For Ed Ricketts a documentary
Mentor. Muse. Visionary. The Influential Scientist-Philosopher who became a Legend.
The Extraordinary Untold Story of Ed 'Doc' Ricketts: Scientist,
Philosopher and Legendary Mentor of John Steinbeck and Joseph Campbell
Letter from the Director
I first read ‘Cannery Row’ as a senior in High School as part a California History course. My teacher called upon me to read the opening chapter aloud. I can remember this very distinct feeling of awe as I read the first paragraphs. This was the most beautiful and inspiring writing I had experienced in my young life. It felt so real and present, lyrical and poetic and yet matter-of-fact in the way nature is. I knew then and there that I wanted to become a writer.
By the end of the book, all of us in the class were convinced we were meant to be Marine Biologists just like ‘Doc’ (none of us even came close).
That book left a life-long impression on me. And so, a few years ago, I re-read the books we were required to read in public schools. When I re-opened ‘Cannery Row’, I noticed something I hadn’t before: the dedication. It’s peculiar, and it reads:
“For Ed Ricketts, who knows why or should.”
Well, who heck is this Ed Ricketts guy, and why should he know why?
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the beloved character ‘Doc’ was actually based on Ed Ricketts. I also quickly learned that Ricketts and Steinbeck were best friends and collaborators, and that Ricketts was Steinbeck’s mentor as well as Joseph Campbell’s. Further, I found out that Ricketts was a self made biologist, a pioneer of ecology, a philosopher, a writer, a prolific lover and that he has made huge impacts on the worlds of literature and science.
Why hadn’t I ever heard about Ed Ricketts? And how is there not a movie made about this quite amazing man? That is where this documentary was born.
Admittedly, I personally need much practice to lead by example. And this is what draws me to Ricketts: his ability show more and tell less. He ‘followed his bliss’ in life and as a result he had deep and lasting influences on some of the greatest minds in American history.
In the research for this film I have heard countless times from scholars, biologists, historians, professors, students and fans of Ricketts and Steinbeck: “I wish I could be more like Doc Ricketts”.
And so, we make this film to explore why that is. Who was this man who still influences people today some 70 years after his passing?
My talented team of collaborators and I are glad to be able to share this project with you. Admittedly, this is an ambitious project. But we believe it’s an important one.
And we hope you know why,
Director - For Ed Ricketts | a documentary
“Knowing Ed Ricketts was instant.
After the first moment I knew him...
...I knew him better
than I knew anyone.”
- John Steinbeck
Backstory | About Ed Ricketts
From his ramshackle laboratory on the shores of Monterey Bay, the impact of Edward Flanders Robb Ricketts (1897-1948) has rippled out across the seas of science, thought and culture for nearly a century, generating profound waves of influence that still affect the world today.
Ricketts lived and worked in his lab situated on Cannery Row where he processed and sold sea creatures for study to universities and schools far and wide. Although this lab was filled with live and preserved creatures, it also served as an epicenter of scientific, philosophical, and creative thinking in the 1930’s and 40‘s.
Writers, artists, students, prostitutes, musicians, bums, celebrities, doctors, soldiers, and biologists gathered at Ricketts’ lab for food, drink and long, lively discussions. They came to discover music and poetry, to experience literature and philosophy, and to learn about science and art, to enjoy the camaraderie and company of friends and family, foes …and lovers.
At the lab, John Steinbeck would read his works-in-progress aloud to Ricketts, honing his stories that were to become some of American literature’s most important novels, plays and films. And the two friends developed their philosophies together as they helped develop each other’s creative works.
A young Joseph Campbell worked as an assistant to Ricketts at his lab. And Campbell joined Ricketts on an extensive collecting expedition from Monterey to Alaska in the early 1930’s.
Henry Miller would come to Ed’s lab with his books, which were banned in the U.S. at the time, to be read and shared and experienced. Charlie Chaplin, Burgess Meredith and Salvador Dali, amongst others, would make pilgrimages to the lab in order to experience their beloved Ed.
And it wasn’t just the famous who loved Ricketts. All sorts of people felt deeply about him. Just as Steinbeck describes him as ‘Doc’ in Cannery Row, Ed was loved by everyone including the madams and the working girls of the brothels, the neighboring store owners, the biology students from the Marine Station, the soldiers from the Fort, the kids of the Row, the women of the Peninsula (married and single alike), the artists and writers and bums of Monterey. They all considered him as their best friend and spent time with him at his lab and in the tide pools collecting sea-specimen.
Noteable friends and acquaintances
“Ed is the most exceptional individual
in character and temperament,
a man radiating peace, joy and wisdom.”
- Henry Miller
Ricketts Influence on Steinbeck
The works of John Steinbeck are national treasures that have had deep influences on our society, arts, culture and politics. This documentary explores why Steinbeck is considered to be one of the most important writers of the 20th century.
And while Steinbeck wrote most of his novels, plays and films on his own, he did have one collaborator: his muse, Ed Ricketts. Steinbeck was profoundly influenced by Ricketts intellectual outlook. Many of the signature characters, themes and ideas expressed in Steinbeck’s works are based on Ricketts, his philosophies, and the friendship between the two men. Ed and John inspired each other. They believed in, supported and fostered each other's talents. They worked tirelessly to help one another hone their ideas and their individual works. Where one began and the other ended was difficult to tell, even for them.
We examine just how much influence the men had on each other. Could Steinbeck have created his enormously influential works had he not known Ricketts? Just how much of Ricketts is in Steinbeck’s work? Creative collaboration isn’t always simple and clean. What tensions and disagreements arose? How did they maintain their friendship, respect, love, and admiration for one another? And why hasn’t the world known more about Ricketts and his influence on Steinbeck?
“He was part of my brain for eighteen years.”
- John Steinbeck
The Legacy of Ed Ricketts
What was it about Ed that drew people to him? To this day, those who knew him still love him as their very best friend. Others point to his works, ideas and outlooks that have inspired their own lives and career paths. His impact on people was, and still is deep, real and profound. And it has stretched out in ways that has influenced the world at large.
Ed walked to the beat of his own drum. A pioneering ecologist, a broad-minded philosopher, an encouraging muse, a dedicated and visionary biologist, a lover to many, a friend to many more and an inspiration to countless others over the decades.
This film reveals the story Ed Ricketts and many of his attributes: Mentor. Muse. Visionary. We focus on the profound influences he had on those around him. We highlight his works and how his memory continues to have an important imprint on the world today. This film isn’t only a biography or just an attempt to give credit where credit is due. We are making this film with a larger goal in mind: to inspire the viewer to be open, interested and connected to the world around them; to know that we are all interdependent parts of a larger whole. We believe that this message can influence the world for the better.
And we believe this is the legacy of Ed Ricketts.