31 May 2015

Gene Kelly's & Katharine Hepburn's appeal for clemency

On 30 October 1947, screenwriter Ringgold Wilmer "Ring" Lardner Jr. appeared before the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was investigating Communism in Hollywood. During the hearing, Lardner refused to answer questions about his alleged involvement with the Communist Party and told the committee: "I could answer it, but if I did I would hate myself in the morning". Found guilty of contempt of Congress (along with the other members of the Hollywood Ten), he was blacklisted by the studios, fined $1,000 and eventually sentenced to a year imprisonment. After his release from prison, Lardner --still blacklisted-- worked under several pseudonyms, and it wasn't until 1965 that he could write under his own name again (for "The Cincinnati Kid"). Ring Lardner Jr. was a two-time Oscar winner, receiving the award for Best Original Screenplay for the 1942 "Woman of the Year" (co-written with Michael Kanin) and Best Adapted Screenplay for "MASH" (1970).

Gene Kelly and Katharine Hepburn had been members of the Committee for the First Amendment, founded in 1947 in defense of the Hollywood Ten and their constitutional rights. In the summer of 1950, both Kelly and Hepburn wrote a letter to the U.S. Board of Parole appealing for parole on behalf of Ring Lardner Jr.. Although parole was denied, Lardner got out of prison 15 days early for "meritorious good behaviour"Below you'll find Kelly's and Hepburn's letters (written at a time when such letters could have ruined their careers), as well as the Board's reaction to Hepburn's letter.


August 23, 1950

The United States Board of Parole
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.


I am writing you concerning Mr. Ring Lardner Jr., who is serving a year's sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute at Danberry, Connecticut, for contempt of Congress. 

A few days ago I spoke to Mr. Lardner's wife who told me that he will soon be eligible for parole. Because of the five children dependent upon him for support, and the attendant hardships on them and Mrs. Lardner, I respectfully ask you to give this case consideration. 

If you believe the government's point has been served by his conviction and the serving of his sentence up to now, I can only state my belief that I am sure that, if paroled, he would live up to all conditions of the parole without any doubt, and that his family would be relieved beyond measure. 

Yours sincerely,

Gene Kelly 

Source: u.s. national archives


September 1, 1950

Dr. G.G. Killinger, Chairman
U.S. Board of Parole
Washington, D.C.

Dear Dr. Killinger:

Ring Lardner Jr. is serving a Federal sentence in Danbury, Connecticut, for contempt of Congress because he refused to answer questions regarding his political affiliations. I understand he will soon be eligible for parole.

I have known Ring Lardner Jr. since 1941. To the best of my knowledge he is a respectable, law-abiding citizen and I think his present conflict with the law is entirely conscientious and, however mistaken, should be viewed with charity.

In view of the fact that his wife and five minor children depend on him for support, I trust that the Parole Board will give sympathetic consideration to his case, for I do not believe that he will use his release from custody in any way harmful to his country now that the courts have decided he was wrong.

This letter is written in behalf of an old friend of whose political views I know nothing, but whatever they are I believe they are sincere, although they may differ radically from my own. 

Very respectfully yours,

Katharine Hepburn
179 Allyn Street
Hartford, Connecticut


September 13, 1950

Miss Katharine Hepburn
179 Allyn Street
Hartford, Connecticut

Dear Miss Hepburn:

Thank you for your letter of September 1, 1950, with reference to parole for Ring Lardner, Jr.

Mr. Lardner will be accorded a hearing by the Board in support of his application at the meeting soon to be held at Danbury, and you are assured that your letter will have the Board's careful attention at that time.

Appreciating your interest,



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