Martin Ritt was an American who worked in both theater and movies as a director, producer, and actor. He is best known, though, for his films that were about social issues and told the stories of the poor and oppressed. In his movies, the main characters were usually outsiders or “dark horses” whose strong morals put them in dangerous situations because society didn’t have strong morals. Ritt’s career as a stage actor began with “Federal Theatre Project” and “Theatre of Action.” He also worked with the well-known “Group Theatre” of Lee Strasberg. In the 1940s, he did plays like “Set My People Free” and “The Big People” that did well. Then, in the late 1940s, he switched gears and went into TV. Over the next few years, he acted in around 150 teleplays and directed over 100 shows. During the 1930s, when the Great Depression was at its worst, Ritt and many other people in the theater became very inspired by leftist ideas and principles. Even though he was never a member of the “Communist Party,” his left-leaning views made him a target of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who got him fired from the “CBS.” After that, he got back together with the “Group Theater” and tried his hand at directing feature films. Starting with “Edge of the City,” he made some great movies over the next 30 years that helped him become one of the most well-known directors of the time. His movies “Norma Rae,” “The Long, Hot Summer,” “Sounder,” “Hud,” “Hombre,” “The Great White Hope,” “Murphy’s Romance,” “The Molly Maguires,” and “Stanley & I Iris” were all very popular and well-liked.
Early years and childhood
He was born on March 2, 1914, to a family of Jewish immigrants in Manhattan, New York City, USA.
He finished high school in the Bronx at “DeWitt Clinton High School.”
Ritt went to North Carolina’s “Elon College” to study literature and play football and boxing.
After going to law school for a short time at “St. John’s University,” he went into the theater.
Martin Ritt’s Career
In 1935, he made his stage debut with the “Federal Theatre Project” shows, which were put on by the “Works Progress Administration” (WPA) during the Great Depression in the United States. He also worked with the “Theatre of Action” at the same time.
As the Great Depression got worse, it got harder to find work, and Ritt and other “WPA” theater stars became interested in the far left and Communism. Even though he later said he had never been a member of the “Communist Party,” he agreed that he was a “leftist” whose ideas and values were similar to those of Marx.
Ritt joined Lee Strasberg’s famous “Group Theatre” in 1937 after being urged to do so by the Greek-American director, producer, writer, and actor Elia Kazan. Over the next five years, he was in several of the group’s plays, including “Golden Boy” (1937) and “The Gentle People” (1939). His time with the group had a big impact on his social awareness and political views, which were clear in many of his movies.
During the “Second World War,” he was in the “U.S. Army Air Forces,” and in 1943, he was in the Air Forces’ “Broadway” play called “Winged Victory.” The play was put on to boost morale and raise money for the “Army Emergency Relief Fund.” It was a huge success, and in 1944, it was made into a movie. Ritt also acted in the movie version, which was made by 20th Century Fox.
While “Winged Victory” was doing well on “Broadway,” Ritt was directing “Yellow Jack” by Sidney Kingsley, in which many of the “Winged Victory” actors also appeared. When the group from “Winged Victory” moved to Los Angeles to make a movie, “Yellow Jack” also had a run there.
After being a successful playwright, actor, and director in the theater, he tried his hand at television and became a successful TV director.
In 1952, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was in office, he got caught up in the “Red Scare,” which was also called “McCarthyism.” He was busy directing, acting, and producing several teleplays and TV shows at the time.
Even though the “House Un-American Activities Committee” (HUAC) did not name him directly, an anti-communist newsletter called “Counterattack” said that Ritt helped members of the “Communist Party” in New York who were part of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union put on their annual show.
The HUAC also looked at his other connections, such as with the Russian-styled “Group Theater” and the “Federal Theater Project,” which stopped getting money from Congress in 1939 because some of its productions had a left-wing political tone.
After a grocery store owner in Syracuse, New York, accused him of giving money to Communist China in 1951, he was finally banned from working on television.
Ritt kept himself going during this time, which lasted about five years, by directing plays and teaching at the “Actors Studio.”
As the “Red Scare” started to fade away in 1956, he tried his hand as a director in Hollywood.
He directed his first movie, a drama called “Edge of the City,” in 1957. It starred John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier.
The movie was a much more daring version of “A Man Is Ten Feet Tall,” the last episode of the 1955 anthology series “Philco Television Playhouse,” which also starred Poitier. Even though the movie didn’t do well at the box office, it was praised by critics and praised for showing racial brotherhood by the Interfaith Council, the American Jewish Committee, the Urban League, and the NAACP.
He went on to direct another 25 movies, many of which are still well-known today. His first movies were “No Down Payment” (1957), “The Sound and the Fury” (1959), “Paris Blues” (1961), and “Hemingway’s Adventures of a Young Man” (1962). (1962). The second one got him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director.
The 1963 Western movie “Hud,” which he directed and helped to make, was one of the most important movies of his career. The movie, which starred Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, and Patricia Neal, did well at the box office and with critics. It also got nominated for seven “Academy Awards,” including one for Best Director, and won three. He won the “OCIC Award” at the “Venice Film Festival” for it.
He was the director of the Cold War spy movie “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,” which was based on John le Carré’s 1963 novel of the same name. The movie, which starred Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom, and Richard Burton, did well at the box office and was praised by critics. It won a lot of awards, including the BAFTA for Best Film.
Another important movie of his was the drama “Norma Rae,” which came out in 1979. It was based on the true story of Crystal Lee Sutton, which was written in a book called “Crystal Lee, a Woman of Inheritance” by Henry P. Leifermann in 1975. The “Academy Award” for Best Actress went to Sally Field, who played the main character.
In 2011, the “Library of Congress” chose to keep the film in the “United States National Film Registry” because it was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Ritt also made some great movies like “The Outrage” in 1964, “Hombre” in 1967, “The Molly Maguires” in 1970, “Sounder” in 1972, “Cross Creek” in 1983, “Murphy’s Romance” in 1985, “Nuts” in 1987, and “Stanley & Iris” in 1988. (1990).
Personal History and Legacies
Adele was married to Martin Ritt.
He died in Santa Monica, California, on December 8, 1990, from a heart problem. He was married to Adele, and he had a daughter named Martina and a son named Michael.
Estimated Net worth