Frances Chaney

Actress blacklisted because of her husband

In the mid-1960s, the versatile actress Frances Chaney and her blacklisted husband Ring Lardner Jnr were approached in a New York restaurant by a man who, a decade earlier, had named Lardner as a Communist to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Although Lardner put out his hand and said an amiable hello, his wife turned her back on the informer. She too had suffered during the blacklist.

Fanya Lipetz (Frances Chaney), actress: born Odessa, Ukraine 23 July 1915; married first David Lardner (died 1944; one son, one daughter), second 1946 Ring Lardner Jnr (died 2000; one son); died New York 23 November 2004.

In the mid-1960s, the versatile actress Frances Chaney and her blacklisted husband Ring Lardner Jnr were approached in a New York restaurant by a man who, a decade earlier, had named Lardner as a Communist to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Although Lardner put out his hand and said an amiable hello, his wife turned her back on the informer. She too had suffered during the blacklist.

Frances Chaney was born Fanya Lipetz in Odessa, Ukraine. When she was a child her parents emigrated to the United States, settling in the Bronx. Stage-struck from an early age, she won a scholarship to study acting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse. Soon after graduating, she was working regularly in radio.

Apart from appearances on such popular series as Mr District Attorney and Gangbusters, she had the regular role of the sultry Burma in Terry and the Pirates, a children's show based on Milton Caniff's comic strip. During this period, she married David Lardner, a New Yorker writer. She had a son and a daughter by Lardner, who was killed during war service in Germany in 1944.

In 1945 Chaney demonstrated her flair for comedy in the radio series The Adventures of Topper. Roland Young, who had played the character in three films, was the henpecked Cosmo Topper, perpetually haunted by Chaney as Marian Kerby, a mischievous ghost.

In 1946 Chaney married her late husband's older brother, the Oscar-winning screenwriter Ring Lardner Jnr, whose passionate Marxist-Leninist views she shared. The following year, Lardner was subpoenaed to appear before HUAC. Like the other members of "The Hollywood Ten", he refused to co-operate with the committee; when asked if he had ever been a Communist, Lardner famously replied, "I could answer, but if I did, I'd hate myself in the morning."

Cited for contempt of Congress, he was sentenced to a year in a federal institution. Although they had recently bought a large home in Santa Monica, the Lardners found themselves wryly placing a classified ad in the show-business weekly Variety, advertising: "House for Sale/Owner Going to Prison".

After his release, the now blacklisted Lardner worked on a novel while his wife supported them with her acting. The 1950s were a golden period for live television drama in America, and CBS's Philco Playhouse was one of the most prestigious series. After her stirring performance in Paddy Chayevsky's teleplay Holiday Song, Chaney received an enthusiastic note from Fred Coe, the programme's producer, declaring, "You are now an official member of the Philco Playhouse."

Chayevsky duly wrote her the leading female role in the original TV version of Marty, but another actress was cast in the part and Coe was mysteriously unavailable on the telephone. Chaney soon realised she had been blacklisted in both television and radio, a situation which continued for nearly a decade.

In his autobiography I'd Hate Myself in the Morning (2000), Lardner wrote:

Though Frances's own political activities, if known, might have resulted in blacklisting, her name had not appeared in Red Channels, the infamous publication purporting to expose Communists in broadcasting; nor had she been named in anyone's committee testimony. She had, it seemed, acquired unemployability by marriage.

Happily, the theatre had no blacklist, and she acted anywhere and everywhere, in everything from Chekhov to Brian Friel, and understudied such stars as Claudette Colbert, Maureen Stapleton and Kim Stanley. In 1960 she finally returned to television to play a recurring role in the soap opera The Edge of Night. Her theatre work included roles in James Lapine's Table Settings, Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing! and William Gibson's Golda, which starred Anne Bancroft as Golda Meir.

In 1998 a motor accident left Frances Chaney with a number of serious injuries. In 2000, her 54-year marriage ended with the death of Ring Lardner Jnr, the last of the Hollywood Ten.

Dick Vosburgh

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