Ferdinand Reyher was born to German immigrants Maximillian (Max) and Caroline (Lina) Reyher on July 6, 1891, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Max Reyher (1862-1945) was an ophthalmologist and oculist in Philadelphia from around 1886 until 1917. Upon retirement to Belmar, New Jersey, in 1919, Max Reyher spent time as an amateur entomologist. During his later years, he took up painting. In They Taught Themselves (1945), Sidney Janis classified Max Reyher's paintings among the American "primitive" school. Max Reyher's Nirwana (1928) is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D. C.
Ferdinand Reyher graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia in 1909 and, in 1911, from the Philadelphia School of Pedagogy with a Collegiate Certificate. Reyher received a bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1912. He earned a master's degree in English from Harvard University in 1913. After completing his degrees, Reyher taught English for one year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then became a war correspondent in Europe from 1915 to 1916 for newspapers including the Boston Globe, the Boston Post, and the New York Evening Sun. After covering the war, Reyher moved back to the United States, settling in New York City, where he met and developed relationships with Wallace Stevens and other American literary figures. His newspaper career continued for approximately fifteen years, during which he contributed to Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York publications.
In 1917, Ferdinand Reyher married Rebecca Hourwich, the head of the Boston and New York offices of the National Women's Party. She was born in New York City in 1898 to Russian philosophical and political writer and lawyer Isaac Hourwich and Louise Joffe Hourwich. Isaac Hourwich was active in the Russian government until he fled the country around 1890 and settled in the United States. Rebecca Hourwich attended Columbia University and the University of Chicago, where she studied economics and sociology. A prominent political and women's rights activist and author, Rebecca Reyher made several trips to Africa, which resulted in two books on African life, including Zulu Woman (1948) and The Fon and His Hundred Wives (1952) as well as numerous shorter pieces. The Reyhers' marriage ended in divorce in 1934. Rebecca Hourwich Reyher died on January 10, 1987, in St. Inigoes, Maryland.
Ferdinand and Rebecca Hourwich Reyher's only child, Faith, was born in 1919; she graduated from Bennington College in 1939 with a major in dance. Faith Reyher married Gardner Cook in 1939, from whom she was later divorced. In 1948, she married Melvin Jackson, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. Faith Reyher Jackson was the head mistress of the Academy of the Washington [D.C.] Ballet from 1963 to 1978. After retiring from this position, Faith Jackson published Pioneer of Tropical Landscape Architecture: William Lyman Phillips in Florida (1997) and Meadow, Fugue and Descant, a novel (2002).
A novelist, playwright, journalist, screenwriter, and poet, Ferdinand Reyher produced volumes of notes, research, and prose. He was interested in many topics, especially American folklore, and conceived many book projects, including a history of poker. Reyher's deep interest in photography also led to research on French photographer Eugéne Atget.
Reyher had shown promise as a dramatist early in his college career at the University of Pennsylvania. Reyher wrote several plays including Youth Will Dance (1912), which was performed in 1914 at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire; Mignonette (produced in 1923); and the unproduced "Castle Israel." Reyher's story "Quiet, Please!" was dramatized by Hans Kraly and and F. Hugh Herbert and performed in 1940. Reyher's Boxer was produced in Berlin during the 1929-1930 season. Unable to obtain information about Ferdinand Reyher, Berlin reviewers believed that Boxer had actually been written by Bertolt Brecht, under the pseudonym Ferdinand Reyher (James K. Lyon, Bertolt Brecht's American Cicerone : 6).
Ferdinand Reyher's fiction includes The Man, the Tiger, and the Snake (1921), published by Putnam, and I Heard Them Sing (1946), published by Little, Brown. I Heard Them Sing was subsequently adapted for the screen with the title Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952). Reyher also wrote a popular biography for children published by Lippincott entitled David Farragut, Boy Sailor (1953). Throughout his writing career, Ferdinand Reyher wrote short fiction and articles for many magazines including the Atlantic Monthly, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies' Home Journal.
Reyher was active in Hollywood for approximately twelve years, between 1931 and 1943, as a film doctor and screenwriter at several studios, including RKO, MGM, and Paramount. He is credited on fifteen films, including Don't Turn 'Em Loose (1936) with Betty Grable; Special Investigator (1936); Two in Revolt (1936); Outside These Walls (1939); Ride a Crooked Mile (1938); The Boy from Stalingrad (1943); Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie (1952); and The World, The Flesh, and The Devil (1959) with Harry Belafonte.
Ferdinand Reyher was among those who helped to extricate German playwright, poet, and dramatic theorist Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) and his family from Nazi Germany in 1941. He also actively promoted the translation and performance of Brecht's work in the United States. Reyher and Brecht made attempts to collaborate on various works, including "The King's Bread" (based on Brecht's "Joe Fleischhacker") in 1941 and the American version of Brecht's Life of Galileo (1947) and Furcht und Elend des Dritten Reiches (1938) (Fear and Misery of the Third Reich, later The Private Life of the Master Race) in 1939.
Reyher was an acquaintance of various literary figures such as James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, and Ezra Pound and corresponded with Ford Maddox Ford, Wallace Stevens, and Sinclair Lewis. Reyher also intereacted and corresponded with many prominent photographers of the twentieth century, including Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, Beaumont Newhall, and Todd Webb. Friends and correspondents from Reyher's Hollywood years include actor and director John Huston and his wife Dorothy; actor and producer Paul Henreid; screenwriters Frank "Spig" Wead and Dale Van Every; and director Leopold Jessner. Other notable correspondents include journalist George Seldes, publisher John Rodker, musician George Antheil, and artists Lee Hersch and William and Marguerite Zorach.
Reyher married Chinese writer and translator Eileen Chang (1920-1995) in August 1956, shortly after they met at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. Best known in America for her novels The Rice Sprout Song (1955) and The Rouge of the North (1967), Chang remains a popular author in China and Taiwan.
Reyher died on October 24, 1967, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.