The Reluctant Hero

The Lives of Robert Ryan

Nobody else seethed like the great American character actor Robert Ryan. In more than 75 films, including The Naked Spur, Bad Day at Black Rock and The Wild Bunch, Ryan was fatalistic at best, enraged at worst—God’s angry man. It was a 180-degree deviation from his off-screen devotion to liberal pacifist causes, including a progressive school he co-founded with his Quaker wife and largely financed. J.R. Jones’s scrupulous, well-researched biography, The Lives of Robert Ryan (Wesleyan University Press, $30), documents where the rage came from: Ryan was Black Irish, Catholic, alcoholic, with a large gap between his ambition and what he believed to be his accomplishments. Also, one suspects, there was the matter of living up to his wife’s expectations.

Scott Eyman, author of John Wayne: Life and Legend

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