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Robert Bushnell Ryan (November 11, 1909 – July 11, 1973) was an Americanmarker actor who often played hardened cops and ruthless villains.

Ryan was born in Chicago, Illinoismarker, the first child of Timothy Ryan and his wife Mabel Bushnell Ryan . He graduated from Dartmouth Collegemarker in 1932, having held the school's heavyweight boxing title all four years of his attendance. After graduation, the 6`4" Ryan found employment as a stoker on a ship, a WPA worker, and a ranch hand in Montanamarker.


Ryan attempted to make a career in show business as a playwright, but had to turn to acting to support himself. He studied acting in Hollywoodmarker and appeared on stage and in small film parts during the early 1940s.

In January 1944, after securing a contract guarantee from RKO Radio Pictures, Ryan enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served as a drill instructor at Camp Pendletonmarker, in San Diego, Californiamarker. At Camp Pendleton, he befriended writer and future director Richard Brooks, whose novel, The Brick Foxhole, he greatly admired. He also took up painting.

Ryan's breakout film role was as an anti-Semitic killer in Crossfire (1947), a film noir based on Brooks's novel. The role won Ryan his sole career Oscar nomination, for Best Supporting Actor. From then on, Ryan's specialty was tough/tender roles, finding particular expression in the films of celebrated directors such as Nicholas Ray, Robert Wise and Sam Fuller. In Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1951) he portrayed a burnt-out city cop finding redemption while solving a rural murder. In Wise's The Set-Up (1949), he played an over-the-hill boxer who is brutally punished for refusing to take a dive. Other important films were Anthony Mann's western The Naked Spur, Sam Fuller's uproarious Japanese set gangland thriller House of Bamboo, Bad Day at Black Rockmarker, and the socially conscious heist movie Odds Against Tomorrow. He also appeared in several all-star war films, including The Longest Day (1962) and Battle of the Bulge (1965). He also played John the Baptist in MGM's 1961 Technicolor epic King of Kings.

In his later years, Ryan continued playing key roles in major films. Most notable of these were The Dirty Dozen, The Professionals and Sam Peckinpah's highly influential brutal western The Wild Bunch.

Ryan appeared several times on the Broadwaymarker stage. His credits there include Clash by Night, Mr. President and The Front Page, a drama about newspapers.

He appeared in many television series in a guest-starring role, including the role of Franklin Hoppy-Hopp in the 1964 episode "Who Chopped Down the Cherry Tree?" on the NBC medical drama about psychiatry, The Eleventh Hour. Similarly, he guest starred as Lloyd Osment in the 1964 episode "Better Than a Dead Lion" in the ABC psychiatric series, Breaking Point. In 1964, Ryan appeared with Warren Oates in the episode "No Comment" of CBS's short-lived drama about newspapers, The Reporter, starring Harry Guardino in the title role of journalist Danny Taylor. Ryan appeared five times (1956-1959) on CBS's Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater and twice (1959 and 1961) on the Zane Grey spin-off Frontier Justice. He appeared three times (1962-1964) on the western Wagon Train.


Ryan was a liberal Democrat who tirelessly supported civil rights issues. Despite his military service, he also came to share the pacifist views of his wife Jessica, who was a Quaker.

In the late 1940s, as the House Committee on Unamerican Activities (HUAC) intensified its anti-communist attacks on Hollywoodmarker, he joined the short-lived Committee for the First Amendment. Throughout the 1950s, he donated money and services to civic and religious organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, and United World Federalists. In September 1959, he and Steve Allen became founding co-chairs of The Committee for a SANE Nuclear Policy's Hollywood chapter.

By the mid-1960s, Ryan's political activities included efforts to fight racial discrimination. He served in the cultural division of the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and, with Bill Cosby, Robert Culp, Sidney Poitier, and other actors, helped organize the short-lived Artists Help All Blacks.

Ryan's film work often ran counter to the political causes he embraced. He was a pacifist who starred in war movies, westerns, and violent thrillers. He was an opponent of McCarthyism who nevertheless served the anticommunist cause by playing a nefarious Communist agent in I Married a Communist. Even in films like Crossfire and Odds Against Tomorrow, which ultimately promoted racial tolerance, he played bigoted bad guys. Ryan was often vocal about this dichotomy. At a screening of Odds Against Tomorrow, he appeared before black and foreign press representatives to discuss "the problems of an actor like me playing the kind of character that in real life he finds totally despicable."

Personal life

On March 11, 1939, he married Jessica Cadwalader. They had two sons, Cheyney (now a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregonmarker) and Timothy "Tim" Ryan, and one daughter, Lisa Ryan. Robert and Jessica Ryan remained married until her death from cancer in 1972. He died from lung cancer in New York Citymarker the following year at age 63.

Jupiter's Father-in-Law

In 1995, Robert Ryan returned to the screen posthumously in the award-winning documentary, Jupiter's Wife. In the film, Maggie Cogan (a homeless inhabitant of Central Parkmarker) claims to be the daughter of Robert Ryan as well as the wife of Jupiter. The film won a Special Recognition award and was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. The film also tied for Best Documentary Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Selected filmography

See also


  1. Philip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, 1 October 1959, B13.

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