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Ruth Gordon Jones (October 30, 1896 – August 28, 1985), better known as Ruth Gordon, was an American actress and writer. She was perhaps best known for her film roles such as the oversolicitous neighbor in Rosemary's Baby, the eccentric life-loving Maude in Harold and Maude and as the mother of Orville Boggs in the Every Which Way films. In addition to her acting career, Gordon wrote numerous well-known plays, film scripts and books. Oscar nominated for both writing and acting, Gordon won an Oscar, an Emmy and two Golden Globe awards for her acting.

Early life

Gordon was born at 41 Winthrop Avenue in Quincy, Massachusettsmarker. She was the only child of Annie Ziegler Jones and Clinton Jones, a factory foreman who had been a ship's captain. Prior to graduating from Quincy High Schoolmarker, she wrote to several of her favorite actresses for an autographed picture. 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.

Early career

In 1915, Gordon appeared as an extra in silent films that were shot in Fort Lee, New Jerseymarker, including as a dancer in The Whirl of Life, a film based on the lives of Vernon and Irene Castle.

That same year, she made her Broadwaymarker 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. Gordon 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.

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 Ibsen's A Doll's House at Central City, Colorado, and on Broadway.


Gordon was signed to an MGM 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 in 1941. She had better luck at other studios in Hollywoodmarker, 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 Chekhov's Three Sisters, as well as leading roles in her own plays, Over Twenty-One and The Leading Lady.

Gordon and husband Garson Kanin collaborated on the screenplays for the Katharine HepburnSpencer Tracy films Adam's Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952). Both films were directed by George Cukor. The onscreen relationship of Hepburn and Tracy, seen in those films, was modelled on Gordon and Kanin's own marriage. 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.

In 1953's The Actress, Gordon's film adaptation of her own autobiographical play, Years Ago, became a Hollywood production, 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 Oscar and won a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actress for Inside Daisy Clover opposite Natalie Wood. It was her first nomination for acting. 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 Manhattanmarker. In accepting the award, Gordon thanked the Academy by saying "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is." That drew laughs because of her long career in the theater.

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

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 (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 Theatremarker 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, Massachusettsmarker. She had a minor but memorable role as the mother of Orville Boggs (Geoffrey Lewis) in the Clint Eastwood films Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can.

Harold and Maude and Adam's Rib have both been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States Library of Congressmarker.

Personal life

Gordon married her co-star, Gregory Kelly in 1921, but he died of heart disease in 1927, at the age of 36. Gordon's only child, a son born in 1929, Jones Harris, was born out of wedlock from a relationship with acclaimed Broadwaymarker producer Jed Harris. Gordon married second husband, writer Garson Kanin, who was 16 years her junior, in 1942.

Gordon died from a stroke in Edgartown, Massachusettsmarker in 1985. A small theater in Westboro, Massachusettsmarker was named in her honor, as was an outdoor amphitheater in Quincy, Massachusettsmarker.

Body of work


Year Film Role Notes
1915 The Whirl of Life Extra uncredited
1940 Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet Hedwig Ehrlich
Abe Lincoln in Illinois Mary Todd Lincoln
1941 Two-Faced Woman Miss Ruth Ellis, Larry's Secretary
1943 Action in the North Atlantic Mrs. Jarvis
Edge of Darkness Anna Stensgard
1965 Inside Daisy Clover The Dealer - Mrs. Clover Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1966 Lord Love a Duck Stella Bernard
1968 Rosemary's Baby Minnie Castevet Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture
1969 What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? Alice Dimmock
1970 Where's Poppa? Mrs. Hocheiser
1971 Harold and Maude Maude Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1976 The Big Bus Old Woman
1978 Every Which Way But Loose Ma Boggs
1979 Scavenger Hunt Arvilla Droll
Boardwalk Becky Rosen
1980 Any Which Way You Can Senovia 'Ma' Boggs
My Bodyguard Gramma
1982 Jimmy the Kid Bernice
1985 Maxie Mrs. Lavin
Delta Pi Mugsy
1987 The Trouble with Spies Mrs. Arkwright
Voyage of the Rock Aliens Sheriff


Year Title Role Notes
1950 The Prudential Family Playhouse "Over 21"
1966 Hallmark Hall of Fame Madame Arcati "Blithe Spirit"
1973 Isn't It Shocking? Marge Savage
1975 Kojak Miss Eudora Temple "I Want to Report a Dream"
Rhoda Carlton's Mother "Kiss Your Epaulets Goodbye"
Nominated - Emmy Award
Medical Story Emily Dobson "The Right to Die"
1976 The Great Houdini Cecilia Weiss Nominated - Emmy Award
Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby Minnie Castevet aka Rosemary's Baby II
1977 Columbo Abigail Mitchell "Try and Catch Me"
'The Love Boat Mrs. Warner "Joker Is Mild, The/First Time Out/Take My Granddaughter, Please"
The Prince of Central Park Mrs. Miller
1978 Perfect Gentlemen Mrs. Cavagnaro
1979 Taxi Dee Wilcox "Sugar Mama"
Won - Emmy Award
1980 Hardhat and Legs Grandmother uncredited
also writer
1982 Don't Go to Sleep Bernice
1983-1984 Newhart Blanche Devane, Kirk's grandmother "Grandma, What a Big Mouth You Have (1983)
"Go, Grandma, Go" (1984)


Year Title Notes
1945 Over 21 play
1947 A Double Life Screenplay with Garson Kanin
Nominated - Academy Award for screenplay
1948 Years Ago Play for The Ford Theatre Hour
1949 Adam's Rib Screenplay with Garson Kanin
Nominated - Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay
Nominated - Writers Guild of America Award Best Written American Comedy

1952 Pat and Mike Screenplay with Garson Kanin
Nominated - Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay
Nominated - Writers Guild of America Award Best Written American Comedy

The Marrying Kind Screenplay with Garson Kanin
Nominated - Writers Guild of America Award Best Written American Comedy
1953 The Actress Screenplay based on her play Years Ago
Nominated - Writers Guild of America Award Best Written American Comedy
1967 Rosie! Based on her play A Very Rich Woman
1973 Adam's Rib TV series based on film, wrote unknown episodes
1980 Hardhat and Legs TV film written with Garson Kanin

Broadway appearances

Year Title Role Notes
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 Gay 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
September 30, 1965 - October 23, 1965 A Very Rich Woman 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


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