Ruth Ratny, a pioneering journalist who covered Chicago’s advertising, marketing and film production businesses, died of heart failure Tuesday evening at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, friends said. She was 89, and up until Feb. 10, Miss Ratny was still working at the online site she founded, ReelChicago.com.
After a career in advertising, she founded Screen magazine in 1979, and later, ReelChicago.com. They were go-to resources on the latest movies, TV shows and commercials shooting in Chicago; news about video games and major accounts going to ad agencies; and technological advances, “from iPhones to IMAX,” as ReelChicago put it.
“She was a self-made woman that had a career that spanned from the “Mad Men” era, to going viral,” said Wayne Kubacki, vice president of Essanay Studio and Lighting. “She never failed to miss an opportunity to talk up the positive aspects and qualities in Chicago for production.”
The sense of community in the Chicago film industry was partly “fostered by her publications and organizations,” said Gordon Quinn, artistic director of Kartemquin Films, which produced the documentaries “Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters,” “Stevie” and “Life Itself.” “She will be remembered and missed.”
“She was a crusader for more films and more TV production work in this city,” said Brad Matthys, president of Studio Mechanics Local 476 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. “Her reporting on the ups and downs of the industry always kept the industry on people’s radar.”
Working from her Gold Coast home, with an unflagging energy that often resulted in three stories a day, she was a throwback to the journalistic era when columnists acted as industry cheerleaders, breaking scoops, and sometimes, ladling out criticism if they felt it was warranted.
During her career, she saw Chicago film production surge.
“We’ve been able to put a lot of roots in the ground and there’s a sustainable film industry in this town,” Matthys said. “She was an integral part.”
“Ruth started in an era when women were housekeepers,” said her friend and business partner Barbara Roche. “This was the 1950s and ’60s. Women didn’t do what Ruth did back then. She had quite a glass ceiling to break, many times.”
The future of ReelChicago is “something that we’ll be discussing,” Roche said. “We are still publishing.”
Chicago Film Office director Rich Moskal once called ReelChicago “the virtual Town Hall of Chicago where Chicago’s diverse population of media professionals choose to meet. . . . ReelChicago has coalesced the creative industry professionals of this town like no other publication.”
On Wednesday, he called her passing “the end of an era.”
“She let nothing get in the way of a good story, always with passion, not the least bit shy, and never satisfied with what otherwise might be considered a slow news day,” Moskal said.
“Literally thousands of people in Chicago film, TV and advertising owe her a huge debt for helping them spread word about their projects,” Kartemquin Communications Director Tim Horsburgh said in a series of tweets on being “devastated” at her death.
He worked as a freelancer for Miss Ratny a decade ago. “She didn’t always get the details right, but that was part of her charm. She worked fast and hard and knew what her readers wanted.”
She “opened her arms and welcomed us and was very excited about us transforming a steel plant into a studio complex,” said Alex Pissios, CEO of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, 2621 W. 15th St. He said Miss. Ratny used to nudge him with comments like, “ ‘What are you developing? You should do more commercial business. You should work on a green screen.’ ”
Young Ruth grew up an only child of German immigrants in Rogers Park. Her father was a horticulturist who tended plants at the Drake Hotel and also at the private home of the Drake family, Roche said.
“She started writing at the age of 7,” Roche said.
After graduating from Sullivan High School, she worked as a copywriter in the advertising industry. She went on to serve as a creative director at Fred A. Niles Productions at 1058 W. Washington, later the site of Harpo Studios. The shop produced commercials, corporate films and TV shows.
In her lifetime, Miss Ratny survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and, in the 1990s, a fall down an elevator shaft in a building she owned on Erie Street. “She grabbed her purse and her phone, hit the elevator button, the door opened, and she stepped in and fell down about three stories,” Roche said. Luckily, she had enough power on her phone to call 911. Her hip was badly bruised but no bones were broken.
And, Roche said, “She never passed a homeless person without putting money in their hands.”
Miss Ratny is to be cremated. A service is being planned, Roche said.