Last weekend, I watched one of my all time favourite movies -"Harold and Maude" - the 1971 cult classic, starring Bud Cort and the irrepressible Ruth Gordon. I'd seen a number of her films and television appearances over the years, but "Harold and Maude" is at the top of my list with this multitalented woman. A friend introduced me to this movie in the late 1980's and I've probably watched it a dozen or more times since.
For the uninitiated, it is a very dark comedy that can teach us all a lesson about living each life to the fullest. I will admit, that you have to be in the right frame of mind to watch this film, but if you are - well you will find yourself gasping, laughing out loud, cheering, singing along with the Cat Stevens soundtrack and maybe shedding a tear.
Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts. She decided that she wanted to be an actress after seeing a performance by her favourite actress, Hazel Dawn. Her parents were skeptical that she could make a living as an actress, but her father took her to New York City in 1914 and enrolled her in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1915 she had her first role as an extra in a silent movie and soon after made her acting debut on Broadway as one of the lost boys in a revival of Peter Pan. In 1918, she costarred in a play called "Seventeen" with Gregory Kelly who later became her first husband in 1921. He died of heart disease in 1927 at age 36. Her only child, Jones Harris was born in 1929 after a relationship with Broadway producer Jed Harris.
Through the 1920's and 1930's she had numerous small roles in plays on Broadway, several theaters in the USA and on stage in England. There were also more roles in movies - silent and talking.
Besides being a talented actress, Gordon was also an accomplished writer. She authored several books and plays. Together, with her second husband, Garson Kanin (1942-1985), Gordon co wrote numerous successful plays for the stage and adaptations for the silver screen. Two of the most notable plays were "Adam's Rib" (1949) and "Pat and Mike" (1952). The screenplays starred Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The onscreen characters were modeled on the writer's real life relationship. They received an Oscar nominations for the writing of both screenplays.
Her autobiographical play, "Years Ago" was made into the 1953 movie "The Actress", starring Jean Simmons. In 1956, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Dolly Levi in "The Matchmaker". In 1966, she earned an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress ("Inside Daisy Clover"). Her portrayal of Minnie Castevet in "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) earned her both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Gordon was again nominated for a Golden Globe in 1971 for her role as Maude in "Harold and Maude".
Her movie career continued with roles such as Ma Boggs in the "Every Which Way But Loose" and "Any Which Way You Can" and as Mrs. Lavin in "Maxie" (1985).
"Maxie" is another one of my all time favourite movies! It stars Glenn Close as Jan - a bishop's secretary who ends up sharing her home and her body with the ghost of a wild flapper era actress who died on the way to her biggest audition. Jan's husband Nick - Mandy Patinkin - is a used book dealer. The couple are renovating their new apartment and uncover some of Maxie's past and also learn that her spirit still lives in the home. Ruth Gordon plays the landlady who was also a very close friend of Maxie's. This was one of the last appearances that Gordon made. She died a few weeks before the film was released.
Throughout her later years, Gordon also worked on the small screen in numerous TV plays and did several guest appearances on series such as "Kojak", "Medical Story", "Love Boat", "Newhart" and "Taxi". One of her more notable TV roles was as Carlton's mother on "Rhoda" for which she earned an Emmy nomination. She also costarred with Peter Falk in his "Columbo" series as the murderess mystery author, Abigail Mitchell in "Try And Catch Me" (1977). In 1975, she became the oldest person to host "Saturday Night Live".
Ruth Gordon died from a stroke 24 years ago today on August 28, 1985 in Edgartown, Massachusetts.
Ruth Gordon quotes:
"The great have no friends. They merely know a lot of people."
"Why should ruts be so comfortable and so unpopular?"
"The kiss. There are all sorts of kisses, lad, from the sticky confection to the kiss of death. Of them all, the kiss of an actress is the most unnerving. How can we tell if she means it or if she's just practicing?"
"The best impromptu speeches are the ones written well in advance."
"Never give up; and never, under any circumstances, no matter what - never face the facts."
"If you believe, then you hang on. If you believe, it means you've got imagination, you don't need stuff thrown out on a blueprint, and don't face facts-what can stop you? If I don't make it today, I'll come in tomorrow."
"All I wanted out of a career was to look like Hazel Dawn and wear pink feathers."
(On winning the Oscar at age 72, after fifty years in show business.) "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is, for a young actress like myself."
"In our family we don't divorce our men - we bury them."