2019 is here and The Old Hollywood Garden is starting it off with the first installment of a new series of posts, SCREENPLAY BY. As a screenwriter and playwright myself, I thought I would pay tribute to the much-overlooked geniuses that craft the stories of so many of our favorite movies. And who better to start it with than with screenwriter, dramatist and song-writer Morrie Ryskind?
A frequent collaborator of George S. Kaufman and George and Ira Gershwin on several Broadway several in the 1920s and 30s, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Of Thee I Sing in 1933. By then, he’d already made his Hollywood debut, with the screenplay for The Cocoanuts (dir. Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, 1929), the Marx Brothers comedy, which he adapted from the Kaufman play. Animal Crackers (dir. Victor Heerman, 1930) and A Night at the Opera (dir. Sam Wood, 1935) followed, and in 1936, he received an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay of My Man Godfrey (dir. Gregory La Cava, 1936), along with Eric S. Hatch. The following year, he received another screenplay nomination for Stage Door (dir. Gregory La Cava, 1937), with Anthony Veiller. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the satirical tone and social commentary of both of these films – the upper classes and showbusiness, respectively – still stands to this day, and both of them are considered to be some of Ryskind’s finest work in Hollywood. He and La Cava were known for their ability to hold a mirror up to society and Ryskind’s scripts, particularly, take no prisoners – who can forget William Powell’s scathing monologue to Gail Patrick about her upbringing in Godfrey?
In 1938, he wrote the film version of Room Service (dir. William A. Seiter, 1938), the last of the Marx Brothers vehicles he would write for, and three years later, he wrote the screenplay for the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne drama Penny Senerade (dir. George Stevens, 1941). Throughout the 1940s and 50s, he continued to write, mainly story outlines and additional dialogue, before dedicating the rest of his life to political activism. Morrie Ryskind passed away in 1985 at the age of 89.