Ruth Gordon

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Ruth Gordon
Gordon in 1930
Ruth Gordon Jones

(1896-10-30)October 30, 1896
DiedAugust 28, 1985(1985-08-28) (aged 88)
  • Actress
  • writer
Years active1915–1985
Gregory Kelly
(m. 1921; died 1927)
(m. 1942)
Partner(s)Jed Harris
(1929 - c. 1930s)

Ruth Gordon Jones (October 30, 1896 – August 28, 1985) was an American actress, screenwriter, and playwright. She began her career performing on Broadway at age 19. Known for her nasal voice and distinctive personality, Gordon gained international recognition and critical acclaim for film roles that continued into her 70s and 80s. Her later work included performances in Rosemary's Baby (1968), 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).

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, a Primetime Emmy, and two Golden Globe Awards for her acting, as well as three Academy Award nominations for her writing.

Early life and education[edit]

Gordon at age four

Ruth Gordon Jones was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, at 41 Winthrop Avenue. She later resided at 41 Marion Street (1901–1903) and 14 Elmwood Avenue (1903–1914). All three homes are in the Wollaston section of town.[1]

She was the child of Annie Tapley (née Ziegler) and Clinton Jones. Her only sibling was an older half-sister Claire, from her father's first marriage.[2] She was baptized an Episcopalian.[3][4] Her first appearance in the public eye came as an infant when her photograph was used in advertising for her father's employer, Mellin's Food for Infants and Invalids.[5] Before graduating from Quincy High School, she wrote to several of her favorite actresses requesting autographed pictures. A personal reply from Hazel Dawn (whom she had seen in a stage production of The Pink Lady) inspired her to go into acting.[6] 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.


Silent films[edit]

Gregory Kelly and Gordon in the 1918 Broadway production of Seventeen
Gordon with Garson Kanin, 1946

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.[citation needed] The 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 powerful critic Alexander Woollcott. He described her favorably as "ever so gay", and he became her friend and mentor.[6]

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 1921, 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, Kelly and she moved to Indianapolis, where they started a repertory company.

Kelly died of heart disease in 1927 at the age of 36. Gordon at the time had been enjoying a comeback, appearing on Broadway as Bobby in Maxwell Anderson's Saturday's Children, performing in a serious role after being typecast for years as a "beautiful, but dumb" character.[6]

In 1929, Gordon was starring in the hit play Serena Blandish when she became pregnant by the show's producer, Jed Harris. Their son, Jones Harris, was born in Paris that year and Gordon brought him back to New York. Although they never married, Gordon and Harris provided their son with a normal upbringing, and his parentage became public knowledge as social conventions changed.[8] In 1932, the family was living discreetly in a small, elegant New York City brownstone.[9]

Gordon as Lola Pratt, holding her dog Flopit in the Broadway production Seventeen, 1918


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.[10]


Gordon was signed to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film contract for a brief period in the early 1930s, but did not make a movie for the company until her supporting role in Greta Garbo's final film 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, Natasha in Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic's revival of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, and leading roles in her plays Over Twenty-One and The Leading Lady.

Gordon married her second husband, writer Garson Kanin, 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. They were close friends of Hepburn and Tracy, and they incorporated elements of the actors' personalities in the films. Gordon and Kanin received Academy Award nominations for both of those screenplays as well as for A Double Life (1947), also directed by Cukor.[11][12][13]


The Actress (1953) was Gordon's film adaptation of her 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 wrote three volumes of memoirs in the 1970s: My Side, Myself Among Others, and An Open Book.[14][15][16]

Gordon continued her stage-acting career in the 1950s, and she was nominated for a 1956 Tony 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 played in London, Edinburgh, and Berlin.

Gordon and Natalie Wood at the Golden Globes, 1966


In 1966, Gordon was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress for Inside Daisy Clover opposite Natalie Wood. It was her first nomination for acting. In 1968, 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 onstage, Gordon thanked the academy by saying "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is ..." (rousing laughter from the audience). At the time she had been in the business for 50 years and was 72 years old. "And thank all of you who voted for me, and to everyone who didn't: please, excuse me", she added, prompting more laughter and applause.

Gordon won another Golden Globe for Rosemary's Baby, and she was nominated again in 1971 for her role as Maude in Harold and Maude (with Bud Cort as her love interest).[17]

Later career[edit]

She appeared in 22 more films and many television appearances through her 70s and 80s, including successful sitcoms such as Rhoda (as the mother of the unseen doorman Carlton, which earned her an Emmy nomination) and Newhart. She portrayed a murderous author on the 1977 episode Columbo: Try and Catch Me. She made countless talk-show appearances, in addition to hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.[18]

Gordon won an Emmy Award for a guest appearance on the sitcom Taxi, for a 1979 episode titled "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.[19]

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.[20]

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

Death and legacy[edit]

On August 28, 1985, Gordon died at her summer home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, following a stroke at age 88.[19] Her husband for 43 years, Garson Kanin, was at her side and said that even her last day of life was typically full, with walks, talks, errands, and a morning of work on a new play. She had made her last public appearance two weeks before at a benefit showing of the film Harold and Maude, and had recently finished acting in four films.

