Ronald Ribman Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ronald Burt Ribman was born in New York City on May 28, 1932, the son of Samuel M. Ribman, a lawyer, and Rosa Lerner Ribman. As a teenager he took an aptitude test that indicated that he should be a writer, but it made no sense to him; at that time he despised all forms of literature. His earliest career choice was science. “I was the worst chemistry major in the history of Brooklyn College,” he has said. “Things bubbled strangely and blew up in my retorts.” He abandoned science, and for his sophomore year, he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where in 1954 he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Soon after graduation he was drafted. To while away the long hours off duty while he was stationed in Germany, he began to write: long letters at first, and then poetry. “I wrote a lot of terrible poems which they broadcast over the Armed Forces Network, which led to all kinds of suspicions about me—whether I was the right kind of gung-ho military material the Army was looking for.”

On his discharge, he started working at one of his father’s business concerns, a coal brokerage in Pennsylvania. He continued to write—short stories as well as poetry—and decided to apply to the graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh to study the very subject he had once despised above all others, English literature. He supported his application with copies of his recent writing and was accepted. (His writing was returned with a critical comment: “Mr. Ribman has a penchant for the bizarre, which a few writing courses that stress concrete imagery will take out of him.”) After earning his M.Litt. in 1958, he was accepted for doctoral work at the Universities of Edinburgh and Minnesota. “Faced with a choice, I of course picked the wrong one.” After “one freezing quarter” in Minnesota, he returned to “Pitt,” where he earned his Ph.D., with a dissertation on John Keats, in 1962. He then entered the academic world as an assistant professor of English at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio. This career lasted only one year. He resigned to devote himself full-time to...

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Ronald Ribman Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ronald Burt Ribman’s plays mirror the condition of humankind in the twentieth century by dealing with characters who are trapped by their societies, their circumstances, and even by their own personalities and bodies into a severely restricted range of possibilities, a condition against which they rebel but from which they gain enlightenment. He was born in New York City on May 28, 1932, the son of Samuel M. Ribman, a lawyer, and Rosa (Lerner) Ribman. After attending New York grammar and high schools, Ribman went to Brooklyn College for a year before transferring to the University of Pittsburgh, where in 1954 he obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He served for the next two years in the U.S. Army, returning to the University of Pittsburgh in 1956, when he began graduate work in English literature. After receiving his master’s degree in 1958, he continued his studies in English literature at Pittsburgh, obtaining his Ph.D. in 1962. He then taught English for a year at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio. In 1963 he left the Midwest and returned to New York, having decided to become a full-time writer.

Ribman’s career as a playwright was launched by the American Place Theater (APT), which wanted to develop new playwrights and to present literate and controversial plays that were not then being produced either on or off Broadway. Ribman’s first play, Harry, Noon and Night, was produced under APT’s Writers’ Development Program and given its guaranteed six-week run in 1965. As with several APT productions, Harry, Noon and Night was later presented Off-Broadway at the Pocket Theater, where it played for six performances. Ribman’s black comedy centered on the descent of Harry, a homosexual artist, into the maelstrom of his own failures. Critics were strongly divided over the merits of the play. Some found its three scenes poorly unified, its situations brutally obscene, and its language gratuitously scatological. Others thought it was the best new play in New York that year, making a significant statement about the corruption that results when human beings try to dominate each other.

For his second play Ribman transformed an 1850 story by Ivan Turgenev, “Dnevnik lishnega cheloveka” (“The Diary of a Superfluous Man”), into a double portrait of human loneliness. The play, The Journey of the Fifth Horse, even though it had only a short run, was highly acclaimed by most New York critics. The play received the Obie Award for the best Off-Broadway drama of the 1965-1966 season.

This early success led to a commission to write a teleplay for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Playhouse, a series designed to generate original dramas for television. CBS gave Ribman freedom to choose his subject matter and theme. In The Final War of Olly Winter, the initial production of CBS Playhouse broadcast on January 29, 1967, Ribman chose the Vietnam War as his subject and pacifism as his theme. Though some critics found the play lacking in originality, most praised Ribman’s mastery of this new medium and his compassionate portraits of his central characters. The Final War of Olly Winter was nominated for an Emmy Award of the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Ribman then obtained financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation, and since a bright future in the theater seemed assured, he married Alice Rosen, a nurse, on August 27, 1967, a union that resulted in two children, a boy and a girl. The Rockefeller grant gave Ribman the confidence to take greater risks in writing his third play, The Ceremony of...

(The entire section is 1482 words.)