Ruth Louise Ratny, founder and editor of ReelChicago and Screen Magazine, passed away quietly in her sleep on the evening of February 21.
The only daughter of German immigrants who settled in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, Ruth lived through a Great Depression, a World War, the Beat Generation, Viet Nam, hippies, disco, the first great wave of Feminism, VHS, Betamax, yuppies, two Middle Eastern Wars, the next great wave of Feminism and sixteen US Presidents.
She entered the workforce with a high school diploma, a passion for film and a knack for journalism in an age when men were men and women fetched coffee. She went on to become one of the most dedicated, vocal and successful supporters of the Chicago film and advertising communities.
At the beginning of her career, she worked as a producer in the post-production industry and earned an Emmy for her performance. In 1979, she founded the print-based advertising and film publication Screen Magazine and served as editor and publisher for 23 years before selling it in 2001. She founded the digitally exclusive ReelChicago.com in 2004 and continued editing and writing much of the publication’s content until last week.
Along the way, she earned distinction as a Chicago and Midwest Ad Woman of the Year, a member of Today’s Women Chicago 100 Hall of Fame, an honoree on Newcity Magazine’s “Film 50” list, a recipient of the Hugo Legend Film Award and a recipient of the Chicago Film Critics Award, among others. Additionally, she served on dozens of film juries, discussion panels, volunteer organizations and awards shows.
Ruth frequently referred to herself as a chronicler of the Chicago film industry. With decades of experience reporting news of the trade, she became an expert at getting to the heart of a story and quickly delivering it to thousands of readers around the world.
Although she felt that her track record earned her the right to deliver critiques — which she did with laser speed and pinpoint accuracy — she was always willing to consider the opinions of others. For example, she probably would have objected to the use of her first name in a tribute such as this one, but underneath that professional veneer was a fun-loving and slightly shy Chicago girl who enjoyed “discussions” about the minutiae of everything (and I know you’ll find somebody up there to pick up where we left off, Ruthy Lu.)
In her personal time, Ruth completed two film scripts that generated a number of offers, but none of them matched the deal that she had hoped for. One was a love story about a young couple on different sides of the US/Mexican border; the other, a feature documentary about Mahalia Jackson, “The Queen of Soul,” who earned her fame and spent much of her career in Chicago.
She was also a fierce supporter of liberal causes, especially those devoted to women and children. Her contributions to charitable organizations would have been legendary if she had chosen to publicize them. A brief tribute does not begin to describe the exceptional contribution that Ruth made not only to Chicago’s advertising and film communities, but to a number of people she never even met.
Today, Chicago says goodbye to a worthy boss, a wise mentor and a true friend. Ruth L. Ratny filed her final story on February 10, 2017, but her spirit will remain with us for generations.
Memorial service to be announced.