In August 1979, a small movie theater in Westboro, Massachusetts, was named the Ruth Gordon Flick. She attended the opening ceremony, standing on a bench in the lobby so she could be seen. The theater no longer exists.[21][22] In November 1984, the outdoor amphitheater in Merrymount Park[23] in Quincy, Massachusetts, was named Ruth Gordon Amphitheater[24] in her honor.[25]

Acting credits[edit]


Year Title Role Notes
1915 The Whirl of Life Extra Uncredited
Madame Butterfly Minor Role Uncredited
Camille Party Guest Uncredited
1940 Abe Lincoln in Illinois Mary Todd Lincoln
Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet Hedwig Ehrlich
1941 Two-Faced Woman Miss Ruth Ellis, Larry's Secretary
1943 Edge of Darkness Anna Stensgard
Action in the North Atlantic Mrs. Sarah Jarvis
1965 Inside Daisy Clover Lucile Clover
1966 Lord Love a Duck Stella Bernard
1968 Rosemary's Baby Minnie Castevet
1969 What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Alice Dimmock
1970 Where's Poppa? Mrs. Hocheiser
1971 Harold and Maude Maude
1976 The Big Bus Old Woman
1978 Every Which Way But Loose Senovia "Ma" Boggs
1979 Boardwalk Becky Rosen
Scavenger Hunt Arvilla Droll
1980 My Bodyguard Gramma Peache
Any Which Way You Can Senovia "Ma" Boggs
1982 Jimmy the Kid Bernice
1985 Delta Pi Mugsy
Voyage of the Rock Aliens Sheriff Filmed in 1983
Maxie Mrs. Lavin
1987 The Trouble with Spies Mrs. Arkwright Filmed in 1984; Final film role


Year Title Role Notes
1950 Prudential Family Playhouse Paula Wharton Episode: "Over 21"
1966 Blithe Spirit Madame Arcati Television movie
1973 Isn't It Shocking? Marge Savage Television movie
1975 Kojak Miss Eudora Temple Episode: "I Want to Report a Dream"
Rhoda Carlton's Mother Episode: "Kiss Your Epaulets Goodbye"
Medical Story Emily Dobson Episode: "The Right to Die"
1976 The Great Houdini Cecilia Weiss Television movie
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby Minnie Castevet Television 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 Television movie
1978 Perfect Gentlemen Mrs. Cavagnaro Television movie
1979 Taxi Dee Wilcox Episode: "Sugar Mama"
1980 Hardhat and Legs Grandmother Uncredited; also writer
1982 Don't Go to Sleep Bernice Television movie
1983 Newhart Blanche Devane Episode: "Grandma, What a Big Mouth You Have"
1984 Newhart Blanche Devane Episode: "Go, Grandma, Go"


Year Title Role Notes
1916 Peter Pan Nibs Revival
1918 Seventeen Lola Pratt
1923 Tweedles Winsora
1925 Mrs. Partridge Presents Katherine Everitt
1925 The Fall of Eve Eva Hutton
1928 Saturday's Children Bobby
1929 Serena Blandish Serena Blandish
1929 Lady Fingers Ruth Also in ensemble
1930 Hotel Universe Lily Malone
1930 The Violet and One, Two, Three Ilona Stobri The Violet
1931 The Wiser They Are Trixie Ingram
1932 A Church Mouse Susie Sachs
1932 Here Today Mary Hilliard
1933 Three-Cornered Moon Elizabeth Rimplegar
1934 They Shall Not Die Lucy Wells
1934 A Sleeping Clergyman Harriet Marshall
Hope Cameron
Wilhelmina Cameron
1936 Ethan Frome Mattie Silver
1937 The Country Wife Mrs. Margery Pinchwife
1938 A Doll's House Nora Helmer
1942 The Strings, My Lord, Are False Iris Ryan
1943 The Three Sisters Natalya Ivanovna
1944 Over 21 Paula Wharton Also writer
1947 Years Ago Also writer
1947 How I Wonder Also producer
1948 The Leading Lady Also writer
1949 The Smile of the World Sara Boulting
1957 The Matchmaker Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi
1960 The Good Soup Marie-Paule I
1963 My Mother, My Father and Me Rona Halpern
1965 A Very Rich Woman Mrs. Lord Also writer
1966 The Loves of Cass McGuire Cass
1974 Dreyfus in Rehearsal Zina
1976 Mrs. Warren's Profession Mrs. Kitty Warren

