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Clements and Katharine Ball Ripley Papers, 1909-1996

"Believe it or not, the Ripleys-Clements and Katharine-are Charleston's most prolific and best known national authors," declared the unidentified writer of an article in The Charleston Evening Post on 5 September 1949.

The principal portion of this collection of eight and three-quarters linear feet of manuscripts and printed items focuses upon the writing careers of Clements ("Clem") Ripley (1892-1954) and Katharine ("Kattie") Ball Ripley (1898-1955), independently and collaboratively, and substantiates the claim made in this 1949 article.

In addition to correspondence with literary agents in New York and California, certificates of copyright registration, publishers' agreements, assignments of rights, clippings scrapbooks and files of notices and reviews, the collection contains published and unpublished copies of their stories, novelettes and miscellaneous other short pieces, as well as typescripts of screenplays and novel-length synopses.

The Charleston-born Kattie, daughter of W.W. Ball and Fay Witte Ball, saw her work in print as early as 1914, in the quarterly student literary journal of Chatham Episcopal Institute (Virginia), during the first of her two years there. Clem, born in Tacoma, Washington, but the offspring of an old Vermont family, met Kattie in Columbia when he was stationed at Camp Jackson during World War I. They were married in 1919. He sold his first story in the early 1920s, soon after they had moved to the Sandhills of North Carolina, where for seven years they tried to make good as peach farmers on property which had been purchased with Clem's inheritance.

By 1927, when they decided to give up the farm (after having made money on it only during 1926), Clem had sold his novel Dust and Sun to Adventure for $3,000. In the collection are original copies of his appearances in this magazine and in the other "pulps" and "slicks" which published his adventure yarns and action tales between 1924 and 1953, either as serialized novels, novelettes, or short stories. He was featured in such periodicals as The American Magazine, Argosy, The Author & Journalist, Collier's, Cosmopolitan, The Elks Magazine, Everybody's, Liberty, The Open Road, Philadelphia Inquirer, Plain Talk, Redbook Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and This Week. Regarding one of Clem's last Saturday Evening Post stories, "The Magic Afternoon" (27 December 1952), novelist Gouverneur Morris (1873-1953) wrote him from Coolidge, N.M., 21 December 1952-"The Magic Afternoon is the best story since Kipling & the wisest. I doubt if The Post would have printed it a year ago." Clippings provide most of the comment on Clem's seven novels: Dust and Sun (1929), Devil Drums (1930), Black Moon (1933), Murder Walks Alone (1935), Gold Is Where You Find It (1936), Clear for Action (1940), and Mississippi Belle (1942).

Several letters of importance also augment the response to Kattie's published writings. Regarding her first book, Sand in My Shoes (1931), a memoir of the Ripleys' venture as peach farmers, Kattie's aunt Beatrice [Witte Ravenel] (1870-1956), herself a journalist and poet, called it "splendid," said she was delighted with it, and pointed out its "fresh and perfectly unaffected" style. "Most people...will find the book readable, not because it embodies a farming problem but because it is entertaining from the human point of view," she wrote in an undated letter. But another correspondent, bookman Nick Wreden, in a letter of 23 February 1931, thought that special interest-and thus sales-might be generated, especially in Tennessee, by the very comparison of its unromantic rural narrative with the neo-Jeffersonian experience promoted in the collection of essays published as I'll Take My Stand the previous year-"The purpose of that book was to fight the industrialization of the South and to romanticize farming....Now I am certain that if your book can be linked with it as a sort of an antidote it might help the sale."

Kattie's three 1932 appearances in The Atlantic Monthly brought special attention from editor Ellery Sedgewick. "Once again I have the pleasure of writing to thank you for a really excellent story" [presumably "What's a Man to Do?," in the October issue], he began a letter to her of 16 January 1932. "I am a little reluctant in these dismal days to print tragic stories, but your emphasis is not on the tragedy but on the resolution with which your friends have learned to meet it." He concluded-"Your contributions are very interesting to me and very welcome to The Atlantic."

