In series two of the BBC’s largely disappointing Robin Hood series, starring Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths and Richard Armitage-the ninth episode was given the title Lardner’s Ring. This is undoubtedly a reference to the blacklisted American writer Ring Lardner Jr., who after being imprisoned and unable to work in his own country, wrote under several pseudonyms for the classic British television series, The Adventures of Robin Hood, in the 1950’s.
In 1942 Ring Lardner Jr., known as ‘Bill’ to friends, the son of the famous humorist, was the youngest writer ever to win an Academy Award for ‘Best Original Screen-Play.’ His writing career was at an all time high. But his well publicized, foolhardy testimony, to Committee Chairman J. Parnell Thomas, as one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ (communist or leftist sympathizers) during the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s ‘witch-hunt’, caused utter controversy. When brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Ring refused, along with the others, to answer any questions under the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States of America.
After a series of appeals they were eventually found guilty of ‘contempt of Congress.’ All ten were jailed and on November 24th 1947 Ring was fined $1000 and incarcerated for 10 months in the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut. His passport was impounded; he was fired from his job at Twentieth Century Fox and was unable to work in his native land.
So this talented scriptwriter was punished for a ‘crime’ that his country constituted as a basic right! (Like freedom of choice, freedom of speech etc.) In the so-called ‘land of the free’ he became a member of the infamous ‘blacklisted’ Hollywood fraternity and after his release from prison, fled with his wife Frances, (the widow of his brother David) to live firstly in Mexico City, then New York and possibly London.
Ironically the H.U.A.A. Committee chairman J. Parnell Thomas was convicted of embezzlement in 1950 and also became an inmate at Danbury. Four years later, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy and his career in major politics was soon over. But the ‘blacklist’ was not lifted until about 1960 and only then could Ring Lardner write under his own name again.
The screenwriter and playwright Michael Eaton met Ring Lardner, during the exiled writer’s invited visit to the Amiens film festival in Northern France. Ring was guest of honour and Eaton took the opportunity to show him a ‘rough cut’ of his forthcoming TV movie, ‘Fellow Traveller’ (1989) about the effects of growing up in Hollywood under the shadow of McCarthyism.
It was during their conversation about Ring’s years of suffering as an exile during the 1950’s that the subject of Robin Hood came up. During this period he was forced to write under pseudonyms, give credit to non-black-listed members or, simply write unaccredited for American sales. Ring described to Michael Eaton how some of his ‘Robin’ scripts for the TV series were smuggled over to England in great secrecy, before he eventually found work in London. But Ring and the other ‘blacklistees’ like Abe Polonsky and Walter Bernstein, had leapt at the opportunity for, as he put it, ‘commentary–by-metaphor’ on the issues and institutions of Eisenhower America.
When ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ was aired in the USA it quickly became, of course, a huge success. Youngsters across America were soon re-enacting his tales, firing imaginary bows and arrows in their school playgrounds and tricking the cruel sheriff. One of those children was Ring’s youngest son. But, although his eldest children had lived through - and were well aware - of their fathers unjust imprisonment and exile, Ring could not risk telling the young boy that his favourite TV show, ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ was partly created by his dad.
‘He couldn’t take the gamble that his child’s justifiable pride would not overflow and put him back in jeopardy.’ (Eaton)
I think you will agree that the domestic heartache Ring experienced as an outcast at that time brings into sharp focus the realities of challenging injustice. And, as Michael Eaton describes it, the timeless truths of Robin Hood.