Ruth Gordon

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Ruth Gordon
Ruth Gordon 1919.jpg
Pictured in 1919
BornRuth Gordon Jones
(1896-10-30)October 30, 1896
Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedAugust 28, 1985(1985-08-28) (aged 88)
Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S.
OccupationActress, writer
Years active1915–1985
Spouse(s)Gregory Kelly (1921–1927) (his death)
Garson Kanin (1942–1985) (her death)
ChildrenJones Harris (b. 1929)
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Ruth Gordon
Ruth Gordon 1919.jpg
Pictured in 1919
BornRuth Gordon Jones
(1896-10-30)October 30, 1896
Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedAugust 28, 1985(1985-08-28) (aged 88)
Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S.
OccupationActress, writer
Years active1915–1985
Spouse(s)Gregory Kelly (1921–1927) (his death)
Garson Kanin (1942–1985) (her death)
ChildrenJones Harris (b. 1929)

Ruth Gordon Jones (October 30, 1896 – August 28, 1985), better known as Ruth Gordon, was an American film, stage, and television actress, as well as screenwriter and playwright.[1] Gordon began her career performing on Broadway at age nineteen, and later gained international visibility and critical acclaim for film roles in her seventies and eighties. Her later work included performances in Rosemary's Baby (1968), Harold and Maude (1971), and the Clint Eastwood films Every Which Way but Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980).

In addition to her acting career, Gordon wrote numerous plays, film scripts and books, most notably co-writing the screenplay for the 1949 film Adam's Rib. Gordon won an Academy Award, an Emmy and two Golden Globe awards for her acting, as well as receiving three Academy Award nominations for her writing.

Early life[edit]

Gordon was born at 31 Marion Street in Quincy, Massachusetts.[2] She was the only child of Annie Tapley (née Ziegler) and Clinton Jones, a factory foreman who had been a ship's captain. She was baptized an Episcopalian;[3][4] her christening as a celebrity came in her appearance as a picture baby for Mellin's Food for Infants & Invalids.[5] Prior to graduating from Quincy High School, she wrote to several of her favorite actresses for autographed pictures. A personal reply she received from Hazel Dawn (whom she had seen in a stage production of The Pink Lady) inspired her to go into acting.[2] Although her father was skeptical of her chances of success in a difficult profession, he took his daughter to New York in 1914, where he enrolled her in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

Early career[edit]

In 1915, Gordon appeared as an extra in silent films that were shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, including as a dancer in The Whirl of Life, a film based on the lives of Vernon and Irene Castle.[6] That same year, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, in the role of Nibs (one of the Lost Boys), appearing onstage with Maude Adams and earning a favorable mention from the powerful critic Alexander Woollcott. Woollcott, who described her favorably as "ever so gay", would become her friend and mentor.[2]

In 1918, Gordon played opposite actor Gregory Kelly in the Broadway adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Seventeen. The pair continued to perform together in North American tours of Frank Craven's The First Year and Tarkington's Clarence and Tweedles. Then in 1920, Gordon and Kelly were wed.

In December 1920, Gordon checked into a Chicago hospital to have her legs broken and straightened to treat her lifelong bow-leggedness.[7] After a three month recovery, she and Kelly relocated to Indianapolis where they started a repertory company.

Kelly died of heart disease in 1927, at the age of 36. Gordon in 1927 and 1928, had been enjoying a comeback, appearing on Broadway as Bobby in Maxwell Anderson's Saturday's Children, performing in a serious role after having been typecast for years as a "beautiful, but dumb" character.[2]

In 1929, Gordon was starring in the title role of "Serena Blandish" when she became pregnant by the show's producer, Jed Harris. Their son, Jones Harris, was born in Paris that year. Gordon and Harris never married.[citation needed]

Gordon continued to act on the stage throughout the 1930s, including notable runs as Mattie in Ethan Frome, Margery Pinchwife in William Wycherley's Restoration comedy The Country Wife at London's Old Vic and on Broadway, and Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House at Central City, Colorado, and on Broadway.[citation needed]


Gordon was signed to an Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film contract for a brief period in the early 1930s but did not make a movie for the company until she acted opposite Greta Garbo in Two-Faced Woman (1941). Gordon had better luck at other studios in Hollywood, appearing in supporting roles in a string of films, including Abe Lincoln in Illinois (as Mary Todd Lincoln), Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet (as Mrs. Ehrlich) and Action in the North Atlantic, in the early 1940s. Gordon's Broadway acting appearances in the 1940s included Iris in Paul Vincent Carroll's The Strings, My Lord, Are False and Natasha in Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic's revival of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, as well as leading roles in her own plays, Over Twenty-One and The Leading Lady.[citation needed]

