Monday, May 11, 2009

What did you do, Cyril?

Further to my post here about Marx mystery man Cyril Ring (sneaky Harvey Yates in Cocoanuts), I've received a fascinating communiqué from Mary O'Benar, who lives in Florida and has been pondering the Ring Enigma for some time.
Extracts from her letter follow...
I've been looking for Cyril Ring for several years and still haven't got much more info than you do. I did run into one other person online, expert on Julian Eltinge, a friend of his sisters, and we agreed, speculatively, that there's got to be a scandal involved with Cyril. But neither of us can find it.
He doesn't just fail to build a thriving career. It's not a decline but sudden, in late 1921, something happened and boom! he's a non-person. Charlotte Greenwood not only divorces him in '22, but she seriously expunges him from her life.
I think he was well-accepted, comfortable in his sisters' Long Island high-end showbiz social world, but he just vanishes from NY, thereafter works about once a year in his brother-in-law's films but no others. After 7 years of that, then comes Cocoanuts. Then the one bit with WC Fields [The Barber Shop (1933); CR has speaking role as the bandit Fields accidentally apprehends - MC], then bit parts forever.
Cocoanuts was filmed on Long Island while the Marxes were also working Broadway. Half dozen people involved were close friends of his brother-in-law Thomas Meighan. Many of the films Cyril did have friendship/family connections, so that's pretty obviously how he continued after 'the scandal'.
What possibly could have been so scandalous to Broadway people in 1921 that we can't find a word on it? Those were some incredibly amoral times. The press had more mercy then, but his immediate family included 3 big stars, so what was so taboo that it would have been unpublishable and thoroughly buried, but tolerable enough that friends and family kept him in work, at least minimally, the rest of his life?
I've been researching Meighan's family and social circles for quite awhile now, all by internet due to 'enjoying poor health', the Cyril mystery really bugs me. I keep thinking if I were in New York and could get into archives of whatever papers were the nastiest then, surely something would surface. But instead, I've just been gathering his films, he's on TV a lot. I just counted up and I've passed 100 Cyril movies, TIVO, Netflix, etc-- gotten so I can pick him out in a crowd scene by instinct! He's not at all a poor actor, actually he usually blends in pretty skillfully. I don't think his decline was from a lack of talent...
Whether he was a bastard or an unsung hero, he certainly was a patient man.
If by any chance anyone out there has any more information on shadowy Cyril, Mary and I would be overjoyed to hear it...
In the meantime, The Marx Brothers Council of Britain is delighted to award Mary its Heroic Achievement Award for deliberately amassing a collection of over 100 Cyril Ring movies.


Lolita said...

Kudos to Mary! That's called passion.
And I say like you people - if anything new on Mr. Ring arises, let me know!
Maybe he was involved in a murder? And his successful family helped him to cover it up? Was this before Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons? They should have the gossip, if anyone.

Matthew Coniam said...

Yeah, let's get the whole world in on this thing!
What is the answer to the Cyril Ring mystery???
Hopper was still an actress at this stage, wasn't she? And Parsons was still busy sucking up to Hearst because she saw him murder Tom Ince. (Oh yes. I've seen The Cat's Miaow!)

Anonymous said...

I'm running the Marxology site (, and Mary contacted me about the Cyril Ring Scandal last spring.

What I found out back then is that the scandal indeed had to do with Cyril's marriage with Charlotte Greenwood, and that at least one website ( specifically said that the scandal had to do with adultery; ("She had been hurt badly by the adultery of her first husband, Cyril Ring, to the point of never writing a single word about him or their marriage in her memoirs."

Ok, adulteries occur but when are they considered extra scandalous? Maybe if involving an under-age girl? Or another man?

Hal Erickson at "All Movie Guide" doesn't blame the scandal but suggest that Ring simply wasn't considered good enough; "Reasonably busy as a silent-film western villain, Ring was cast as the caddish Harvey Yates in the Marx Bros.' 1929 film debut The Cocoanuts. The subsequent reviews bent over backward to condemn Ring's performance as the stiffest and most amateurish of the year -- and thus his fate was sealed".

Another possibility is that it was the switch from silent movies to talkies which sealed Cyril's fate, considering that he had been "reasonably busy" as a silent-movie actor but that his career went downhill after appearing in "The Cocoanuts", one of the first talkies.

BTW, lovely blog, this!

/Mikael Uhlin

Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks for the info and the nice comments, and apologies for not having come across your site before --- all now rectified, and you are on the list of recommended sites. Best, Matthew

Randy said...

See this excerpt from Charlotte Greenwood: the life and career of the comic star of vaudeville ... By Grant Hayter-Menzies, pages 69-70. It quotes what Charlotte had to say about his infidelity.

Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks Randy! I've forwarded this to Mary, our lady of the Ring...

Grant Hayter-Menzies said...

Hi everyone -

Grant Hayter-Menzies here, following the discussion with interest. Whatever the situation with Cyril Ring's adultery, Charlotte was so hurt by it she tore his pictures out of her very voluminous photo albums (now at USC); and in all the memoir materials, letters, and papers of hers I have in my possession, and those at USC, she never mentions him. As I state in my book, I assume the lady involved with Cyril was the woman who became his second wife, Molly Green, who danced with the Ziegfeld Follies. Charlotte was no fan of Ziegfeld, then or before, and she never worked for him. Charlotte was a woman of deep feelings and emotions, and on top of that was her sense of morality, hence her horror at Ring's misbehaviour. As it takes two to make this kind of situation, in my book I chalk it up to Charlotte's success versus Ring's lack thereof - always a difficult challenge for even the most self-assured of men, it seems.

Matthew Coniam said...

Excellent stuff! Thanks.

John Green said...

I know this is a zombie thread, but...
I am doing some research on my family. My father told me his dad's sister married an actor, and he followed them to LA from NYC. My Grandfather was Earl Green. His sister was Molly. This is some fascinating stuff! LOL

Matthew Coniam said...

No zombie threads here! Any and all information always welcome!
Best, Matthew