Home  Intro   Bio  Historical Perspectives  Ripley the Man  Ripley's Works  Gallery Credits

Ripley's War Years in Spain
by Jules C. Winistorfer

As a champion of humanity, Stuart Cummings Ripley, as did many intellectuals of his time, opposed the overthrow of Spain's leftist Republican government by fascist Francisco Franco's Nationalist Army. The opposing political forces were labeled the Popular Front (leftist and Communist elements) and the right wing fascists called the National Front.

Francisco Franco

An intellectual, Ripley cared little for labels. His ideology, grounded in emotion and a sense of morality, nevertheless labeled him as a Communist and haunted him until his death in 1964.

In 1936 through 1939, as a free-lance war correspondent for the Ashtabula, Ohio, Star Beacon, Ripley covered the conflict from a leftist viewpoint, which angered his editor, T. Gordon Fipps, who in 1939 blocked a Pulitzer award for Ripley's reportage on Francisco Franco's manifesto, which sought to justify the rebellion; France's announcement of non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War and the closing of France's border to prevent volunteers crossing into Spain; the siege of Madrid by Nationalist forces; the first bombings of open cities by the Condor Legion, a Luftwaffe squadron.

Ripley traveled with U.S. volunteers fighting Franco's fascists. In December 1937, while the war in Spain continued, the first U.S. volunteers returned from fighting organized a formal group named Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB).

Lincoln Brigade

Earnest Hemingway introduced Ripley to Lillian Hellman, renowned author of The Children's Hour (1934) and The Dark Angel (1935), who had accompanied Hemingway to Spain to write about the war. Romantic sparks flew between the two and soon frequent trysts in Ripley's modest quarters followed. A free spirited liberal, Hellman ignored the womanizing and frequent carousing bouts of Ripley and Hemingway, calling her Ripley affair "temporary passion in a temporary time." Under Hellman's tutelage, Ripley wrote Anatomy of Rebellion, briefly considered the definitive history of the Spanish Civil War, but now mostly forgotten.

Before they parted in Spain, Lillian Hellman gave this picture of her to Ripley. It is said he carried it in his wallet until his death in 1964.

Although unmentioned in Hemingway's memoirs or biography, Ripley accompanied Hemingway almost constantly through their days in Spain. Speculation has it he and Hemingway had a major falling out late in November 1938 when Hemingway accused Ripley of plagiarizing his account of Francisco Franco's granting of mining concessions to Germany in return for military aid. Ripley always denied this, saying their parting was some drunken fisticuffs over a flirtatious flamenco dancer.

It is widely believed that this picture of Hemingway was taken by Ripley in 1938 shortly before their falling out.

With a keen eye for human interest stories, Ripley wanted a closer look at the U.S volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade and began to bunk with Errol Flynn and Victor McLaughlin who Ripley later said lived every day in the fashion of their swashbuckling movie personae. In spite of fabled drunken high jinks of the three in the Cantinas of Catalonia and Aragon, Ripley received only a one line mention in Errol Flynn's book, My Wicked, Wicked Ways and no mention in McLaughlin's memoir, Soldier of Fortune.

Ripley took a short hiatus from the War in Spain, flying to England to cover Neville Chamberlain's triumphant return from his Berlin conference with the German Führer, which ended on September 30, 1938. He waved the statement reporting the conference results when he stepped off the plane. He later read the following to a cheering crowd in front of 10 Downing St. "My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time." [Excerpted from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer, 1960.]

Neville Chamberlain and friend, 1938.

It was rumored that Ripley had been implicated as one of the planners in a 1939 failed assassination attempt against British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, hated by the left for his sympathetic stance toward fascists - Hitler and Mussolini in general and Franco in particular. In 1940, the U.S. Congress launched an inquiry, probing Ripley's alleged role in the plot, but by then W.W. II seemed imminent and it fizzled.

On February 27, 1939, Neville Chamberlain recognized General Franco's government. In response to a scathing rant on the subject by Ripley, T. Gordon Fipps ordered his immediate return, threatening loss of pay and black listing in the industry. Ripley returned to the U.S. just fifteen days before Franco announced the end of the Spanish Civil War, April 1, 1939.

France and Britain breathed mutual sighs of relief, judging their policies of appeasement as successful. That all changed before long.

Back in the U.S., Ripley bit his tongue and traveled to the southwest corner of Ohio, Fipps having thrown him a bone, for freelance coverage of the Wabash Grange of The Patrons of Husbandry. While the assignment itself was pedestrian, it led to the basis of one of Ripley's three off-Broadway stage plays, Sweet Sweat (1948).

Home     Intro      Bio     Historical Perspectives     Ripley the Man     Ripley's Works     Gallery     Credits