Ruth Gordon Jones
October 30, 1896
Quincy, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 28, 1985 (aged 88)|
Edgartown, Massachusetts, U.S.
(m. 1921; died 1927)
|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.
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.
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. She was baptized an Episcopalian. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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. In 1932, the family was living discreetly in a small, elegant New York City brownstone.
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
On August 28, 1985, Gordon died at her summer home in Edgartown, Massachusetts, following a stroke at age 88. 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. In November 1984, the outdoor amphitheater in Merrymount Park in Quincy, Massachusetts, was named Ruth Gordon Amphitheater in her honor.
|1915||The Whirl of Life||Extra||Uncredited|
|Madame Butterfly||Minor Role||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|
|Scavenger Hunt||Arvilla Droll|
|1980||My Bodyguard||Gramma Peache|
|Any Which Way You Can||Senovia "Ma" Boggs|
|1982||Jimmy the Kid||Bernice|
|Voyage of the Rock Aliens||Sheriff||Filmed in 1983|
|1987||The Trouble with Spies||Mrs. Arkwright||Filmed in 1984; Final film role|
|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"|
|1925||Mrs. Partridge Presents||Katherine Everitt|
|1925||The Fall of Eve||Eva Hutton|
|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
|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|
|1947||A Double Life|
|1948||The Leading Lady|
|1948||The Ford Theatre Hour||Episode: Years Ago|
|1950||Prudential Family Playhouse||Episode: Over 21|
|1952||Pat and Mike|
|The Marrying Kind|
|1957||The Alcoa Hour||Episode: "A Double Life"|
|1960||DuPont Show of the Month||Episode: "Years Ago"|
|1973||Adam's Rib||Episode: "The Unwritten Law"|
|1976||Ho! Ho! Ho!|
|1980||Hardhat and Legs|
|1947||Academy Awards||Best Original Screenplay||A Double Life||Nominated|||
|1952||Pat and Mike||Nominated|||
|1965||Best Supporting Actress||Inside Daisy Clover||Nominated|||
|1965||Golden Globe Awards||Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture||Inside Daisy Clover||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|||
|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|||
|1949||Writers Guild of America Awards||Best Written Comedy||Adam's Rib||Nominated|
|1952||Pat and Mike||Nominated|
|The Marrying Kind||Nominated|