Back Ring Lardner, “Simple Simon”

Ring Lardner (1885–1933)
From Ring Lardner: Stories & Other Writings

“And I wished you could see her look at me, Al.” Illustration by American artist May Wilson Preston (1873–1949) for the story “Simple Simon” in the collection The Real Dope (1919). Preston’s drawing was also used for the front cover of the book’s jacket.

Ring Lardner was born 133 years ago today, March 6.

When Lardner was a sports reporter for the Chicago Tribune, he began trying his hand at writing short stories. His initial efforts featured fictitious baseball players, whose dialogue was filled with the argot Lardner heard on the field. Out of these experiments came his first great creation: minor-league player Jack Keefe.

Three years after Keefe made his debut in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, America entered World War I, and suddenly the magazine editors were clamoring for flag-waving war stories. So Lardner transferred Jack from the baseball team to the army. “Ring hated war,” as biographer Jonathan Yardley points out, “had no real sense of what was going on in Europe, and agreed with Dr. Johnson about patriotism.” So the Jack Keefe episodes from this period are comic sketches that are less about war—the soldiers in the stories never actually engage in combat—than about young men behaving like young men. The selection we present as our Story of the Week, “Simple Simon,” is the final story featuring Private Keefe, in which he finally experiences some “actions” at the front.

Fast forward half a century, when another satirical comedy set in a war zone earned the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for 1970. The author was Lardner’s son, Ring Lardner Jr., and the movie was M*A*S*H.

Read “Simple Simon” by Ring Lardner

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