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Ring Lardner

At the height of his career, humorist and fiction writer Ring Lardner had it all.  He was a rare literary breed: a popular as well as a critical success.  He was born Ringgold Wilmer Lardner on March 6, 1885, the youngest of nine children, in Niles, Michigan (population 4,000), where he lived for the first twenty-two years of his life.  His parents were the wealthiest people in town, occupying a large mansion with a staff of Irish servants.  The estate was surrounded by several acres of land that included a private baseball diamond, a tennis court, and a stable of horses.

After being graduated from Niles High School, Lardner worked at a series of odd jobs until he was offered the position of society reporter and sports editor for the South Bend, Indiana, Times.  He worked there for two years, during which time he discovered a passion and a talent as a baseball writer.  He developed the unique ability to breathe realism into his writing by capturing the dialects and slang of the baseball players he interviewed.

In 1907, he went to work for the Chicago Examiner where he wrote under the alias James Clarkson and traveled with the White Sox on their spring training tour.  During the next ten years, he made his reputation as a sportswriter and columnist in Chicago and other cities.  He worked as a baseball reporter for the Chicago Tribune from 1908 - 1910, then as managing editor and feature writer for the St. Louis Sporting News, followed by a stint as the sports editor of the Boston American and as copyreader for the Chicago American

He met and married Ellis Abbott of Goshen, Indiana, on June 28, 1911, and the following year went to work again for the Chicago Examiner.  In 1913, he rejoined the staff of the Chicago Tribune and began writing his daily column, "In the Wake of the News," a potpourri of sports tidbits, humorous verse, observations, and stories.

Whenever the games he was watching were boring--as nearly all of them were from time to time--Lardner filled his articles with jokes and anecdotes about the players' lives.  He had plenty of material from which to draw upon, writing most often about the hapless Chicago Cubs and White Sox.  During the course of his lifetime, he cranked out more than 4,500 articles and newspaper columns and wrote several longer pieces of fiction. 

Lardner's first book, You Know Me, Al: A Busher's Letters (1916), was a collection of bush-league stories originally published by the Saturday Evening Post.  They centered around fictional baseball player Jack Keefe.  It was written from the point of view of Keefe's letters to his friends and family.  He used plenty of slang and colloquial humor to spice up the book, which was a popular success.

Lardner followed up the book with a second collection of satirical stories, Gullible's Travels (1917).

F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of Lardner's closest friends and drinking buddies, encouraged him to publish a more serious collection of short stories.  Lardner responded with the book, How to Write Short Stories (1924).  He wrote a great deal of satire, and not even Fitzgerald was immune from his sharp wit.

"Mr. Fitzgerald sprung into fame with his novel This Side of Paradise which he turned out when only three years old and wrote the entire book with one hand.  Mr. Fitzgerald never shaves while at work on his novels and looks very funny along towards the last five or six chapters." 

In 1928, Lardner collaborated with George M. Cohan on an unsuccessful play, Elmer, the Great, based on Lardner's short story, Hurry Kane.  The following year, he published Round Up, a collection of 35 stories, 14 of which were previously uncollected.  He also collaborated with George S. Kaufman on June Moon, Lardner's only theatrical success.

In 1930, Lardner began writing a column for the Bell Syndicate and, over the next two years, contributed a series of autobiographical articles and more busher stories to The Saturday Evening Post.  He began contributing a series of radio pieces to The New Yorker in which he denounced what he considered the pornographic and inane lyrics and jokes of the day.

In 1933, he published the book, Lose With a Smile, a collection of the latest busher stories collected from the Post.  Later that year, Ring Lardner died of a heart attack brought about by complications of alcoholism.  He was 48. 

Among his staunchest supporters were Dorothy Parker, H. L. Mencken, Edmund Wilson, and Virginia Woolf.

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