Writing credits[edit]

Year Title Notes
1944 Over 21
1946 Years Ago
1947 A Double Life
1948 The Leading Lady
1948 The Ford Theatre Hour Episode: Years Ago
1949 Adam's Rib
1950 Prudential Family Playhouse Episode: Over 21
1952 Pat and Mike
The Marrying Kind
1953 The Actress
1957 The Alcoa Hour Episode: "A Double Life"
1960 DuPont Show of the Month Episode: "Years Ago"
1967 Rosie!
1973 Adam's Rib Episode: "The Unwritten Law"
1976 Ho! Ho! Ho!
1980 Hardhat and Legs

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Result Ref.
1947 Academy Awards Best Original Screenplay A Double Life Nominated [26]
1950 Adam's Rib Nominated [27]
1952 Pat and Mike Nominated [28]
1965 Best Supporting Actress Inside Daisy Clover Nominated [29]
1968 Rosemary's Baby Won [30]
1965 Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Inside Daisy Clover Won [31]
1968 Rosemary's Baby Won
1971 Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Harold & Maude Nominated
1976 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Single Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Series Rhoda Nominated [32]
1977 Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Drama Special The Great Houdini Nominated
1979 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Taxi Won
1985 Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming – Performing The Secret World of the Very Young Nominated
1956 Tony Awards Best Leading Actress in a Play The Matchmaker Nominated [33]
1949 Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written Comedy Adam's Rib Nominated
1950 Nominated
1952 Pat and Mike Nominated
The Marrying Kind Nominated
1953 The Actress Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scheible, Sue. "Following actress Ruth Gordon's footsteps through Quincy". Archived from the original on 2020-08-06. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  2. ^ US Census 1900 and 1910, Massachusetts Marriage Records
  3. ^ Gordon, Ruth (1986). My Side: The Autobiography of Ruth Gordon. D.I. Fine. ISBN 9780917657818. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  4. ^ Gordon, Ruth (1947). Years Ago: A Play. Viking Press. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  5. ^ "Years Ago". Life. 1947-01-06. p. 58. ISSN 0024-3019. Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  6. ^ a b c Current Biography 1943. pp.238–41.
  7. ^ The Pittsburgh Press, December 24, 1920: "Actress, to continue her career, has bowed legs broken and straightened"
  8. ^ Wada, Karen (August 29, 1985). "Ruth Gordon Dies; Stage, Film Career Spanned 7 Decades". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-12-29.
  9. ^ Lanchester, Elsa (1983). Elsa Lanchester Herself. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-312-24376-6.
  10. ^ Henrik Ibsen (6 June 2016). A Doll's House. Theatre Communications Group. pp. 72–. ISBN 978-1-55936-850-6.
  11. ^ "AFI|Catalog A Double Life (1948) History". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  12. ^ "AFI|Catalog Adam's Rib (1949) History". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  13. ^ "AFI|Catalog Pat and Mike (1952) History". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  14. ^ Gordon, Ruth (1976). My side: the autobiography of Ruth Gordon. Harper & Row. OCLC 2437769.
  15. ^ Gordon, Ruth (1980). Ruth Gordon, an open book. Doubleday. OCLC 6014288.
  16. ^ Gordon, Ruth (1971). Myself among others. Atheneum. OCLC 138331.
  17. ^ "Ruth Gordon". Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  18. ^ "Saturday Night Live - TV Series - Seasons and Episodes -". Retrieved 2015-08-25.
  19. ^ a b Freedman, Samuel G. (29 August 1985). "Ruth Gordon, The Actress, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-01-09.
  20. ^ "Past Recipients". Jun 30, 2011. Archived from the original on 2011-06-30. Retrieved Nov 29, 2019.
  21. ^ Blau, Eleanor (Aug 27, 1979). "Ruth Gordon Nowa Theater and Glad of It". The New York Times. Retrieved Nov 29, 2019.
  22. ^ "Flick 1 & 2 in Westborough, MA - Cinema Treasures". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  23. ^ "Merrymount Park | Discover Quincy". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  24. ^ "Ruth Gordon Amphitheater | Discover Quincy". Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  25. ^ ParkWard5 Archived November 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "20th Academy Awards". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  27. ^ "23rd Academy Awards". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  28. ^ "25th Academy Awards". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  29. ^ "38th Academy Awards". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  30. ^ "41st Academy Awards". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  31. ^ "Ruth Gordon - Golden Globes Awards". Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  32. ^ "Ruth Gordon". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  33. ^ "1956 Tony Awards". Tony Awards. Retrieved February 20, 2022.

External links[edit]