pictured in 1919
|Born||Ruth Gordon Jones
October 30, 1896
Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 28, 1985
Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Gregory Kelly (1921–1927) (his death)
Garson Kanin (1942–1985) (her death)
|Children||Jones Harris (b. 1929)|
Ruth Gordon Jones (October 30, 1896 – August 28, 1985), better known as Ruth Gordon, was an American actress and writer. She is perhaps best known for film roles she had while already in her 70s and 80s: Minnie Castevet, Rosemary's overly solicitous neighbor in Rosemary's Baby, the eccentric Maude in Harold and Maude, and Ma Boggs, the mother of Orville Boggs, in the Clint Eastwood film Every Which Way but Loose. 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.
Gordon was born at 31 Marion Street in Quincy, Massachusetts. 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; her christening as a celebrity came in her appearance as a picture baby for Mellin's Food for Infants & Invalids. 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. 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.
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. In 1918, Gordon played Lola Pratt in the Broadway adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Seventeen opposite actor Gregory Kelly, who later acted with her in North American tours of Frank Craven's The First Year and Tarkington's Clarence and Tweedles. Kelly became her first husband in 1921, but 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 invisible 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.
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.
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 but memorable 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.
Body of work
|1950||The Prudential Family Playhouse||Paula Wharton||episode: Over 21|
|1966||Blithe Spirit||Madame Arcati||TV movie|
|1973||Isn't It Shocking?||Marge Savage||TV movie|
|1975||Kojak||Miss Eudora Temple||episode: I Want to Report a Dream|
|Rhoda||Carlton's Mother||episode: Kiss Your Epaulets Goodbye
Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series
|Medical Story||Emily Dobson||episode: The Right to Die|
|1976||The Great Houdini||Cecilia Weiss||Nominated - Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special|
|Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby||Minnie Castevet||TV movie|
|Emergency!||Lenore||episode: The Nuisance|
|1977||Columbo||Abigail Mitchell||episode: Try and Catch Me|
|Saturday Night Live||Host||episode: Ruth Gordon/Chuck Berry|
|The Love Boat||Mrs. Warner||episode: Joker Is Mild, The/First Time Out/Take My Granddaughter, Please|
|The Prince of Central Park||Mrs. Miller||TV movie|
|1978||Perfect Gentlemen||Mrs. Cavagnaro||TV movie|
|1979||Taxi||Dee Wilcox||episode: Sugar Mama
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
|1980||Hardhat and Legs||Grandmother||uncredited
|1982||Don't Go to Sleep||Bernice||TV movie|
|1983–1984||Newhart||Blanche Devane||episode: Grandma, What a Big Mouth You Have
episode: Go, Grandma, Go (1984)
|December 21, 1915 – January 1916||Peter Pan||Nibs||Revival|
|January 22, 1918 – August 1918||Seventeen||Lola Pratt|
|August 13, 1923 – November 1923||Tweedles||Winsora|
|January 5, 1925 – March 1925||Mrs. Partridge Presents||Katherine Everitt|
|August 31, 1925 – October 1925||The Fall of Eve||Eva Hutton|
|January 26, 1927 – April 1928||Saturday's Children||Bobby|
|January 23, 1929 – April 1929||Serena Blandish||Serena Blandish|
|January 31, 1929 – May 25, 1929||Lady Fingers||Ruth||also in ensemble|
|April 14, 1930 – June 1930||Hotel Universe||Lily Malone|
|September 29, 1930 – November 1930||The Violet and One, Two, Three||Ilona Stobri||The Violet|
|April 6, 1931 – May 1931||The Wiser They Are||Trixie Ingram|
|October 12, 1931 – March 1932||A Church Mouse||Susie Sachs|
|September 6, 1932 – October 1932||Here Today||Mary Hilliard|
|March 16, 1933 – May 1933||Three-Cornered Moon||Elizabeth Rimplegar|
|February 21, 1934 – April 1934||They Shall Not Die||Lucy Wells|
|October 8, 1934 – November 1934||A Sleeping Clergyman||Harriet Marshall, Hope Cameron, Wilhelmina Cameron|
|January 21, 1936 – May 5, 1936||Ethan Frome||Mattie Silver|
|December 1, 1936 – February 1937||The Country Wife||Mrs. Margery Pinchwife|
|December 27, 1937 – May 1938||A Doll's House||Nora Helmer|
|May 19, 1942 – May 30, 1942||The Strings, My Lord, Are False||Iris Ryan|
|December 21, 1942 – April 3, 1943||The Three Sisters||Natalya Ivanovna|
|January 3, 1944 – July 8, 1944||Over 21||Paula Wharton||Written by Ruth Gordon|
|December 3, 1946 – May 31, 1947||Years Ago||Written by Ruth Gordon|
|September 30, 1947 – November 22, 1947||How I Wonder||Produced by Ruth Gordon|
|October 18, 1948 – October 23, 1948||The Leading Lady||Written by Ruth Gordon|
|January 12, 1949 – January 15, 1949||The Smile of the World||Sara Boulting|
|December 5, 1955 – February 2, 1957||The Matchmaker||Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi||Nominated – 1956 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play|
|March 2, 1960 – March 19, 1960||The Good Soup||Marie-Paule I|
|March 21, 1963 – April 6, 1963||My Mother, My Father and Me||Rona Halpern|
|September 30, 1965 – October 23, 1965||A Very Rich Woman||Mrs. Lord||Written by Ruth Gordon|
|October 6, 1966 – October 22, 1966||The Loves of Cass McGuire||Cass|
|October 17, 1974 – October 26, 1974||Dreyfus in Rehearsal||Zina|
|February 18, 1976 – April 4, 1976||Mrs. Warren's Profession||Mrs. Kitty Warren|