Above Left: ANN RUTHERFORD in a studio portrait from her MGM days.
Above Right: RUTHERFORD in her retirement years.
Famous from "Gone With the Wind" & Andy Hardy
By JAMES BAWDEN
When the obituaries began to appear for actress Ann Rutherford, who died at age 92 on June 11, I couldn't help but remember the first time I saw her on the screen. I was just 16 and they had revived "Gone With the Wind" at Loew's in downtown Toronto in 1962. She played Scarlett O'Hara's sister Carreen and a special reference to her in the program for the film mentioned that she'd been born in Toronto.
I guess I knew eight then that I'd have to meet her some day. As it turned out, that day arrived just a a little more than a decade later when I was working as a TV critic for The Hamilton (Ontario) Spectator. So, there I was in 1973, knocking on the door of her home in Beverly HIlls, loaded with a stack of still photos from her films, and saying hello to Ann Rutherford, then a slender matron with salt and pepper hair.
It was the first of two interview sessions I managed to arrange with her. The second came 10 years later over lunch at the Universal Hilton dining room in 1983.
Here are the highlights of our conversations:
BAWDEN: I have different dates and locations for your birth.
RUTHERFORD: Now I must disappoint you. I was born Therese Ann Rutherford on Nov. 2, 1920. So, yes, Im Canadian. But it wasn't in Toronto. I had to re-jig the fact when I started out in movies in 1935 so Id be over age. I made up Toronto and 1917 so Id be 18 and outside the child labor laws. Im still Canadian but barely. We moved to the U.S. when I was three months old.
My mother, Lucille Mansfield, a cousin of the great actor Richard Mansfield, had the second lead in "The Perils of Pauline." Dad was John Rutherford, a great Canadian tenor. They separated when I was five and I toured in plays with mother. When I was 13, I auditioned at a local Los Angeles radio station and acted in dozens of live radio serials. Payment was a few dollars but we needed every dollar by then. I also was in local L.A. productions of such classics as "Little Women" and "Daddy Long Legs."
BAWDEN: How did you get into pictures?
RUTHERFORD: (Studio Boss) Nat Levine at Mascot saw my picture in the paper and called me down for an audition. He needed a quick replacement for Anne Darling, whod walked from the picture "Waterfront Lady" (1935). She had eloped! I tested and fit the part and her clothes happened to fit me perfectly.
It was on that set that I lost all my illusions. I was shocked one of my favorites, Jack LaRue, had a small part in this "B" thing . He'd been told he had peaked and would do anything for the work. To get the job I had to submit a fake birth certificate where I put Toronto instead of Vancouver to put the truant officers off. I added all kinds of imaginary details I later regretted and gave the date as 1917 which would conveniently make me 18. Source books are reprinting these facts to this day.
BAWDEN: Over the next year you made 13 pictures.
BAWDEN: I only survived because I was young and healthy. Id be making two pictures at the same time. I did a Mascot serial "The Fighting Marines" that almost killed me it was so exhausting. Then Gene Autry used me in some of his westerns. "Melody Trail" (1935), "The Singing Vagabond" (1935). I made "The Lawless Nineties" (1936) with this kid John Wayne. In fact Ive recently been to Nashville and was Genes guest on his TV show and he showed "Comin Round the Mountain" (1936). He still claims he didnt know how young I was. Id never seen it, I was so busy working in those days. I had a week off and they loaned me to Columbia for six days for "The Devil is Driving" (1936), opposite Richard Dix.
In 1936, the young
ANN RUTHERFORD co-starred in
this low budget western with
then "B" movie star JOHN WAYNE.
BAWDEN: How did you get to MGM in 1937?
RUTHERFORD: I was signed to the standard starlet contract. My first MGM flick was a Joan Crawford bomb, "The Bride Wore Red," directed by Dorothy Arzner, who wore men's clothes and was always trying to feel up the young girls on the set. Joan was so kind, but you had to realize she controlled her set with an iron hand. It was always air-cooled because she tended to perspire because of fear.