Thomas R. Waring, editor of The Charleston Evening Post, in a letter of 19 June 1933, told her that he had read every word of her second book, Sand Dollars (1933), at one sitting-"I could not put it down. I think it is grand." "There is nothing in the book that could offend anybody in Charleston," he said, "unless the bank which gyped you on those furniture bonds feels ill-treated. I am particularly glad you put that in and you must not on any account omit it. It is a keen touch and wholly deserved."

A letter of 4 September 1936, from "Jo," at Doubleday Doran, informs Kattie that fellow Charlestonian DuBose Heyward (1885-1940) liked her novel Crowded House (1936) "immensely" and wished to say something that might assist in its promotion. The following, Heyward wrote, "might combine that wider appeal that would help promotion with a soothing draft for Charleston throats: `There is a universality about CROWDED HOUSE. There is such a family in every community inviting at once our contempt and our sympathy. It is a tribute to Mrs. Ripley's sure characterizations that we think of them with an anger that has become positively a pleasure.'"

In 1934 a California agent negotiated the sale of one of Clem's Cosmopolitan stories, "A Lady Comes to Town," to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $30,000-the highest price paid up to that time by a movie studio for a short story. This was the major beginning of the Ripleys' association with Hollywood, which lasted into the late 1940s.

As early as 1932 the matter of an official collaborative agreement between Clem and Kattie as writers had been discussed with their New York agent, David B. Hampton. As indicated in a letter from Hampton to Clem, 26 May 1932, such an agreement would mandate the use of both their names on marketed manuscripts, and would entitle Kattie to one-third of the proceeds from all material they wrote together. Hampton advised against any such arrangement, insisting that publishers had a natural prejudice against marketing manuscripts under two names-"The two of you have built up the name of Clements Ripley and it is as much of an asset as a piece of real estate or a bond."

Less than a decade later, on 17 February 1940, Clem would write to Louis F. Edelman, his contact man at Warner Brothers pictures-"You must realize that anybody who deals with me is getting the services of two trained writers-my wife and myself." "She is [a] better natural writer than I am," he went on to claim. "She has been working with me for some years." And one of the most interesting and revealing documents in the collection is a surviving private but formal letter of agreement written by Clem in Charleston, 5 August 1941, addressed to "Mrs. Clements Ripley," and signed by both of them. It begins-"We have worked along on a fifty-fifty collaboration for many years. It occurs to me that although we have abided, and still are [abiding], by the terms of the agreement we signed in 1935 it is time to sign another agreement to keep the records straight...I suggest that we go along for another five years on the same terms. While I don't think written contracts are necessary between us, I do believe that some sort of a memorandum on paper is a good thing to have."

The Ripleys went back and forth to Hollywood from their home in Charleston during the latter half of the 1930s and most of the 1940s. Clem worked as a ten-week contract writer and trouble shooter, sometimes writing a screenplay from his own story-as in "Gold Is Where You Find It" (1937)-and sometimes adapting the work of others. For instance, clippings in the collection reveal that, of the three screenwriters associated with it, he received top billing for the screen adaptation of Owen Davis' play "Jezebel" (1938), for which Bette Davis won an Academy Award-a film which, even years later, The New Yorker (25 April 1983) would claim contained "some remarkable passages."

Among the typescripts of screenplays in the collection are "Pioneer Woman" (1940) and "Buffalo Bill" (1943), credited to Clem. Undated film synopses entitled "Fellow Mortal" (about Robert Burns) and "The Lady Rebecca" ("The Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith") bear both their names as writers.

