Study Guide

You Can't Take It With You Screenwriter

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Robert Riskin

Frank Capra is pretty famous still, and Jimmy Stewart remains a household name. But Robert Riskin? Shout his name in the dead of night and the owls will echo back, "Who?"

But Riskin wasn't a nobody. A Broadway playwright originally, he went on to script a giant tottering stack of classic films, the most famous of them for Frank Capra. In fact, you could say he was Capra's secret weapon, providing the backbone for many of his greatest triumphs, including Lad for a Day (1933) It Happened One Night (1934) Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and of course You Can't Take It With You, which was adapted from a play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman.

Riskin and Capra left Columbia Pictures to start their own production company in 1939. It didn't last though. Capra's films were known for their open-hearted vision of decency triumphant and niceness rewarded. However, Capra himself, in person, could be kind of a jerk—or so Riskin thought, anyway. He felt like Capra took credit for their collaborations, and so the two separated after Meet John Doe in 1941.

The next year—just to show you that sometimes the writer does get the girl—Riskin married glamorous King Kong star Fay Wray. They had a happy marriage until Riskin died of a neurological illness in 1955. Though he was only 58 years old, he'd had an illustrious Hollywood career, including five Academy Award nominations and one Oscar win.

So now when those owls start up, you can respond, "Riskin, that's who!" The owls will probably blink. But Riskin'll thank you.

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