I also had a bit in "Of Human Hearts," a Jimmy Stewart starrer, before hitting it big with (the Andy Hardy picture) "You Only Live Once" as Polly Benedict, my first of 13 times in that role. I wasnt in the first one titled "A Family Affair" (1937). But Mr. Mayer (MGM stuido chief Louis B. Mayer) thought he needed a family series so he ordered it recast for the sequel and Lionel Barrymore was turfed out for Lewis Stone. And Spring Byington was fired, too, and the British actress Fay Holden brought in. Polly Benedict was played by Molly Marquis and she was dumped, too.
But the director, George B. Seitz, was retained. In fact he picked me after I did a screen test with Mickey Rooney (the star of the Andy Hardy series). I towered over him and Uncle George as I always called him (drirector Seitz). We were encouraged to play for more laughs.
Another original retainee was the Canadian actress Cecilia Parker as the older sister,but Julie Haydon, as the other (Hardy) daughter, was dropped. MGM rebuilt one of their back lot streets as Carvel. Uncle George really wanted Mickey to ham it up. He thought the first film had been too depressing. Wed rehearse and hed try for a first take and maybe a few cover shots. Each film took about a month to film. This wasnt the B unit. He encouraged Mickey to wing it as much as possible but Lewis Stone was not one to countenance too much of that. I happen to think Uncle George made the series and when they later replaced him it just crashed.
plants a kiss on
the cheek of ANN RUTHERFORD,
a frequent event
in the Andy Hardy
series of pictures
they made together.
BAWDEN: You once said you were glad you didnt become a big star.
RUTHERFORD: I saw what had happened to Judy (Garland). A sweeter gal I never met. We went to the Little Red School House together. I knew her starting with "Love Finds Andy Hardy" (1939) and she was as cute and personable as a button. After "Wizard of Oz," she changed. Too much pressure on a 17-year old. She was highly susceptible to the drugs they gave her to keep going. We couldnt invite her to parties at my house. Shed sneak into the medicine cabinet and gobble down whatever pills were there. The studio pushed her and she was always on a crash diet. On "Oz " they started giving her stimulants to keep the energy level up. I had my mother to protect me. Not Judy. Her mother took money under the table and Judy would work 16 hours at one stretch to get a musical number down.
(And) Id seen what it did to Mickey. He was barely 21 and he was already insufferable.
BAWDEN: Can you tell me more of your take on Mickey Rooney?
RUTHERFORD: Acting came too easy to him. He became very big. In 1939 and 1940, he was the top male box office attraction. And it went to his head. He screwed around like crazy. His addiction was women, not drink--tall women, by the way. He could compose, sing, dance and he rapidly lost it because of his gargantuan appetites. He sank as quickly as he rose. I dont think he had much to do with his children. For a BBC TV version of "This Is Your Life" in the Sixties I was flown over with some of the kids. I told them to cash in their first class seats and go back economy because that was all the money theyd ever get out of him.
BAWDEN: Outside of the Hardy films, you made a ton of other MGM movies.
RUTHERFORD: A whole batch of starlets were featured in "Dramatic School" (1938), but I found (leading lady) Luise Rainer one of the most boring of actresses. One note and that was it. Lana Turner, Paulette Goddard, Virginia Grey--we were all featured. I loved my scenes as the spirit of Christmas Past in "A Christmas Carol "(1938). It had been designed for Lionel Barrymore, but his arthritis had been acting up and Reginald Owen took over. It was a fun set to be on.
With "Dancing Co-Ed " (1939), Lana Turner was given the official nod to be the next blonde bombshell. I was still a "featured only" player. In "Wyoming" (1940), I learned all the stories about Wallace Beery were true . He belched his way through scenes much to the consternation of Marjorie Main, who was a quiet, shy woman much concerned with observing proprieties on the set.
From left: ANN RUTHERFORD, VIVIEN LEIGH and EVELYN KEYES in "GONE WITH THE WIND," the David O. Selznick proudction distributed by MGM in 1939.
BAWDEN: How did you get attached to "Gone With the Wind"?
