimes filling in for, his erstwhile mentor at The Actors Studio, eventually becoming one of the Studio's few non-performing life members. During World War II, Ritt served with the U.S. Army Air Forces and appeared as an actor in the Air Forces' Broadway play and film Winged Victory. During the Broadway run of the play, Ritt directed a production of Sidney Kingsley's play Yellow Jack, using actors from Winged Victory and rehearsing between midnight and 3 a.m. after Winged Victory performances. The play had a brief Broadway run and was performed again in Los Angeles when the Winged Victory troupe moved there to make the film version. After working as a playwright with the Works Progress Administration, acting on stage, and directing hundreds of plays, Ritt became a successful television director. In 1952, Ritt was acting, directing, and producing teleplays and television programs when he was caught up by the Red Scare and investigations of communist influence in Hollywood and the movie industry. Although not directly named by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Ritt was mentioned in an anti-communist newsletter called Counterattack, published by American Business Consultants, a group formed by three former FBI agents. Counterattack alleged that Ritt had helped Communist Party affiliated locals of the New York based Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union stage their annual show. He was finally blacklisted by the television industry when a Syracuse grocer charged him with donating money to Communist China in 1951. Unable to work in the television industry, Ritt returned to the theater for several years. By 1956, the Red Scare had decreased in intensity, and he turned to film directing. His first film as a director was Edge of the City, an important film for Ritt and an opportunity to give voice to his experiences. Based on the story of a union dock worker who faces intimidation by a corrupt boss, the film is a virtual laundry list of themes influencing Ritt over the years: corruption, racism, intimidation of the individual by the group, defense of the individual against government oppression, and most notable, the redeeming quality of mercy and the value of shielding others from evil, including sacrificing one's own reputation, career, and even life if necessary. Ritt went on to direct and delight us all with 25 more films.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: J.J. Harting

Trivia (8)

Blacklisted in the 1950s for his alleged support of causes deemed to be "Communist" by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Directed 13 different actors in Oscar-nominated performances: Melvyn Douglas, Paul Newman, Patricia Neal, Richard Burton, James Earl Jones, Jane Alexander, Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson, Geraldine Page, Sally Field, Rip Torn, Alfre Woodard and James Garner. Neal, Douglas and Field won Oscars for their performances in one of Ritt's movies.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 734-736. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
He began his show-business career as an apprentice actor in the last years of the celebrated Group Theater (1931-1940), the first company in America to put Konstantin Stanislavski's techniques into practice. He appeared as "Sam" and was the assistant stage manager in the 1939 debut of Clifford Odets' "Golden Boy" with John Garfield (then billed as "Julie Garfield") and two other fledgling actors who would also go on to direct films: Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront (1954)) and Michael Gordon (Pillow Talk (1959)). He also acted in one of the last Group productions, Irwin Shaw's "The Gentle People" with another novice actor new to Broadway who appeared in a small role: Karl Malden.
Graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in Manhattan and Eton College in North Carolina. Studied law at St. John's University, where he befriended Elia Kazan whom he subsequently joined at the Group Theatre in New York.
Served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.
While blacklisted, he earned a living as an acting teacher at the Actors Studio.
Many of his films dealt with human relationships and social issues reflecting his own strongly-held viewpoints (particularly in regard to racism and unions).

Personal Quotes (6)

As far as a "Martin Ritt Production" is concerned, I wouldn't embarrass myself to take that credit. What about the Ravetches? They wrote it. What about the actors who appear in it? If ever I write one, direct it and appear in it, then you can call it a Martin Ritt Production.
I don't have a lot of respect for talent. Talent is genetic. It's what you DO with it that counts.
[on Paul Newman] A cool sexuality that is unique in the American cinema -- an amused quality and a high promise of sex and danger.
[on Sally Field] Sally is one of the best, perhaps the best, actress I've ever worked with. Her rushes on Norma Rae (1979) were so good that I found myself crying over some of the more dramatic scenes. She's simply astounding.
[on Barbra Streisand] She's got the balls of a Russian infantryman.
I don't need final cut. I only cut the thing once. If they're dumb enough to fool around with it, let 'em do it.

Salary (2)

Edge of the City (1957) $10,000
Hombre (1967) $200,000

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