Ruth Gordon was a remarkable woman who had a long and illustrious career as an actress, writer, and playwright. She was known for her distinctive nasal voice, witty personality, and memorable roles in films such as Rosemary’s Baby, Harold and Maude, and Every Which Way But Loose. She also won an Academy Award, a Primetime Emmy, and two Golden Globe Awards for her acting, as well as three Academy Award nominations for her writing. She was a pioneer in the entertainment industry who broke many barriers and stereotypes for women.
Early Life and Career
Ruth Gordon Jones was born on October 30, 1896, in Quincy, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of Annie Tapley (née Ziegler) and Clinton Jones, a factory foreman. She had an older half-sister, Claire, from her father’s first marriage. She was baptized an Episcopalian
She developed a passion for acting at an early age and wrote to several of her favorite actresses requesting autographed pictures. One of them, Hazel Dawn, replied with a personal letter that inspired Ruth to pursue her dream
She made her Broadway debut at age 19 in a revival of Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, playing one of the Lost Boys. She received positive reviews from critics, including Alexander Woollcott, who became her friend and mentor
In 1918, she married actor Gregory Kelly, whom she met while performing in the play Seventeen. They had a happy marriage until Kelly died of heart disease in 1927
She continued to work on stage and screen throughout the 1920s and 1930s, appearing in plays by George Bernard Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, Eugene O’Neill, and others. She also starred in films such as The Big Parade of Comedy, The Devil’s Disciple, and Abe Lincoln in Illinois
Writing Career and Second Marriage
In 1939, she met writer and director Garson Kanin, who became her second husband in 1942. They formed a successful partnership as screenwriters, collaborating on several films for MGM, such as A Double Life (1947), Adam’s Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952). All three films starred Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and earned Ruth Gordon Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay
She also wrote books, such as Myself Among Others (1971), which was a memoir of her life and career; My Side (1976), which was a sequel to her memoir; and An Open Book (1980), which was a collection of essays and anecdotes.
Later Acting Career and Awards
In the late 1960s, Ruth Gordon experienced a resurgence in her acting career when she played the role of Minnie Castevet, a sinister neighbor who is part of a satanic cult, in the horror film Rosemary’s Baby (1968). She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance, becoming the oldest person at that time to win an Oscar at age 72.
She followed this success with more acclaimed roles in films such as What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969), Where’s Poppa? (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), Every Which Way But Loose (1978), Any Which Way You Can (1980), and My Bodyguard (1980). She also appeared on television shows such as Columbo, Taxi, Rhoda, Newhart, and Saturday Night Live. She won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her role as Dora Greenfield in The Great Houdini (1976). She also won two Golden Globe Awards for Best Supporting Actress for Rosemary’s Baby and Harold and Maude.
Death and Legacy
Ruth Gordon died of a stroke on August 28, 1985, at her summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. She was 88 years old. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered over the Atlantic Ocean by her husband Garson Kanin.
She left behind a legacy of excellence and innovation in the entertainment industry. She was a trailblazer for women who wanted to pursue careers as writers and actors. She was also a source of inspiration and admiration for many generations of fans and colleagues. She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1986 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999.
She was also honored with several awards and tributes, such as the Ruth Gordon Award from the Screen Actors Guild, the Ruth Gordon Award for Excellence in Writing from the Writers Guild of America, and the Ruth Gordon Film Festival at the Boston Public Library.
Ruth Gordon was a remarkable woman who lived a remarkable life. She was a talented and versatile artist who made an indelible mark on the world of entertainment. She was also a witty and charming person who touched the hearts of many people. She will always be remembered as one of the legends of Hollywood and Broadway.