RUTHERFORD: Like all girls of my age, Id read the book. I just had to be in it--but, as you know, MGM was only the distributor and had nothing to do with production. I met (the producer of the film) David Selznick on the train coming in to Pasadena and planted the thought that I could play Carreen, who was Scarletts youngest sister. Then I went in to see Mr. Mayer and he pounded the desk in fury, saying it was too small for me and that I was needed for the Hardy pictures. Hed already vetoed Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Meade because he was needed at MGM. Ironically, Harry Davenport replaced him. Harry was Lionels father-in-law! Finally Mr. Mayer relented. It was shot mostly at the Selznick studios right down the block and several times Id do a "Gone With the Wind" scene in the morning and by afternoon be working back at MGM on a Hardy picture.
Im guessing I was in "GWTW" for about five months, but never more than a few days at a time. George Cukor directed me in my first scene, then Vic Fleming replaced him and did most of my scenes and then Sam Wood directed me in that scene where we are picking cotton. There were fresh script changes every day. It was a very disorganized shoot. I remember near the end David wanted the opening scene reshot --with Scarlett on the steps of the Tara porch, arguing playfully with the Tarleton twins. But he couldnt. Vivien Leigh had aged so much she looked too old. The schedule had tired her out, thats all.
These days I say "GWTW" is my annuity because it keeps me in the news. I went to Atlanta in 1961 for the premiere when it was re-released in wide screen. Viv was looking so tired and she was acting strange. Thats all that Ill say. Livvie (Olivia DeHavilland) is blooming. She was--and is--such a survivor. Several times Ive gone out on dates with Rand Brooks, who played Scarletts first husband. Imagine that Rand and Careen together again. Bet that makes Scarlett extra mad!
BAWDEN: When did it start being teemed a jinxed film?
RUTHERFORD: Oh, it never was. I guess when Leslie Howard died in that plane crash in 1943, that was tough. Then Clark Gable went early in 1961 and Viv followed him in 1965. But there are still lots of us around. Time does have an effect. I recently saw Vic Jory, who was the evil plantation manager. One day well all be gone. But "GWTW" will survive us. Its the perfect example of the high style of Hollywood movie-making. What always intrigued me was there never but never was any talk about a sequel. Today thats all the movie business is sequels! (A sequel finally did some along, made for television, half a century later!)
BAWDEN: In 1939 you also made seven other movies.
RUTHERFORD: Well, I was still a teenager. I could work those six day weeks and besides it was great to be wanted. We did three Hardys: "Out West with the Hardys," "Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever," "Judge Hardy and Son." It was the high water mark of the series. Mr. Mayer told me "Judge Hardy and Son" had made more profit than "Ninotchka"! So there you have it. I also had a pretty big part in "These Glamour Girls," which MGM used to launch Lana Turner as a sex symbol. Very pretty young thing, but completely involved only in herself. Sylvan Simon directed that and "Four Girls in White," which starred Florence Rice, who never hit it big with moviegoers and was soon on her way out.
BAWDEN: In 1940 you had another big movie--"Pride and Prejudice."
RUTHERFORD: It was a huge production. Why they chose to film in black and white beats me. Laurence Olivier has a false nose. He was trying out noses for his Broadway production of "Romeo and Juliet." Greer Garson got that at the last moment. It was all set up for Norma Shearer, who even demanded that they use the fashions of a slightly later period. Then she up and left claiming she was sick and tired of making period stuff and only wanted modern stories. Without Irving Thalberg (her late husband, the former production chief at MGM), as guide, her career was doomed. I was the bad sister who runs off with the bounder.
HEATHER ANGEL, left,
and ANN RUTHRFORD
as sisters in the 1940
production of "PRIDE
and PREJUDICE." The
male actors are extras.
When we switched to heavier clothing, wed be tramping around that delicate furniture and something or other would crash to the ground. The prop man would give me the shattered pieces and Id paste then together again and keep then. See that vase over there? I got my taste for antiques just around then.
We had a ball on the set, Larry (Olivier) remained in character. He was ever so condescending. Marsha Hunt and Heather Angel were my sisters and Edmund Gwenn and that wonderful old scene stealer Mary Boland were the parents. Sometimes Id see a young man standing on the sidelines shaking his headAldous Huxley--and I imagine he must have been furious about director Robert Z. Leonards interpolations. (Huxley had adapted the novel for the screen.) It was a huge hit and sealed Greers fate as the next great MGM lady.
