HE WAS JUST A BOY IN MEQUON, WIS., writer John Ridley recalls, when he accidentally tuned in to the Barbara Stanwyck classic Double Indemnity. "It was a movie where the guy loved this woman, and then he shoots the woman, and it is all lit very beautifully," says Ridley. "I didn't know film noir, but it was great."
Since then, Ridley, who turns 32 this week, has helped reestablish that dark, foreboding film noir sensibility as author of the acclaimed Stray Dogs (Ballantine, $19.95)—the basis for the Oliver Stone movie U-Turn, starring Sean Penn. The story, which centers on a drifter who is ensnared in a web of betrayal, has earned Ridley comparisons to mystery master Raymond Chandler.
Ridley didn't always spin tales of doom. He once worked as a stand-up comic, which actually suited his nature, he says, because "I hated getting up in the morning, and I was never good with authority." After earning a degree from New York University, he wrote for TV shows, including Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Now he has even more to smile about. Next Valentine's Day the Hollywood Hills bachelor will marry Gayle Yoshida, 30, a former script coordinator on Martin. And he has inked a two-book, seven-figure contract. "Somebody once said, 'Success is that one time in your life that you feel good about being you,' " Ridley says. "At this point, I feel extremely good about being me."