Bill at age 18.
When you are nicknamed Ringworm by the humorists and wits;
When people put about you till they drive you into fits;
When funny folk say, "Ring, ring off," until they make you ill,
Remember that your poor old dad tried hard to name you Bill (Elder, p. 133).
When Bill was a sophomore in college at Princeton he had already been published in Esquire. Of course, like his other brothers, he never finished college. Instead, he took a trip to the Soviet Union to study about Communism.
Quickly after arriving there, he enrolled in the University of Moscow where he printed a parody of the school newspaper and almost got kicked out of the country for it. Then he went to Germany.
"Everything I saw there, including a glimpse of Hitler and William Randolph Hearst in the back seat of a car in Munich, strengthened my impression that the best hope for mankind lay with the Soviets" (Lardner, p. 246).
Bill and Frances at the House Un-American Activities Committee Hearings in 1947.
When he came back to the United States Bill began working for the Daily Mirror as a reporter. Bill was there for only 10 months because he said his writing was better than what the Mirror deserved.
"It was not enough, in that tradition, to get the facts straight and relate them coherently under a lead that stated the essence of the story in a provocative way. The best reporters were also literate, entertaining and so individual that devotees could recognize their style without a by-line.... Talent like that would have been wasted on the Mirror" (Lardner, p. 247).
He began to move over to Hollywood working as a screenwriter when he met Silvia Schulman whom he married in 1937. At this time, he became very involved in the Communist group meetings.
"Every week I went to a Marxist study group one night, a meeting of the newly formed youth unit in the party on another, and some other meeting of a political nature on a third or even a fourth" (Lardner, p. 255).
Still while he was only 21 years old, Bill became successful after writing Nothing Sacred and became executive board of the Screen Writers Guild. Soon after this Silvia gave birth to Peter James Lardner. In 1942, Bill shared an Oscar for Woman of the Year, a movie starring Katharine Hepburn, and life seemed to be going well. But not long after the success, the perfectness wore off and Silvia and Bill separated after the birth of their second child named Ann.
Anti-Communist feelings were beginning to spread in Hollywood as well as the rest of the United States by 1945. Frances, David's wife before he died, and Bill were married in October 1946 not knowing the hardships they would soon encounter. In Oct. 1947 Bill was brought before the House Un-American Activities Committee. On Nov. 24 he was jailed and fired from Twentieth Century-Fox.(White, Profiles, online).
Lardner had already been labeled as unfriendly because he was among a group in the film industry who refused to cooperate with the investigation. During the hearings he refused to answer questions, as he believed he was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, and their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
When the chairman of the HUAC, J. Parnell Thomas, asked Bill if he was a member or had ever been a member of the Communist Party, Bill replied, "It depends on the circumstances. I could answer it, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning" (Schwartz, p. 257).
Bill was jailed for contempt of court and was blacklisted. And like his fellow communists, he continued working under pseudonyms (aka. Philip Rush) (Sara, online). Bill was incarcerated for one year. Here, he began to write his first and only novel, "The Ecstasy of Owen Muir" (Ecstasy, online).
After Bill was released from prison, he and Frances went to Mexico City to live. This was in 1951.
This is some of the "Hollywood Ten." Bill is the one in the back with a yellow ring around his face.
In 1961, Bill was given credit for writing "The Cincinnati Kid" and later won an Academy Award for "MASH" in 1970. He had finally been rectified (Bosworth, online).
In 1997, 50 years after the blacklist, Hollywood honored the living screenwriters who were involved in the Hollywood Ten. There were only two remaining ones. Bill was the only one who attended a ceremony honoring them.
With a capacity crowd of entertainment industry leaders gathered at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, Bill received a standing ovation after he recounted how the blacklist deprived him of work. The was at the Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist ceremony.