BAWDEN: There was only one Andy Hardy picture in 1940--"Andy Hardy Meets A Debutante."
RUTHERFORD: I cant think why except Mickey was getting obstreperous. For two straight years, he was the box office king and he started throwing his weight around. But he made two more Hardys in 1941.
BAWDEN: Describe life at MGM.
RITHERFORD: Lunch was my favorite time where Id see the likes of Tracy and Harlow and Gable chomping away on their bowls of Louis B. Mayer chicken soup which was supposed to be slimming. But no Garbo. I only saw her from a distance, running between sound stages. Mr. Mayer would have long meetings with all the starlets about their careers. I politely declined to sit on his knee on such occasions.
I fit right into the groove because I was poor and needed the work. But I declined all the MGM offers to give me credits to buy a car etc. Because at contract renewal time Mr. Mayer would moan and weep about the poor profits MGM had experienced that year. And the starlets would have to go along with reduced salaries because they were so much in debt to him! When I went in I told him I needed the raise to buy my mother a house and I laid it on so thick he was in tears and agreed to the salary increase. And, of course, when he realized Id one-upped him, he was right furious!
BAWDEN: What other movies did you enjoy making right then?
RUTHERFORD: I had a Roz Russell type part in "Washington Melodrama" (1941) starring that wonderful man, Frank Morgan, as my father. I was also in a very bad movie with him--"The Ghost Comes Home"--nobody seems to have ever seen on TV. "Keeping Company" (1941) was a good story of young newlyweds that I did opposite John Shelton, who never made it at Metro. In 1941, they loaned me to Universal for "Badlands of Dakota" opposite Bob Stack, who at 22 was what they called a hunk. I saw how another studio made movies and that was an eye opener.
BAWDEN: Then came three "Whistling" pictures.
RUTHERFORD: These three comedies put Red Skelton over the top. He came out the other end as a big box office star. MGM saw him as their threat to Bob Hope. The first, "Whistling in the Dark" (1941), was actually a remake, but Red just kept the set rocking with laughter all day. Early on I went home and during the night experienced chest pains. Unnerved, I phoned my family doctor who came over and asked me what Id been doing that day. I said non stop laughing. It had activated muscles I never knew I had. But I couldnt stop giggling, I just couldnt once Red was in full flight.
MGM promptly ordered a sequel--"Whistling in Dixie" (1942), which doubled the earnings. As we made it, Red became the sensation of the lot. Sylvan Simon directed all three. He really worked with Red and hes the one who made him a super tar.
ANN RUTHERFORD played the sweetheart of comedian RED SKELTON
in the three popular "Whistling" comic mysteries of the early 1940s.
BAWEDEN: Then you left MGM. What happened?
RUTHERFORD: I went in to Mr. Mayer to protest "Seven Sweethearts." I read the script and felt like I was the seventh sweetheart. I had maybe 15 lines of dialogue. I cried and really went on and Mr. Mayer was unnerved and said please do the film and he guaranteed me Id be at MGM for life. Then on the weekend I was part of a War Bond tour and Id been at camp bases. I arrived home Sunday night and I couldnt stop guzzling water and my doctor said I had a nasty case of measles and he put me into bed for two weeks. On Monday I phoned in sick and Mr. Mayer was so enraged he sold off my contract to Darryl Zanuck at Fox by Wednesday. My MGM days were over, he shouted on the phone.
BAWDEN: But he was wrong.
RUTHERFORD: I got back at him. Turns out MGM was prepping the third "Whistling" picture, "Whistling in Brooklyn" (1943), so MGM had to borrow me back for six weeks from Fox. Zanuck demanded top dollar and this further enraged Mayer. I went back, packed up my belongings and after I did the picture, which was an enormous hit, I went over to Fox. And I never went back to MGM until 1972. There might have been more "Whistling" films if only Id gotten to stay there.