In addition to the literary and film-related manuscripts are meticulous financial records which not only document the Ripleys' income-chits, for instance, from Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation and RKO Radio Pictures which show that these studios were paying Clem $1,000 per week-but also reveal the nature and extent of their investments. Information is also provided regarding the two homes they purchased in Charleston, first at 34 Church Street and later at 18 Lamboll Street. Other papers relate to the Ripleys' travels-to England in 1949 and to the Caribbean in 1952-and include copies of the series of articles which Kattie wrote on the earlier trip for publication in The News and Courier, giving early post-war impressions of Dublin, London, Rome and Paris.

One especially significant portion of the collection is a unit of World War II letters written to Clem and Kattie from their son, William Y. W[arren] Ripley. Between January 1944 and March 1946, the young Ripley, a graduate of the Taft School and Yale University, wrote his parents almost weekly from Italy, where he initially saw front-line action for five months as a field artillery officer with the 34th Division-"which please don't confuse with the 36th," he would write on 3 September 1944-and later as an administrative officer with the 753rd Railway Shop Battalion.

During his two-year army stint he wrote, in detail, about the entire range of experiences in war-time Italy, which took him from the battleground and a hospital respite in which the worsening condition of his eyesight mandated reassignment, to temporary residence in a detested replacement depot and his ultimate billet in the railway shop battalion at Leghorn (Livorno), working with "the men who run the Toonerville Trolley over here they call a railroad" (21 August 1944). He speaks, of course, of the progress of the war; of "sweating out the invasion"; of the often slow, unpredictable, routine nature of military maneuvers and reconnaissance work; of the real humor, laconic toughness, inventiveness and resourcefulness of the ordinary soldier in contrast to the false dramatization of him in the typical American war film; and of the almost universal mild psychoneurosis produced by line duty.

He also talks about weather conditions, the maintenance and loss of equipment, the receiving and censoring of mail, picking up souvenirs and "trophies," the procurement of food and liquor, the shortage of cigarettes, and being homesick. He shares his attitudes and opinions about money, atrocities, the labor strikes back home, the killing of Mussolini, the role of the Russians in the war and afterwards, the army's rotation and demobilization programs, the idea of the war itself-"It isn't to die for your country, it's to make the Kraut die for his-the more the better" (19 March 1945)-and its craziness. In a letter of 6 December 1944 he wrote-"[A] war is a crazy, snafu[e]d mess anyway. Nothing goes according to plan and the side that makes the least mistakes, or maybe the most, I haven't figured out which yet, wins. You should try to find the front lines sometime. No one knows, and they wouldn't tell you if they did-it's evidently a point of honor with the infantry not to tell the artillery, and the artillery F.O[.]s not to tell anyone else. I guess the idea is that if a man goes up and finds the front lines (which aren't lines anyway) he's a good man and worth having, if he misses them and gets himself killed, well he wasn't worth having anyway."

Warren summarizes his view of the principal goals of the war-"We have three aims, winning the war, getting home, and making damn sure there is never another war with Germany or Japan" (9 November 1944)-and consistently expresses respect for the "doughboy"-the front-line fighter. In a letter of 12 December 1944 comes the reminder that "the most dangerous spot of the war is that first two hundred yards of the line," where "they are shooting at you, not around you, and there is one hell of a big difference. As far as I'm concerned the only guys fighting this war are the men with a rifle in the platoons of a rifle company. And there are surprisingly few of them." Furthermore, on 26 December 1944, he singled out for special commendation the front-line bravery and discipline of the Japanese-American soldiers who fought on the Italian front-"I'd especially like to take those very few people back in the United States that call our Japanese-Americans from Hawaii yellow Japs up there. I worked for a couple of weeks with the remaining fellows of the 100th infantry Battalion....I've worked with a number of infantry outfits, but that one is tops by far. They have the best record of any battalion over here probably and besides that are some of the swellest fellows I ever met. The Krauts are scared to death of them and I don't blame them. Those guys are about five feet seven of pure guts."

