"Believe it or not, the Ripleys—Clements and Katharine—are Charleston’s most prolific and best known national authors,” asserted the Charleston Evening Post on September 5, 1949. Between 1923 and 1953 the couple published ten books—including novels and memoirs—and dozens of short stories and nonfiction pieces.
Writers. “Believe it or not, the Ripleys–Clements and Katharine–are Charleston’s most prolific and best known national authors,” asserted the Charleston Evening Post on September 5, 1949. Between 1923 and 1953 the couple published ten books–including novels and memoirs–and dozens of short stories and nonfiction pieces. Furthermore, they became successful collaborative screenwriters during the 1930s and 1940s, traveling between Charleston and Hollywood to fulfill contract obligations under Clements’s name. In a letter of February 17, 1940, Ripley wrote Louis F. Edelman, his contact man at Warner Brothers Pictures: “You must realize that anybody who deals with me is getting the services of two trained writers–my wife and myself.”
Born on August 26, 1892, in Tacoma, Washington, Clements “Clem” Ripley was the son of the offspring of two old Vermont families, Thomas Emerson Ripley and Charlotte Howard Clement. Katharine “Kattie” Ball Ripley, the daughter of the legendary newspaperman William Watts Ball and Fay Witte, was born in Charleston on March 20, 1898. Clem was educated at the Taft School at Watertown, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale in 1916. Kattie attended Chatham Episcopal Institute (Virginia), where in 1914 she saw her work published in the school’s student literary journal. They met while Clem was stationed as an army officer during World War I at Camp Jackson, near Columbia. They were married in 1919. Their son, William Y. “Warren” Ripley, was born in 1921.
In the early 1920s Clem resigned his commission and, with a $30,000 advance on his inheritance, invested in a hundred acres in the sandhills of North Carolina, where for seven years he and Kattie tried their hands at peach farming (the subject of her first book, Sand in My Shoes, 1931). In order to augment the farm income, Clem also tried his hand at writing, selling a story for $110 in 1922. By 1927, when they decided to give up the farm, Clem had sold his novel Dust and Sun to Adventure for $3,000. From 1924 to 1953 his adventure yarns and action tales– either serialized novels, novelettes, or short stories–appeared in magazines and newspapers across the nation. In addition to Dust and Sun (1929), Clem published six other novels: Devil Drums (1930), Black Moon (1933), Murder Walks Alone (1935), Gold Is Where You Find It (1936), Clear for Action (1940), and Mississippi Belle (1942).
In 1932 the Atlantic Monthly published three of Kattie’s stories. Her second book, Sand Dollars (1933), was a memoir written out of the experience of the stock market crash. In 1936 Doubleday Doran published her novel of modern Charleston manners, Crowded House. DuBose Heyward, remarking on its universality, wrote: “There is such a family in every community inviting at once our contempt and our sympathy. It is a tribute to Mrs. Ripley’s sure characterizations that we think of them with an anger that has become positively a pleasure.”
During his Hollywood years, Clem worked as a contract writer, producing scenarios of his own writings or adapting the works of others for the screen. His story “Voodoo Moon,” released in 1934 under the title Black Moon, starred Jack Holt and Fay Wray. Gold Is Where You Find It, a vehicle for George Brent and Olivia de Havilland, was released by Warner Brothers in 1938. Love, Honor, and Behave, based on writing by Stephen Vincent Benet, appeared in 1936, and Buffalo Bill, an adaptation of a story by Frank Winch, in 1944. Clem also received top billing for the screen adaptation of Owen Davis’s play Jezebel (1938), for which Bette Davis won an Academy Award.
Clements Ripley died in Charleston on July 22, 1954, and Katharine Ball Ripley died on July 24, 1955. Both are buried in Magnolia Cemetery. In 1990 Warren Ripley published a paperback selection of his parents’ short fiction entitled Cities of Fear and Other Adventure Stories. Five years later Down Home Press published a paperback edition of Kattie’s first nonfiction book, Sand in My Shoes, as one in its Carolina Classics series.
Ripley, Clements, and Katharine Ball Ripley. Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.