Robert Ludlum was born on May 25, 1927, in New York City, the son of George Hartford Ludlum and Margaret Wadsworth. His family was from the upper middle class, and although his father died when Ludlum was still young, he attended a series of private schools. He became enamored of acting and the theater, and on his own initiative he obtained a part in a Broadway show. Before finishing school, he attempted to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force but was rejected because he was underage. He later served in the United States Marine Corps. After leaving the service, he enrolled in Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, as a theater major. At college he met his future wife, Mary Ryducha, with whom he later had three children. Ludlum was graduated with honors in 1951.
For the next several years Ludlum pursued an acting career. He was moderately successful, playing a number of parts in regional theater, on Broadway, and particularly in television. He became a featured player but never achieved stardom, often playing, he said, a murderer or a lawyer. In the late 1950’s he turned to producing plays rather than acting in them, and he established a financially successful theater in a New Jersey suburban shopping center; he later complained that although he personally wished to produce more avant-garde plays, they inevitably were financial failures. By 1970, at the age of forty-three, he was ready for a new beginning.
Ludlum had considered becoming a writer for many years. He took the plot for his first novel from a short-story outline that he had begun years before. After numerous rejections, The Scarlatti Inheritance was published in 1971. He continued to supplement his income by doing voice-overs for television and radio advertisements, but by the mid-1970’s his novels had become so successful that he was able to write full-time. From their home in a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse in suburban Connecticut, Ludlum and his wife traveled widely. Many notes and photographs from their travels served as research for his novels. On March 12, 2001, Ludlum died in Naples, Florida.