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Biography

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Overview (2)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Died in Boston, Massachusetts, USA  (cancer)

Mini Bio (1)

James Ramsey Ullman was born in New York City, the son of Alexander F. Ullman. As a boy, he attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In 1929 he graduated from Princeton University and moved to Brooklyn to begin work in journalism as a newspaper reporter and feature writer. Ullman decided to try his hand at producing theater. This endeavor included the production of plays: "Faraway Horses", "Men in White", "Blind Alley", and "The Milky Way" among others of which he authored or co-authored a dozen. No production with which he was associated made it to Broadway. After a string of failed productions, Ullman decided to take a fresh look at career and traveled to the Amazon to relieve a growing fascination for travel and the lure of adventure. This experience inspired a travelogue narrative, The Other Side of the Mountain (1938), upon his return to America.

Although he took a position with the Federal Theater, he began to devote himself to freelance writing and produced short stories and articles with the emphasis on the mountain climbing that he had taken up enthusiastically at a basic level as a hobby and a means to satisfying that adventure urge. Later in 1938 he climbed in the Canadian Rockies with friend J. Monroe Thorington, the American eye doctor and mountaineer who climbed extensively and wrote many guide books on the Canadian Rockies. He made a trip to the Tetons in Montana in 1941 and evidently climbed with guide and later Himalayan mountaineer Paul Petzoldt. This must have inspired his first book on the subject of mountain climbing, a history of the sport up to contemporary time, High Conquest (1941). This was the first of nine books for the publisher J.B. Lippincott. World War II intervened at this point, and Ullman was with the American Field Service from 1941 to 1943. True to one's life experiences he was inspired to write a first novel, The White Tower (1945). This dramatic rendering was about a post-World War II veteran American and casual mountaineer who climbs a fictitious unclimbed and killer peak that had taken the life of the father of his Swiss love interest. The story had a good plot and was the second of Ullman's books to make it to Hollywood, the first being a fictitious script about climbing the Matterhorn carved out of his history High Conquest and made into a 1947 film by that name. White Tower became a film vehicle for Glenn Ford, Alida Valli, and a great supporting cast in the film version also called The White Tower (1950).

Ullman's traveling continued to inspire new literary projects: books as well as many magazine articles. He had already gone to South America in 1937 and spent more time there in 1946 and enjoyed the chance to hike in the foothills of the Andes. An interest in the continued attempts at climbing the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest, prompted the 1947 book The Kingdom of Adventure: Everest. Ullman and his wife (they had three children) vacationed in Europe in 1951 and 1952 which at some point gave him the opportunity to achieve a climber's historical goal -- do the classic northeast ridge route (first route to the summit accomplished in 1865) on the Matterhorn. The early 1950s marked notable events in world mountaineering history in the Himalayas. Annapurna was climbed by the French led by Maurice Herzog in 1950, and nearly 30 years after the British sustained efforts on Everest in the 1920s, an Anglo/Tibetan team reached that summit in 1953. As mountaineering participants' books began pouring from the press, Ullman was much in demand from publishers to write book reviews: Herzog, another famous French climber Gaston Rebuffat, Sir John Hunt (longtime British Himalayan expedition leader), Sir Edmund Hillary, and others.

For Ullman this was all fertile authoring material. In 1954 he completed Banner in the Sky, a historical fiction of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, involving a young Swiss man whose father had died in an attempt - a basic storyline reminiscent of White Tower - the characters mirroring to various degrees the actual participants involved in the race to the summit in 1865. Another of Ullman's books had made it to the screen Windom's Way (1957), and with Banner winning the Newbery Award for children's literature in 1955, the book was certainly Hollywood bound. Ullman was busy otherwise in the meantime. There were more novels of faraway places, a continuation of his history of mountaineering with The Age of Mountaineering (1954), and his ghost writing of the biography of co-Everest conqueror Tenzing Norgay, Man of Everest (originally published as Tiger of the Snows, 1955). Travel continued as well: Africa and a climb up Kilimanjaro (1957) and back to Europe (1958). Walt Disney optioned Banner as the feature Third Man on the Mountain (1959) with a cast headed by veterans Michael Rennie and Herbert Lom and up-and-coming young male lead James MacArthur. No expense was spared. Real mountaineers were hired for stunt work, and everything was shot on location in Switzerland. Ullman himself had an uncredited role as a tourist in the film. It was good family fare, but White Tower had more of the complexity factor that made it superior as an adult film. Ullman was off to the South Pacific from 1959 to 1960, visiting Pitcairn Island, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Wake, and the U. S. Pacific Island Trust. He finished out 1960 with a noteworthy biography of American geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell in Down the Colorado with Major Powell.

The mountain experience continued to drive Ullman's writing. Ullman's fascination with Everest garnered a special dream-come-true status when he was asked to be the official historian for the American attempt on the summit in 1963 headed by Swiss/American Norman Dyhrenfurth, who was able to interest the National Geographic Society to foot the bill with the addition of scientific data gathering. Though Ullman got no closer than Kathmandu due to delicate health (altitude acclimatization for the Himalayas can be extremely difficult even for superbly fit individuals), Ullman was busy with gathering and beginning to draft the story of what would be a resoundingly successful expedition, Americans on Everest (1964). Three teams made it to the summit, one via a new west ridge route. Ullman was also involved in writing for the TV production about the American success.

Two years later high drama in the Alps would be yet another authoring source. In 1966 American climber John Harlin fell to his death near the top of his goal to forge a direct route up the north face of the Eiger. That same year of 1966 British journalist Peter Gillman, who had been part of the ground team, wrote a narrative with the one successful team member to summit, Scots climber Dougal Haston (the remaining climber being noted American climber Layton Kor). Ullman became thoroughly intrigued with the complex Harlin, interviewed his parents and widow and produced the thought-provoking biography Straight Up (1968). It is not too much of a conjecture that the incident also inspired author Rod Whitaker, who gave himself the European-sounding pseudonym Trevanian, to write The Eiger Sanction (1972) - also made into a popular film (1975). To top off his inspiring travels, Ullman made a trip to Antarctica in 1970. For a man of deeply urban New York City, James Ramsey Ullman had written about and been a part of enough high adventure to fulfill any lifetime.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: William McPeak

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