Fay Wray, Robert Riskin memoir penned by daughter is One City, One Book pick

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Actress Fay Wray was 33 years old and had several film credits under her belt, including an iconic role in the classic film “King Kong,” when she met Hollywood screenwriter Robert Riskin at a Christmas Eve party in 1940.

Riskin, 43, had written screenplays for many renowned films under the direction of Frank Capra starring Gary Cooper, James Stewart and Lionel Barrymore. His adapted screenplay for the 1934 film “It Happened One Night” had earned him an Oscar just six years earlier.

After a brief courtship and period of separation, the couple married in 1942 and would go on to raise a family and continue to be prominent figures of Hollywood’s Golden Age until Riskin’s death in 1955 following a stroke.

The arc of their personal love story and the rise of their careers through the advent of film technology, the Depression, World War II and the tribulations of working under the Hollywood blacklist is captured in the book, “Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir,” written by their daughter, Victoria Riskin.

That book was recently selected as the subject title of this year’s One City, One Book citywide book discussion, scheduled to take place at the La Cañada Flintridge Library on Nov. 17. The event will also feature a Q&A session with the author.

One City, One Book selection committee member Julia Hastings said the group read and discussed several titles before making their pick.

“To be honest, this book surprised us,” she said of Victoria Riskin’s memoir. “We didn’t realize how much we were going to like it. It was fascinating and gave great insight not just into the Golden Age of Hollywood, but into the lives of this A-list couple.”

Bookended by the author’s personal memories of her parents, the work shines a spotlight on the early years of Hollywood while detailing Wray and Riskin’s marriage and home life up to and past his debilitating stroke in 1950, when daughter Victoria was just 5.

Victoria Riskin said when she began writing down childhood memories of her parents as part of a women’s memoir writing group six years ago, she had no formal intention of writing a book. But the memories inspired her to do more research, and a whole world opened up.

Author Victoria Riskin
Author Victoria Riskin, seen here in a Feb. 14, 2019 Los Angeles Times photo, will speak at the Nov. 17 La Cañada Flintridge One City, One Book community read-in on her new book “Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir.”
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

“I got interested as I pieced together the life my parents had lived,” she said. “I realized how remarkable they were.”

The writing process also helped the author reconnect in a way with her father, who died when she was 9, and understand the breadth and depth of the love he shared with her mother in the relatively brief time they had together.

“Most people, after they read the book, say, ‘I wish I could have them to dinner.’ They just want to sit in a room and be with them,” she said. “I think I feel that way, too.”

La Cañada Flintridge Library Manager Mark Totten, who’s acted as a liaison for the annual event for the past 10 years, said members were impressed by how Victoria Riskin so expertly wove together her parents’ personal story with the historical context in which they worked.

“It went places people didn’t think it would go,” he said.

FYI: The La Cañada Flintridge One City, One Book community read-in is planned for Nov. 17 at the La Cañada Flintridge Library, 4545 N. Oakwood Ave, at 3 p.m.

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