In his 1976 memoirs, "The Lardners," Lardner said his father's affection for Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda made a strong impression on him as a young boy.
"I have never known another adult, except my Aunt Anne, who seemed to say exactly what came into her head as it came," he wrote, "without any apparent exercise of judgment."
Larder enrolled at Princeton in 1932. Acting upon his father's lessons to distrust politicians and respect the interests of the oppressed, he became an active member of the Princeton Socialist Club.
He dropped out of the university two years later to see the world.
He sailed on a German ship to Hamburg and then proceeded by train to Leningrad and then back to Germany. "Everything I saw there, including a glimpse of Hitler and William Randolph Hearst in the back seat of a car in Munich, strengthened my impression that the best hope for mankind lay with the Soviets," he recalled in "The Lardners."
"Only in Russia were massive construction and planning for the future going on at a time when the West was either locked in stagnant depression or, like Germany, headed resolutely backward to barbarism."
James Lardner, a journalist and one of Lardner's five children, said his father was an impressionable 18 years old when he traveled to the Soviet Union in 1934 and became infatuated with Communism.
"It seemed like there was a lot of hope in the air [in Russia]," James Lardner said, "whereas in Germany he saw awful stuff and in America, he saw bread lines."
He noted that his father never wanted the United States remade along Stalinist lines and later tried to analyze why he didn't understand more fully the nature of Stalinism.
"What we did not do is act as spies for the Soviet Union," Lardner wrote in his memoir. "The Soviet government certainly had spies in America just as the American government had spies in the Soviet Union but about the dumbest thing a Soviet spy could have done--and the surest way to draw the attention of the FBI--would have been to join the Communist Party of the United States."
After returning to the United States, Lardner spent 10 months as a reporter at Hearst's N.Y. Daily Mirror before being recruited by David O. Selznick's film company. His first duties after arriving in Hollywood included rewriting scenes for "A Star Is Born."
In 1937 he was recruited into the Communist Party by writer Budd Schulberg. He began attending Marxist study groups and political meetings nightly. That same year he married Selznick's secretary, Silvia Schulman.
Later, he wrote in "The Lardners," Schulberg and his wife, divorced and married to other people, testified to Lardner's dismay as cooperating witnesses before the House committee.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lardner, whose vision and questionable political affiliations disqualified him from the armed forces, worked briefly for the Army making training films on Long Island.
Back in Hollywood in 1942, he won an Academy Award for the comedy "Woman of the Year," which teamed Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy for the first time.
Ominous Politics of Cold War
The war years brought hard news to the Lardner clan. His brother David, a correspondent for The New Yorker, was killed by a land mine in October 1944 while covering the war in Germany. He was 25. Another brother, James, a member of the Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War, had been killed in 1938 by a sniper. The 24-year-old James was the last American to lose his life in combat on Spanish soil. (His brother John died in 1960 at the age of 47 while working on an obituary of Franklin P. Adams for Newsweek magazine.)
Lardner and Sylvia divorced in 1945. About two years later he married actress Frances Chaney. By the end of their brief honeymoon, Cold War politics had developed ominously. No sooner had Lardner signed a contract with Fox for $2,000 a week and bought a large house near the beach in Santa Monica than a U.S. marshal was at his door with a subpoena to testify before HUAC.