Ruth McKenney

Ruth McKenney

Ruth McKenney (November 18, 1911 - July 27, 1972) was an American author and journalist, best remembered for "My Sister Eileen", a memoir of her experiences growing up in Ohio and moving to Greenwich Village with her sister Eileen McKenney. This was later adapted as the musical "Wonderful Town" by Leonard Bernstein.

Early life

McKenney was born in Mishawaka, Indiana. In 1919 her family moved to East Cleveland, Ohio, where she lived until adulthood. [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 9] She attended East Cleveland Evangelical Church, though she was a young skeptic about such matters. [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 82]

She attended East Cleveland and then Shaw High School, where she was two grades beyond her age. Among other subjects, she studied French. She was known as something of a tomboy and was the only girl to play on the East Cleveland boys baseball team (she played first base). [Ruth McKenney and Richard Bransten, 1950, "Here's England", p. 58] She also joined the Northern Ohio Debating League. She described herself as "homely as a mud fence", especially compared to her sister Eileen, though she likely exaggerated for comic effect. She also stuttered. [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 95-97] . She attempted to commit suicide once during high school by hanging herself, but was rescued by Eileen [Ruth McKenney, 1952, "All About Eileen", pg. 95-97] .

At the age of 14, she ran away from home [Ruth McKenney, 1952, "All About Eileen", pg. 92] , worked as a printer's devil, [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 114] , and joined the International Typographical Union. At 16, she got a job as a waitress (along with Eileen) working in the Harvey Tea Room at the Cleveland Union Station. [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 88-91]

She attended Ohio State University from 1928-1931, majoring in journalism. However, she did not graduate. Early in her college career she and her grandmother ran a small business writing homework papers for football players, wrestlers, and other students [Ruth McKenney, 1952, "All About Eileen", pg. 134-143] . She also wrote for the student newspaper, the Ohio State Lantern; [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 167] and was the campus correspondent for the "Columbus Dispatch". [Ruth McKenney, 1938, "My Sister Eileen", pg. 174]


While in college, McKenney worked part time for the "Columbus Citizen". She also contributed to the International News Service. Following this, she became a full time reporter for the "Akron Beacon Journal".

In 1934, McKenney moved to New Jersey, where she joined the staff of the "Newark Ledger". From there, she and Eileen moved to New York City, specifically a moldy, one-room basement apartment above the Christopher Street subway station at 14 Gay Street in Greenwich Village for which she paid $45 a month. ["My Sister Eileen", pg. 197] The apartment was burgled within the first week they lived there. They lived there for six months. This place would become the inspiration for a series of stories in "The New Yorker", later republished in the book "My Sister Eileen".

In 1939 McKenney published "Industrial Valley", a then-controversial book about the Akron rubber strike from 1932-1936. She personally believed this was her best work.

In 1940, Joseph A. Fields and Jerome Chodorov adapted "My Sister Eileen" for Broadway, focusing mostly on the last two chapters of the book detailing Ruth and Eileen's experiences in New York City. (The book mostly concerns their childhood in East Cleveland.) It opened on December 26 1940 and ran for 864 performances until January 16 1943. In 1942, Alexander Hall directed a movie adaptation of this play that starred Rosalind Russell as Ruth Sherwood. In 1943 her blockbuster best selling novel, "Jake Home", chronicled the struggles of some common Americans between 1900 and 1930.

In the early 1950s, Leonard Bernstein adapted the play into the musical "Wonderful Town" with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and starring Rosalind Russell and Edie Adams. It opened on Broadway on February 25, 1953 and ran for 559 performances until July 3, 1954. It has been periodically revived, both on Broadway and off, since then. In 1955, Richard Quine directed a musical adaptation of the 1942 movie, again under the title "My Sister Eileen". It starred Betty Garrett as Ruth, Janet Leigh as Eileen Sherwood and Jack Lemmon as Robert 'Bob' Baker. This musical had original song material; none of the "Wonderful Town" music was incorporated in this movie version.

In 1956, John Boruff adapted her novel "The Loud Red Patrick" for Broadway. It ran for 93 performances from October 3 to December 22 and soon became a favorite of regional theaters. In 1960-61, "My Sister Eileen" was adapted as a television series which ran for 26 episodes.

Private life

Eileen McKenney married novelist Nathanael West in 1939. Eileen was just 26 when she died in a California automobile accident on December 22, 1940, two years after "My Sister Eileen" was published and four days before its first stage version opened on Broadway. West died in the same accident.

In 1937 Ruth McKenney married fellow writer Richard Bransten (known by his pen name Bruce Minton). McKenney and Bransten were both one-time Communists, although they were purged from the party in 1946. They had one son, Paul, and then one daughter, Eileen. ["Here's England", p. 107] The latter was named after McKenney's then-deceased sister.

On November 18, 1955, McKenney's 44th birthday, her husband Richard committed suicide in London. [Mervyn Rothstein, "Ruth's daughter Eileen remembers her aunt", New York Times, December 21, 2003] After this, Ruth McKenney returned to New York City, but stopped writing. She died in New York City on July 27 1972, aged 60.

Books and other works

McKenney authored ten fiction and non-fiction books. They are:
*"My Sister Eileen" (1938) about her experiences growing up in Ohio and then moving to New York City
*"Industrial Valley" (1939) a novel about the Akron rubber strike from 1932-1936
*"The McKenneys Carry On" (1940) the sequel to "My Sister Eileen"
*"Jake Home" (1943)
*"The Loud Red Patrick" (1947) a novel about an Irish widower raising four daughters in Cleveland; based on her grandfather
*"Love Story" (1950) the story of her marriage to Richard Bransten
*"Here's England, a Highly Informal Guide" (1951) with husband Richard Bransten
*"All About Eileen" (1952) the second sequel to My Sister Eileen; a collection of previously published and new stories about her sister and herself
*"Far, Far From Home" (1954) a humorous account of her family's visit to France
*"Mirage" (1956) a historical novel set in Napoleonic France and Egypt

She wrote numerous short pieces for a variety of publications, including "Harper's", "The New Yorker", the "New York Post", "Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine", "Collier's", "Argosy", "Woman's Journal", "Encore", "The Saturday Evening Post", "Holiday Magazine" and "New Masses". She also wrote screenplays, including "Margie" with her husband and F. Hugh Herbert.


External links

* [ Akron Women's History]
* [,9171,777092,00.html "Time" magazine discusses her expulsion from the U. S. Communist Party]
* [ Ruth's daughter Eileen remembers her aunt]
* [,9171,808695,00.html "Time" magazine's review of Mirage]

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