Ripley: Is Dickie Greenleaf Based on a Real Person?

With Netflix’s ‘Ripley’ chronicling the tale of a career con man as he’s offered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel to Italy for a job, we get a psychological thriller that is truly unlike any other. After all, although he’s been asked to convince a wealthy man’s vagabond son Dickie Greenleaf to return home to New York, he soon finds himself going way too far in more ways than one. That’s because he ends up falling in love with this trust fund baby’s carefree and luxurious lifestyle — something he’d craved even in the US for as long as he could remember. Spoilers Ahead!

Dickie Greenleaf is Actually Fictional

Since ‘Ripley’ is entirely based upon late renowned author Patricia Highsmith’s crucially acclaimed 1955 crime novel ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,’ all the characters within are entirely fictional too. Whether it be protagonist Thomas “Tom” Ripley, his target turned friend turned victim Dickie Greenleaf, all members of the latter’s close friend group, or anyone else; they’re all 100% imaginary. We confidently state this because the writer herself never shied away from conceding that almost every personality or circumstance she penned was derived from her own original ideas.

However, Patricia did reportedly credit Henry James’ ‘The Ambassadors’ (1903) plus Julien Green’s ‘If I Were You’ (1947) as the classic literary inspirations behind this Ripley-saga of hers. Moreover, and more importantly, it’s still likely she integrated certain aspects of herself, her real experiences, as well as people she knew into some situations, especially concerning the leads. The prime example of this is the author’s alleged affair with a married woman by the name of Kathryn Hamill Cohen since it could have influenced the way she wrote about Tom and Dickie.

The truth is, in ‘Ripley’ plus in ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,’ Tom is handsomely paid by shipbuilding magnate Herbert Greenleaf to go to Italy to convince Dickie to return and join the family business. This is significant as Patricia too spent three weeks of quality time in Italy with Kathryn while on a Europe trip, during which they reportedly explored not just Rome but also Capri, Palermo, plus Positano. According to records, they parted ways for good when their vacation ended, only for the latter to return to her husband and for the former to carve her own path in the world in the years to come.

Patricia did ostensibly return to Positano at one point, which is where she came up with the roots of Tom Ripley, so it’s this city that is fictionized as Mongibello in her books and Atrani in the series. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that her portrayals of complicated feelings, forbidden love, homosexuality, as well as the Italians’ reaction towards the same stems from her own first-hand affairs. It’s thus also possible some personal qualities of Dickie might’ve been inspired directly by Kathryn, especially as the writer once conceded she related to criminal Tom more than anyone else ever.

In fact, Patricia said she often had this desire and fantasy of killing her lovers since murder is “king of making love” before going on to describe the intense emotion of it as a “shot in the face.” The fact Dickie is hence slain by Tom once their friendship is nearing an end, only to then assume his identity, ensure his girlfriend Marge Sherwood is left running in circles heartbroken, kill a queer friend of his, and live off his trust fund seems like a perfect blend for this author. In other words, while Dickie in himself is truly fictitious, some aspects of his being as well as the fate he meets are a result of Patricia’s darkest fantasies combined with her personal relationships.

Read More: Netflix’s Ripley: Is Tom Ripley Gay? Does He Love Dickie?