Gordon married second husband, writer Garson Kanin, who was 16 years her junior, in 1942. Gordon and Kanin collaborated on the screenplays for the Katharine Hepburn – Spencer Tracy films Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952). Both films were directed by George Cukor. The couple were close friends of Hepburn and Tracy, and incorporated elements of their real personalities in the films. Gordon and Kanin received Academy Awards nominations for both of those screenplays, as well as for that of a prior film, A Double Life (1947), which was also directed by Cukor.[citation needed]

The Actress (1953) was Gordon's film adaptation of her own autobiographical play, Years Ago, filmed by MGM with Jean Simmons portraying the girl from Quincy, Massachusetts, who convinced her sea captain father to let her go to New York to become an actress. Gordon would go on to write three volumes of memoirs in the 1970s: My Side, Myself Among Others and An Open Book.[citation needed]

Gordon continued her on-stage acting career in the 1950s, and was nominated for a 1956 Tony, for Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, for her portrayal of Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, a role she also played in London, Edinburgh and Berlin.

In 1966, Gordon was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actress for Inside Daisy Clover opposite Natalie Wood. It was her first nomination for acting. Three years later, in 1969, she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Rosemary's Baby, a film adaptation of Ira Levin's bestselling horror novel about a satanic cult residing in an Upper West Side apartment building in Manhattan. In accepting the award, Gordon thanked the Academy by saying, "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is ... And thank all of you who voted for me, and to everyone who didn't: please, excuse me", which drew laughs because at the time she had been in theater for fifty years and was seventy-two years old.

Gordon won another Golden Globe for Rosemary's Baby, and was nominated again, in 1971, for her role as Maude in the cult classic Harold and Maude (with Bud Cort as her love interest).[citation needed]

She went on to appear in twenty-two more films and at least that many television appearances through her seventies and eighties, including such successful sitcoms as Rhoda (as Carlton the unseen doorman's mother, which earned her another Emmy nomination) and Newhart. She also guest-starred on the episode Columbo: Try and Catch Me. She made countless talk show appearances, in addition to hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.[8]

Gordon won an Emmy Award for a guest appearance on the sitcom Taxi, for a 1978 episode called "Sugar Mama", in which her character tries to solicit the services of a taxi driver, played by series star Judd Hirsch, as a male escort.[citation needed]

Her last Broadway appearance was as Mrs. Warren in George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession, produced by Joseph Papp at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in 1976. In the summer of 1976, Gordon starred in the leading role of her own play, Ho! Ho! Ho! at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts. She had a minor role as Ma Boggs, the mother of Orville Boggs (Geoffrey Lewis), in the Clint Eastwood films Every Which Way but Loose and Any Which Way You Can.

In 1983, Gordon was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.[9]

Harold and Maude and Adam's Rib have both been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congress.

Gordon died from a stroke in Edgartown, Massachusetts in 1985. A small theater in Westboro, Massachusetts and an outdoor amphitheater in Quincy, Massachusetts were named in her honor.[10]

Body of work[edit]


1915The Whirl of LifeExtrauncredited
1940Dr. Ehrlich's Magic BulletHedwig Ehrlich
Abe Lincoln in IllinoisMary Todd Lincoln
1941Two-Faced WomanMiss Ruth Ellis, Larry's Secretary
1943Action in the North AtlanticMrs. Jarvis
Edge of DarknessAnna Stensgard
1965Inside Daisy CloverThe Dealer – Mrs. CloverGolden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1966Lord Love a DuckStella Bernard
1968Rosemary's BabyMinnie CastevetAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress
Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance (3rd place)
1969What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?Alice Dimmock
1970Where's Poppa?Mrs. Hocheiser
1971Harold and MaudeMaudeNominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1976The Big BusOld Woman
1978Every Which Way but LooseMa Boggs
1979Scavenger HuntArvilla Droll
BoardwalkBecky Rosen
1980Any Which Way You CanSenovia 'Ma' Boggs
My BodyguardGramma
1982Jimmy the KidBernice
1985Voyage of the Rock AliensSheriffFilmed in 1983
Delta PiMugsy
MaxieMrs. LavinNominated-Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
1987The Trouble with SpiesMrs. ArkwrightFilmed in 1984 and released after Gordon's death


