In honor of the Mother’s Day celebrations across the land, I want to pay homage to Ruth Ware, the quintessential Flapper when she graduated on the eve of the Great Depression from Radcliffe College–a school known in her day as the “Harvard Annex.” (Just an aside, but now women graduate from Harvard…)
We have long heard stories from friends like Maggie Richardson (on right, slanted hat–a newspaper woman in the 1940s and later editor for the Women’s Section at the old Los Angeles Examiner), that Ruthie may have been “one smart cookie,” but never let an approaching exam keep her from a good party at the Harvard Law School!
The daughter of wealthy parents in Chicago, her graduation present was a trip around the world on an ocean liner, arriving back home October 1. On October 29th, the Crash of ’29 hit with such force that her father, who had invested most of his money “on margin,” lost the majority of his investments and, eventually, control of a washing machine company of which he was then president.
As breadlines became a common sight on city streets, the family moved to a cold water flat on La Salle Street. My grandmother reportedly had a nervous breakdown, my grandfather, who’d moved to Seattle to establish an insurance company, died mysteriously in a hotel, and Mom’s kid brother was told there would be no college education in his future.
Ruthie immediately talked her way into a job as a switchboard operator in the Chicago law firm run by the father of her then-boyfriend—a charming young buck who immediately dropped her and married someone else. During those next tough years, my mother kept her mother in food and shelter and helped pay the tuition for her kid brother to remain in the Parker School, a posh private high school she’d also attended. Fortunately, their great uncle housed her brother while he earned his own way through a teacher’s college in Missouri.
Certainly, the 1930s were a far cry from my mother’s carefree 1920s when she wore stylish cloche hats, danced the Charleston all night, and appeared in amateur college theatricals (Ruth is second from left).
But lest we get too dewy-eyed at this juncture, it’s important to note that my mother was certainly no sentimentalist. This was the woman who, as Captain of the Girls Basketball Team, played the championship game with a broken arm! And as regards the annual celebrations of the mothers of this world, my mother considered Mother’s Day a “Hallmark Holiday, created solely to sell greeting cards–an idea the industry sold to their cronies in Congress.” No fluffy, romantic was Ruth Ware. True grit describes her best.
Her life story was a common one for women who were in their maturity in the 1950s: she ultimately became a wife and mother–and typist for my father, Harlan Ware, whom she met–where else?– at an office Christmas party.
By the time the two became engaged, my dad was launching into a successful career as a writer of films, short stories, radio dramas, novels, and ultimately television (though he hated the medium). He was of the opinion that writers–”to be real pros”–had to be willing to write anything and everything that could support a family of five, not to mention a couple of hangers-on relatives that traveled in our wake….
But was my mother merely the one who typed the final copy of whatever manuscript my father had on deadline that week? During their nearly forty years of marriage, she was right by his side, absorbing the sights and drama of their life together in Hollywood, and later, Carmel-by-the-Sea. Was she just the scribe who dutifully corrected his spelling and punctuation and never added or word of phrase of her own? Could this very brainy lady resist making a suggestion or two, or thinking, as she typed, typed, typed everyday upstairs in his office when he headed out to walk the Carmel Beach with our dog to clear his head, that a paragraph or two needed some serious editing–and then just do it?
Having lived myself for nearly four decades with a fellow writer, I cannot believe she didn’t collaborate with him in some significant ways. Over the years, Tony and I certainly have, exchanging our work, making sometimes unwanted suggestions scribbled with our proverbial red pencils, but always admitting to each other afterward that what we’d produced was better for having been looked over by two sets of eyes before “the world” could make its critique.
My father often said that he was stunned he’d wooed and won a woman of such major intelligence and classical education–and he adored her. I remember him gazing at her one time when we were in the car, motor running, waiting for her to close the garage door. He said that day, “Marrying your mother was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me.” Was his statement purely personal, and had nothing to do with his profession? Hmmmmm…
Sadly, both of my parents died when I was in my twenties, and because I, too, became a professional writer, I probably mention my father far more often in casual conversation than I do my mom.
However, I think it’s about time I gave my mother her due. If she had lived in a different era, she could have been CEO of Facebook. Really. She was that sharp. And I have no doubt that–as writer Irving Stone‘s wife admitted after the death of the author of Lust for Life and other bestselling tomes–I suspect Ruth Ware did a lot more than just correct Harlan Ware’s typos.
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