I recently watched the movie MASH — one of the best movies of the 1970s — for the gazillionth time, and noted something that had never caught my eye before: the screenplay was by Ring Lardner. Surprised, I pulled out my borrowed copy of Shut Up, He Explained, a collection of Ring Lardner rarities — I suspect that my friends from whom I borrowed it have long forgotten the loan; with luck, they’re not reading these pages — and had a look. Indeed, Mr Lardner died in 1933, long before the penning of the Korean War story (and, for that matter, long before the Korean War).
Ah, right: Ring Lardner, Jr. That last bit’s important. The younger Mr Lardner, son of the elder one, was a noted screenwriter who was imprisoned for refusing to answer questions posed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and had been fired and blacklisted by the studios as a result. As it turned out, his script was actually barely used in the movie, director Robert Altman preferring to have the actors improvise their parts. According to the extras on the DVD, Mr Lardner (Junior) was very much upset by that turn. He was, nonetheless, given sole credit for the screenplay, and, ironically, amid five nominations, the only Academy Award the movie won was for Mr Lardner’s work.
I started thinking about other “Junior” folks in the entertainment industry — not the children of stars with different names (Liza Minnelli, Keifer Sutherland, Kate Hudson, Angelina Jolie, Michael Douglas, Mariska Hargitay, and many, many others), but ones who actually wear the “Junior” vest. In many cases, it’s the Juniors we know better than the fathers, at least as my generation sees it.
I grew up with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr, playing an FBI agent, and before that, in 77 Sunset Strip. Efrem, Senior, was a world renowned violinist, who retired from playing before I was born.
Sammy Davis, Jr, was one my my parents’ favourite performers, and I enjoyed his singing, dancing, and acting when I was a child. His father was a dancer who taught his son and got Junior’s career started. The younger Sammy’s star shone much brighter than the elder’s.
Ed Begley was a well known actor, who appeared in another of my favourite films, 12 Angry Men, and who won an Academy Award a few years later. He guest starred on a number of television shows that I watched as a child. Years later, I watched Ed Begley, Jr, in St Elsewhere, and he’s long been an environmental activist.
It’s easy to drop the “Junior”, and forget where the Senior was, in his day. And it’s funny how that seems less likely when the two generations don’t share one name.