The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner

The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner

The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner

The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner


Ring Lardner's influence on American letters is arguably greater than that of any other American writer in the early part of the twentieth century. Lauded by critics and the public for his groundbreaking short stories, Lardner was also the country's best-known journalist in the 1920s and early 1930s, when he was all but inescapable in American newspapers and magazines. Lardner's trenchant, observant, sly, and cynical writing style, along with a deep understanding of human foibles, made his articles wonderfully readable and his words resonate to this day.

Ron Rapoport has gathered the best of Lardner's journalism from his earliest days at the South Bend Times through his years at the Chicago Tribune and his weekly column for the Bell Syndicate, which appeared in 150 newspapers and reached eight million readers. In these columns Lardner not only covered the great sporting events of the era--from Jack Dempsey's fights to the World Series and even an America's Cup--he also wrote about politics, war, and Prohibition, as well as parodies, poems, and penetrating observations on American life.

The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner reintroduces this journalistic giant and his work and shows Lardner to be the rarest of writers: a spot-on chronicler of his time and place who remains contemporary to subsequent generations.


My father was the third of Ring Lardner’s four sons and got named after him over his publicly stated objections:

“When you are christened Ringworm by the humorists and wits;
When people pun about you till they drive you into fits;
When funny folks say “Ring, ring off,” until they make you ill,
Remember that your poor old dad tried hard to name you Bill.”

A songwriter on the side, my grandfather could sit down at the piano and play from memory long stretches of a Broadway show he had seen. He could work similar and greater wonders with the talk of ballplayers and other unschooled Americans. Many writers “tried to write the speech of the streets as adeptly and amusingly as he wrote it, and they all fell short of him,” H. L. Mencken said. “The next best was miles and miles behind.”

Mencken based this assessment of Ring Lardner largely on Lardner’s short stories. It was the body of work that also led Edmund Wilson to compare him to Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf to hold him up as the best prose stylist in America even though he had a habit of writing “in language which is not English,” and Ian Frazier to judge him “the literary equivalent of a once-in-a-generation athlete, like Ty Cobb or Mariano Rivera.” But it was in his newspaper and magazine pieces where he honed and originally deployed his skills.

The Chicago Tribune set him loose by giving him a daily column in 1913. He filled it at first with inside dope about the Cubs and the White Sox, as expected; then, when the season ended and there were no more real games to cover, he told the story of a made-up game in the voice . . .

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