In addition to graphic accounts of his own close calls as an artillery-man in the war zone, Warren tells about his accident in a jeep, his substantial wins at poker, trips to Rome and Florence, and the effect of the announcement of the end of the war. At the beginning of a letter he wrote to Clem and Kattie on 8 May 1945 he thanked them "for the chocolate," which "came yesterday along with the news that the war had ended," and went on to say-"There hasn't been much celebration over here, but I suppose people in the states went somewhat nuts for awhile. The only celebrating I did was work an extra two hours last night, but some of the men got thoroughly plastered early in the evening. Unfortunately we had some seven or eight engines out in the yard all with a full head of steam, so the noise was pretty bad for an hour or so. They started the air-raid sirens going and that started the boats in the harbor. However, the war doesn't end every day, so I kept out of things and let the men do what they pleased."

And there was always the indication of the misery of war, whether before or after the official announcement of its end-especially with the prospect of being sent into the Pacific arena for extended duty. Warren ended his letter of 28 May 1944 by saying-"If anyone thinks it's pleasant living like we do, he has another think coming. Of course, there are light sides, but in general it's no fun. It's just a job that has to be done and we're the poor devils that have to do it. I've been sniped at, machine-gunned, mortered, shelled, bombed and straffed and not one damn bit of it is any fun-it's too dangerous." And on 24 July 1945, he wrote-"I'll quote a little piece that I read in the Stars and Stripes that Burnet M[aybank] said. `Many South Carolinians want to stay in the Army since "South Carolina is a fighting state[.]"' My God! I wish he could hear some of the comments of a few of the men around here who have been over here some thirty four odd months."

Writing to Kattie and Clem in Beverly Hills, Warren was mindful of their careers and projects and general welfare. He reflected some of these in mentioning to them his own habits of reading and writing-"at nights for something to do" (5 September 1944). And he fostered their solicitous attentions, even at their seasonal, far remove from South Carolina to the comfort and well-being of his bride, Quintillia Raye Shuler Ripley, of Bowman. On 20 May 1945 he wrote-"I'm giving the best years of my wife to this war, and I'm plenty sick and tired of it."

Among the final letters Warren sent from Italy is a lengthy one in which he responded to news of a health crisis at home. "I'm sorry to hear about Clem," he wrote on 26 December 1944, "but I expected it long before this. He works too damned hard. In fact he works harder than any person I ever heard of. You can't do that forever without something going wrong and you can't work for twenty-five or more years without a vacation and expect to get away with it....Anyway, I'm glad he's all right again and I think the idea of going off for a vacation is a grand idea. It's about time both of you started to have some fun with the money you've collected. After all it's no damned good just sitting there....And there is no point in building it up for me. I happen to be crazy about my parents and can have a lot more fun with them than with a few thousand dollars."

One of the most unusual, and earliest, units includes a letter written from New York on 8 June 1909 to University of South Carolina professor Yates Snowden from Dr. Halvdan Koht (1873-1965), of the University of Kristiania (Oslo), regarding a Danish book of reminiscences by Jens Jacob Paludan (1781-1856) containing a chapter on Charleston. Along with this letter is a handwritten English translation of excerpts from "Commander (Rear-Admiral) Paludan's Memoirs." Acompanying these items is a penciled explanatory note from Snowden, postmarked Columbia, 29 January 1930, addressed to Clem-"Read 'Paludan'; there's good stuff for a short story in it, methinks. If you can write about S.America which you have not seen, what can't you do, with a case of Shanghaing an after-Danish Admiral in Charleston-which you have seen!!"

Perhaps the most curious item in the collection is a Voodoo "ouanga" charm which, according to Warren, was found on his parents' doorstep at 34 Church Street, probably during the period of 1934-1939. He thinks it may have been a bad luck charm. Fashioned from two crossed needle-like pins bound by blood-colored thread, the charm was used by the Ripleys to hold together the tax receipts for 1927 and 1929 on their ill-fated Road's End Farm in Bensalem Township, Moore County, N.C.

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