Ring Lardner (1885-1933), or Ringgold Wilmer Lardner, is an American writer and sports journalist. His literary works are mainly humorous short stories written on subjects related to sports and sportsmen. Although he originally thought that his productions would be just fading commentaries on baseball games and players, many of his works were immortalized to become classics of American humor. Some of them even witnessed huge success after being posthumously adopted to television and cinema.
Ring was born in Niles, Michigan, to Henry Lardner, a wealthy man who had nine children and who named his youngest son Ringgold after a relative. The son shortened his name to become simply Ring and gave it to his own son later, Ring Lardner, Jr., the renowned Hollywood screenwriter.
As a student, Ring Lardner started a degree in engineering and never finished it. In fact, he soon felt that he was not made for the sciences. Later, he received his first job as a columnist in the South Bend Times to later join the famous Chicago Tribune. By that time, he achieved considerable success, mainly among baseball fans who liked his quips and his satirical and funny commentaries. It was only in 1916 that Lardner decided to collect some of his works in a book that he entitled You Know Me Al. The publication was an astounding success and raised Lardner to important fame. The narrative takes the form of an epistolary novel in which the protagonist Jack Keefe, a baseball player, sends letters to his friend. Readers and reviewers appreciated Lardner’s exceptional style and sense of satire.
Other publications by Lardner followed, including Gullible’s Travels (1917), Treat’Em Rough (1918) and Haircut (1925) which were much successful. Such achievements made some compare Lardner to Mark Twain. Famous writers, including Virginia Woolf, praised Lardner’s work and insisted on its serious nature. It is thus that Lardner developed from a mere sports columnist whose works are occasional and related to specific sports events to a published writer whose works are to be republished, read and even adapted to cinema decades after his death. For many among today’s critics and readers, his sketches and characters bare American traits and serve as a window to American sports life of the period.
Among Lardner’s close friends was the famous Scott Fitzgerald while the great Ernest Hemingway was believed to be influenced by his writings and to emulate him at a certain period of his youth. In addition to journalistic reports and short story collections, Lardner also wrote for the theatre and even provided lyrics for musical compositions. In 1911, he got married to Ellis Abbot to have four sons. They all became professional writers, particularly Ring Lardner, Jr. whose contributions to successful American movies made of him a celebrity.
One of Lardner’s celebrated stories is Alibi Ike first published in 1915 in the Saturday Evening Post. The author in this short tale follows the career of a funnily strong-headed baseball player who is always ready to give farcical alibis for his failures as well as laughable reasons for his victories. Alibi Ike is only the nickname given to the protagonist Frank X. Farrell. When the story was successfully adapted to cinema in 1935, Alibi became one of America’s popular comic figures. Thanks to Alibi, to Jack Keefe and to many other heroes of his, Ring Lardner became remembered as one of America’s greatest satirists.
In 1921, another memorable story was published under the title “Some Like Them Cold” to depict Lardner’s cynicism at its best. Written in an epistolary form, it follows the songwriter Charles Lewis and Mabelle Gillespie who meet at a train station and pretend to be attracted to each other while they are only motivated by self-interest and self-aggrandizement. While he is simply looking for an obedient housewife, she is interested in his career, believing that he will become a shining star one day. When Charles becomes interested in another woman and simply ignores Mabelle, the opportunism of the two comes to the surface and is finally cried out loud. Though the story’s summary may appear serious, the narrative is like all Lardner’s narratives that are adorned with witty jokes and derisive remarks. This can be seen, for instance, in the following song that Charles once sends to Mabelle:
Some like them hot, some like them cold.
Some like them when they're not too darn old
Some like them fat, some like them lean.
Some like them only at sweet sixteen.
Some like them dark, some like them light.
Some like them in the park, late at night.
Some like them fickle, some like them true,
But the time I like them is when they're like you
Lardner carried on writing and publishing other stories as he was urged to do so by publishing houses and magazines. These later works were then collected in other volumes, namely in Treat’Em Rough: Letters from Jack the Kaiser Killer and in The Real Dope. The popularity of Lardner’s fiction is mainly explained by the weird ideas and situations that he creates. His narration is also marked by the use of slang language, by disrespect for grammatical rules and by numerous hilarious neologisms that express his derision and cynicism. All this can be found in collections like Immigrunts (1920), The Story of a Wonder Man (1926), Round Up (1929) and Lose with a Smile (1933). The latter represents his last contribution to the world of humorous sports commentary since he died only a few months after its accomplishment.
Ring Lardner died at the age of 48 after a long battle with alcoholism and tuberculosis according to records. On September 27th, 1933, he suffered from a heart attack in East Hampton, New York to be ultimately taken to the Fresh Pond Crematory in Middle Village, New York.