An affectionate portrait of two early Hollywood film legends.
In this captivating dual biography and memoir, Riskin—a former president of the Writers Guild of America West and former director of Human Rights Watch—recounts the colorful lives, hardworking careers, and loving but sadly foreshortened marriage of her parents, actress Fay Wray (1907-2004) and screenwriter/playwright Robert Riskin (1897-1955). Wray is best remembered for her iconic role in the 1933 classic King Kong. Though many of her other films are less memorable, during the 1930s she was one of the most prolific actresses of her day. Riskin made an indelible mark as a screenwriter for several significant films of that same period, most in collaboration with director Frank Capra, including It Happened One Night, for which Riskin won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. Wray and Riskin both came from humble origins. One of six children, she “came from pioneer stock” in Utah; he was one of five children brought up in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Both were well-established in their careers before meeting in 1940: Wray was at Paramount, Riskin at Columbia Pictures. Wray had been married previously and had a young daughter. Riskin, in his early 40s, had avoided marriage but had serious involvements with severable notable women, including Carole Lombard. Their eventual marriage would enrich both their lives but was short-lived. Riskin suffered a stroke in 1950 that left him unable to write for the remainder of his life. In alternating chapters, the author traces their careers and shares lively stories of their personal journeys. The narrative is enhanced by richly detailed descriptions of that period, as the author offers fresh insights into the studio system and many of the key players. Much has been previously written about Capra as well as studio moguls such as Harry Cohn; Riskin provides further nuance and context for how these and other industry talents operated.
In this engrossing tribute to her parents, the author provides a thoughtfully documented portrait of early Hollywood. A must-read for fans of this era of film history.