|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Ross Lockridge embodies the age-old story of struggle, hard work, fabulous success, and then tragedy.
Ross Lockridge, Jr. (April 25, 1914 – March 6, 1948)
The youngest of Elsie Shockley Lockridge and Ross Lockridge Sr.'s four children, Ross was born in Bloomington, Indiana. He was brilliant and graduated with the highest grade average in Indiana University's history in 1935. He had grown into a handsome, gifted and affable young man with dreams of becoming a writer. During his study at IU, he had spent two semesters in Paris, France studying at the Sorbonne. He contracted scarlet fever and spent almost a year recovering from that disease. After recuperating, he joined IU as an English instructor. He earned his Master's Degree, married Vernice Baker and in 1940 moved to Cambridge to take a fellowship at Harvard University. During this time, he began writing. His early efforts included a 400-page poem and an early version of what would become Raintree County.
In 1943, he abandoned the first novel and began writing Raintree County. Based in Indiana, he poured his heart and soul into the project. For over two years, he labored at the book, writing, revising and rewriting again. He submitted the 2000 page manuscript to Houghton Mifflin in 1946. They accepted his submission and Lockridge spent the next year and a half in revisions and rewriting. The constant cuts and revisions led to a depression settling over him. First, the publisher persuaded him to cut 356 pages from the novel. He eventually did. The publisher submitted the novel to MGM studios for consideration for movie rights. They awarded Lockridge $150,000 in movie rights, contingent upon his cutting 50,000 more words from the work. He agreed to these revisions. The Book of the Month club offered to pick up the novel if he would cut some more from it. The constant revisions depressed him. He felt the novel was below his standards.
On January 5, 1948, Houghton Mifflin released the novel. The book rose in rank to occupy the New York Times bestseller lists. The book received mixed reviews and the sexual content offended many readers. He and his wife considered moving to Hollywood to be close to the movie making process. Instead, he went back to Bloomington to live. He became increasingly despondent. His wife constantly intercepted hate mail. For a time he entered Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for treatment. On March 6, 1948, he told his wife that he was going over to his parents to listen to the high school basketball regional playoffs on the radio. Two hours later, his wife called his parents. The game was over and she wondered where he was. His parents told her he never came. She went out to the garage to find him in the car with the motor running. Ross Lockridge Jr. had committed suicide.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning