Remembering Ann Rutherford

Remembering Ann RutherfordBorn in Canada in 1920, Ann Rutherford got her start in Hollywood as a teenager, acting in weekly serials. She made her feature-length screen debut in 1935’s Waterfront Lady. In the early years of her career, the young starlet appeared with some of the biggest names in the business–John Wayne (The Oregon Trail, The Lonely Trail, and The Lawless Nineties, all 1936), Joan Crawford (The Bride Wore Red, 1937), and Jimmy Stewart (Of Human Hearts, 1938) among them. She also appeared as the Ghost of Christmas Past in the popular 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, opposite Reginald Owen.

Rutherford was cast as Andy Hardy’s longtime on-and-off girlfriend, Polly Benedict, in the second film of that long-running series, You’re Only Young Once, in 1937. Polly’s destiny in these films was to essentially sit by and watch as Mickey Rooney’s Andy worked his way through a veritable stable of MGM starlets (Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Lana Turner, Donna Reed …) before inevitably coming back to her in the end. Rutherford would go on to play the part in 11 other Andy Hardy movies, culminating in her final appearance in the series in Andy Hardy’s Double Life in 1942.

In 1939, Rutherford was cast in the role for which she is arguably best remembered today, as Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister, Carreen, in 1939′s Gone With the Wind. As gentle Carreen, Rutherford does not get a lot of screen time–a fact that was pointed out to the actress by her boss, Louis B. Mayer, who was reluctant to loan her to GWTW producer (and his son-in-law at the time) David O. Selznick for the film. But the young actress, who loved the novel, persisted and was allowed to take the role after she “burst out crying” in Mayer’s office.

Despite the limitations of the relatively minor role, Rutherford does a lovely job in the film, bringing a sweet girlishness to the role of Carreen (contrasting nicely with Evelyn Keyes’ bratty Suellen) which makes the character’s relative naivete appealing rather than cloying. In her later years, Rutherford was a true champion for Gone With the Wind, promoting it to new audiences and appearing at GWTW-related events and screenings with other surviving cast members to discuss the making of the classic epic.

After her success in Gone With the Wind, Rutherford starred in a number of films throughout the following decade, including 1940′s Pride and Prejudice (in which she plays the insufferable Lydia), Orchestra Wives (1942), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and Adventures of Don Juan (1948, opposite Errol Flynn). By the end of the decade, she had effectively retired from the silver screen, though she would appear in a couple of films in the 1970s and in sporadic roles on television, including a short stint on The Bob Newhart Show as Bob’s mother-in-law. Still, even though she quit acting for good in 1976, Rutherford was far from forgotten–director James Cameron approached her to come out of retirement to play the role of the elderly Rose in 1997′s Titanic. Rutherford, however, ultimately turned down the role (which then went to fellow ’30s star Gloria Stuart).

A wonderfully talented actress with a warm and sparkling screen presence, Ann Rutherford will most certainly be missed.

Classic Brandie Ashe is a writer and recent escapee from graduate school. She is now in hiding on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Brandie and her blog co-authors Carrie and Nikki share their love of Alfred Hitchcock, screwball comedies, Katharine Hepburn, and all things old-school Disney on their blog True Classics: The ABCs of Film.

  • Wayne P.

    Fine biopic piece on the still lovely, after all these years, Ann Rutherford.  Loved her as Polly in the Andy Hardy set of movies; and, also loved her with Red Skelton, who was the ‘Fox’ during the Whistling In…series of films!  She was always so spunky and adorable…radiating femininity with both demur at times and tenacity in a pinch. I have a friend who goes to movie festivals in the Memphis/Little Rock area and she would show up until recent years and, Thank God, shes still with us today (last had heard?).  Didnt know the tidbit about her turning down the role in the Titanic which went to the great Golden Age beauty Gloria Stuart (The Invisible Man)…she mayve even gotten the Oscar nom herself, so thanks for a nice write-up :). 

  • Wayne P.

    Was sorry to hear that Ann just passed this week at age 94. She IS missed and I stand corrected. 🙁

  • Juanita123516

    Enjoyable article. Vale Ann Rutherford – one of the last of the golden years of Hollywood.

  • Richard

    She was always so cute in those Fox movies with Red Skelton, people forget how young she was.   She was only 18 when she made Gone with the Wide and in her early 20s making those comedies in the forties.   I always enjoy her performances. 

  • dpharrington

    Ann Rutherford’s Polly Benedict did have to endure Andy’s infatuation with starlets whom MGM was trying to publicize — what better way than in a low-budget series that nearly everyone would watch?  You can add Kathryn Grayson to the list, as well as some who never quite made the cut.

    But remove Judy Garland.  Mickey and Judy fell for each other in several contemporary musicals but not in the Hardy pictures.  Despite Betsy Booth’s continuing crush on Andy, Polly had no reason to be jealous of her, as Andy normally saw Betsy as a child.

  • Crutchylen

    You forget the Hardy flix. How could you?!?

  • chrisbella

    wonderful actress

  • Cap’nWill

    Let’s not forget her horsemanship in all of her Gene Autry Oaters. She was a beautiful and classy lady and is sorely missed today. Will

  • John M

    She was so good in the Fox musical, “Orchestra Wives”, and what a beauty she was!