Who was William deMille and what is his short story, "Ruthless"?

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rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William de Mille (1878-1955) was the son of Henry de Mille and Beatrice de Mille. His father was a renowned playwright, with six Broadway plays between 1887 and 1890. William followed in his father’s footsteps to become a great playwright. Later on, he moved into the film industry, where he worked in adapting Broadway plays into films. His films include Passion Flower (1930), The Doctor’s Secret (1929), Tenth Avenue (1928), Almost Human (1927) and Classmates (1924), among others. Some of his manuscripts include “Ruthless”, “Miss Dale’s Husband”, “Morality Clause”, “Okay Mr. Wagley,” etc.

The short story “Ruthless” talks about Judson Webb’s ruthlessness that finally puts him in harm’s way. On the day of the Webbs’s departure from their mountain camp, Judson decides to put in two tablets of rat poison into one of the whiskey bottles in his closet. He aims to trap the thief who stole his liquor the previous winter. Mabel, Judson’s wife is shocked by the idea of poisoning to death a petty liquor thief. She begs her husband not to implement the idea, to no avail. Finally, she lets him do as he pleases, but resolves to tell Alec’s wife about it. Alec is a caretaker to most of the vacationing city folks and lives about a mile from the Webbs. However, things go awfully awry when Judson has an accident on the porch, where he’d gone to collect his boots for safekeeping in the closet. He falls unconscious and is rescued by Alec, who gives him a drink of whiskey to help resuscitate him. The story ends in suspense, with the reader wondering whether Judson has drunk the poisoned liquor.

droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Churchille deMille was an American playwright who later became, and became famous as, a film director and screenwriter, working mainly during the era of silent pictures. He was renowned for his adaptations of Broadway plays into films. He was born in North Carolina to an Episcopal American father and a Sephardic Jewish-born English mother who later converted to Christianity. His brother, Cecil B. DeMille, was also a famous filmmaker.

"Ruthless" is a very short story—around two pages—about a man who is determined not to allow any further theft of his liquor. He crushes some rat poison tablets and puts them in a bottle of whisky. His wife complains that this is murder, and the man says that if someone were to break into his house, he would be allowed by law to shoot that person, and that this is no different. At the end of the story, the man, Judson, falls and hits his head on a table. The handyman, Alec, who knew nothing of the poisoned whisky, offers some of the whisky to Judson to revive him. The story closes here; the implication is that Judson is the victim of his own cruelty.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William C. deMille  (1878-1955) was a versatile American writer and film director. He was the older brother of the famed film producer and director, Cecil B. DeMille (who changed the spelling of his last name when he went to Hollywood). William deMille would become one of the most respected directors of the silent film era. He hosted the first Academy Awards show and was a founder of the University of Southern California film school. His short story, "Ruthless" tells the story of a man who leaves a bottle of poisoned whiskey for the unknown person(s) who has been entering his house while he is away.