BAWDEN: What happened to the Andy Hardy pictures?
RUTHERFORD: Polly (the character she played) just up and disappeared. In 1941 I made "Andy Hardys Private Secretary" and "Life Begins for Andy Hardy." Two monster hits. In 1942, I did "The Courtship of Andy Hardy" and "Andy Hardys Double Life" and that was it. The series was still at its peak. An important part of my life was over. You do know that recently Mickey came to the house brimming with details about a proposed "Andy Hardy" TV series. Andy and Polly would be married, Id be the mom and hed be the judge and some of his actual kids would play our kids. I literally shivered because, lets face it, times change and that kind of feel good family would just not work anymore. And Mickey today looks like a gnome . Youll notice I did not say "troll." I just didnt have the heart to say no, so I hedged. And, thank God, it never happened. It could have been a disaster.
BAWDEN: Describe life at Fox.
RUTHERFORD: Oh, I hated that place. It was a mans studio. But my first, "Orchestra Wives," was a huge hit. I was running high. I loved meeting Glenn Miller. A class act all the way. But Zanuck did not really like women,. He quarreled with (Janet) Gaynor and fired her. He quarreled with Loretta Young and she left. He quarreled with (Betty) Grable and she finally quit.
I had married in 1942. To David May, who was heir to the May Co. department stores. But he wasnt serious about marriage, I soon learned. He didnt really want me to work. I then did "Happy Landing" at Fox in 43 with Don Ameche. It was slender stuff, although I bonded with the great Harry Carey. In 1944 Zanuck put me in a stinker "Bermuda Mystery" with Preston Foster just to get me angry enough to quit, which I did.
I did "Two OClock Courage" for RKO in 1946. Anthony Mann directed it, a pretty good "B." Then I did "Bedside Manner" at UA with Ruih Hussey and John Carroll. My career was going nowhere fast and in 46 I did "Murder in the Music Hall" and "The Madonnas Secret," both at Republic, and I realized Id hit rock bottom. Then I did "Inside Job" (1946) at Universal. I just lost all momentum.
BAWDEN: But you still managed a few more A pictures?
RUTHERFORD: Oh, you mean "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1947), which was a big hit, although Danny Kaye was difficult, if you must know. And I had a small part in "The Adventures of Don Juan" (1949). Errol Flynn was all bloated out of shape, a total figure of debauchery. Kept a monkey in his dressing room. Liked a bit of tickle before a scene, very busy hands. But after that I went into TV.
BAWDEN: You seem to have done all the live TV shows.
RUTHERFORD: I loved doing live TV. Dd then all: "Nash Airfyte Theatre," "Stars Over Hollywood," "Guild Playhouse," "Suspense," "Robert Montgomery Presents," "General Electric Hour "--this was way before Ronald Reagans filmed show--"Lux Video Theater," "Kraft Television Theatre," "Climax," "Playhouse 90," "Red Skelton," and later I was a suspect on four different "Perry Masons." Whew! The best ever thing I ever did was "Pale Horse, Pake Rider" on "Climax" in 1956 with Dorothy McGuire and John Forsythe. And, yes, I did "Love, American Style" several times.
BAWDEN: Your priorities changed?
RUTHERFORD: A solid second marriage to (producer) Bill Dozier changed all that. I had a daughter and he had a daughter (by Joan Fontaine) and we raised them together. He was an important TV producer ("Batman"), and there were huge parties to organize. I loved being a hostess. Debbie Reynolds lived next door and at one party she lost her wedding ring down the kitchen sink. So I had to call the plumber at 2 a.m. Fun and games always! When Bill got sick (congestive heart failure) we moved to the Malibu cottage because there were no stairs. Im currently doing "Newhart "as Suzanne Pleshettes mother because she insisted we look so much alike. And its a fun show to do because Bob (Newhart) is so meticulous about how each line should be read. Im getting acting classes all over again.
But as long as "GWTW" is around Ill be around. I dont get a cent for it in earnings but Im glad I was a tiny part of this great work of Hollywoods Golden Era.
©2012 by Jim Bawden. This column first posted June 18, 2012.
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