1950The Prudential Family PlayhousePaula Whartonepisode: Over 21
1966Blithe SpiritMadame ArcatiTV movie
1973Isn't It Shocking?Marge SavageTV movie
1975KojakMiss Eudora Templeepisode: I Want to Report a Dream
RhodaCarlton's Motherepisode: Kiss Your Epaulets Goodbye
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series
Medical StoryEmily Dobsonepisode: The Right to Die
1976The Great HoudiniCecilia WeissNominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's BabyMinnie CastevetTV movie
Emergency!Lenoreepisode: The Nuisance
1977ColumboAbigail Mitchellepisode: Try and Catch Me
Saturday Night LiveHostepisode: Ruth Gordon/Chuck Berry
The Love BoatMrs. Warnerepisode: Joker Is Mild, The/First Time Out/Take My Granddaughter, Please
The Prince of Central ParkMrs. MillerTV movie
1978Perfect GentlemenMrs. CavagnaroTV movie
1979TaxiDee Wilcoxepisode: Sugar Mama
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
1980Hardhat and LegsGrandmotheruncredited
also writer
1982Don't Go to SleepBerniceTV movie
1983–1984NewhartBlanche Devaneepisode: Grandma, What a Big Mouth You Have
episode: Go, Grandma, Go (1984)


1945Over 21 (play)
1947A Double LifeNominated-Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (shared with Garson Kanin)
1948The Ford Theatre Hourepisode: Years Ago
1949Adam's RibNominated-Academy Award for Best Story and Screenplay (shared with Garson Kanin)
Nominated- Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Comedy (shared with Garson Kanin)
1950Prudential Family Playhouseepisode: Over 21
1952Pat and MikeNominated-Academy Award for Best Screenplay (shared with Garson Kanin)
Nominated- Writers Guild of America Award Best Written American Comedy (shared with Garson Kanin)
The Marrying KindNominated- Writers Guild of America Award Best Written American Comedy (shared with Garson Kanin)
1953The ActressNominated- Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Comedy (shared with Garson Kanin)
1957The Alcoa Hourepisode: A Double Life
1960DuPont Show of the Monthepisode: Years Ago
1973Adam's Rib (TV series)episode: The Unwritten Law
1980Hardhat and Legs

Broadway appearances[edit]

December 21, 1915 – January 1916Peter PanNibsRevival
January 22, 1918 – August 1918SeventeenLola Pratt
August 13, 1923 – November 1923TweedlesWinsora
January 5, 1925 – March 1925Mrs. Partridge PresentsKatherine Everitt
August 31, 1925 – October 1925The Fall of EveEva Hutton
January 26, 1927 – April 1928Saturday's ChildrenBobby
January 23, 1929 – April 1929Serena BlandishSerena Blandish
January 31, 1929 – May 25, 1929Lady FingersRuthalso in ensemble
April 14, 1930 – June 1930Hotel UniverseLily Malone
September 29, 1930 – November 1930The Violet and One, Two, ThreeIlona StobriThe Violet
April 6, 1931 – May 1931The Wiser They AreTrixie Ingram
October 12, 1931 – March 1932A Church MouseSusie Sachs
September 6, 1932 – October 1932Here TodayMary Hilliard
March 16, 1933 – May 1933Three-Cornered MoonElizabeth Rimplegar
February 21, 1934 – April 1934They Shall Not DieLucy Wells
October 8, 1934 – November 1934A Sleeping ClergymanHarriet Marshall, Hope Cameron, Wilhelmina Cameron
January 21, 1936 – May 5, 1936Ethan FromeMattie Silver
December 1, 1936 – February 1937The Country WifeMrs. Margery Pinchwife
December 27, 1937 – May 1938A Doll's HouseNora Helmer
May 19, 1942 – May 30, 1942The Strings, My Lord, Are FalseIris Ryan
December 21, 1942 – April 3, 1943The Three SistersNatalya Ivanovna
January 3, 1944 – July 8, 1944Over 21Paula WhartonWritten by Ruth Gordon
December 3, 1946 – May 31, 1947Years AgoWritten by Ruth Gordon
September 30, 1947 – November 22, 1947How I WonderProduced by Ruth Gordon
October 18, 1948 – October 23, 1948The Leading LadyWritten by Ruth Gordon
January 12, 1949 – January 15, 1949The Smile of the WorldSara Boulting
December 5, 1955 – February 2, 1957The MatchmakerMrs. Dolly Gallagher LeviNominated – 1956 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
March 2, 1960 – March 19, 1960The Good SoupMarie-Paule I
March 21, 1963 – April 6, 1963My Mother, My Father and MeRona Halpern
September 30, 1965 – October 23, 1965A Very Rich WomanMrs. LordWritten by Ruth Gordon
October 6, 1966 – October 22, 1966The Loves of Cass McGuireCass
October 17, 1974 – October 26, 1974Dreyfus in RehearsalZina
February 18, 1976 – April 4, 1976Mrs. Warren's ProfessionMrs. Kitty Warren

See also[edit]


External links[edit]