Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Remembering Ann Rutherford

My old Canadian friend Ann Rutherford would have thought it hilarious most obituaries on her got her birthdate and place of birth completely wrong. She died in Beverly Hills June 11 2012.
"I was born in Toronto, silly" she giggled the first time we met at her Beverly Hills mansion in 1974 when she was a still dazzling beauty in her early 50s.
"Yes, I'm Canadian but the place was Toronto. I grew up in Vancouver. My dad was the Canadian tenor John Rutherford and I changed my birthdate which is 1920 later on when I started working in movies in 1935 --I was really 15 but had to add on three years to get around the child labor laws in California."
When I started covering TV for The Spectator in 1971 Rutherford was on my list of great Canadians film stars I just had to meet and interview.
I first got to Fay Wray in 1971, Yvonne De Carlo the next year, and Alexis Smith the year after.
"People still line up for interviews because of just one film,"Rutherford said. "I'm Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister in Gone With The Wind. It's my ticket to immortality I guess."
According to Ann "I saw David Selznick the producer on the train coming into Pasadena and begged for the part. I was a big fan of the book but I was under contract to MGM and Louis B. Mayer said it was a nothing part. However, I wore him down but I had to promise I'd do it in between all my MGM assignments."
In 1939 besides GWTW Rutherford also made these features:  Four Girls In White, The Hardys Ride High, Angel Of Mercy, Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever, These Glamour Girls, Dancing Co-Ed and Judge Hardy And Son.
"I was a busy girl. We worked Sundays in those days. A few times I'd do a GWTW scene in the morning and a scene from the Hardy movies in the afternoon. My total time on GWTW over six months must have added up to something like six weeks."
In 1940 Rutherford "only" made five movies including Pride And Prejudice opposite Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier. "I was the bad  Bennet sister Lydia who runs off with a bounder."
Rutherford's comments about working with Mickey Rooney? "He was too talented for his own good. Had to have it all. He had so many wibes and children, I think it was compensation for being such a runt."
All in all she played Polly Benedict in 13 of the 15 Andy Hardy movies ending with Andy Hardy's Double Life in 1942. She also made three "Whistling" comedies opposite Red Skelton in 1941-42.
"Then I quarreled over a tiny part I was assigned in Twelve Sweethearts. That weekend I was on a USO tour of California bases and I caught the mumps. Mr. Mayer was so angry that he sold my contract to Fox and that was that."
For Fox she starred in one of her biggest hits Orchestra Wives opposite Glenn Miller and later co-starred with Danny Kaye in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (1946) and Errol Flynn in The Adventures Of Don Juan (1949).
In the Fifties she tackled live TV on such series as Climax! and Playhouse 90. Plus she was a frequent guest suspect on Perry Mason.
When we first met she'd just completed what would be her last movie They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) opposite Jim Garner back on the MGM lot. Later on she was Suzanne Pleshette's mom on choice episodes of Newhart (1973-74).
A long time marriage to ace TV producer Bill Dozier (Batman) solidified her status as one of Beverly Hills' great party matrons. She liked to tell the tale of how Debbie Reynolds who lived next door had accidentally flushed her diamond wedding ring down the kitchen sink.
I was glad to take her to lunch on several occasions --she always dressed to the hilt.
As she said "One has to keep up appearances. After I want Scarlett O'Hara to be proud of her little  sister."

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