A tribute to Diana Sands “Please look at me!…”

“I refuse to be stereotyped. Look at me. Never mind my color. Please look at me!”

WHY ISN’T THERE A BIOPIC OF DIANA SANDS’ LIFE?

I can’t help being drawn to Diana Sands’ startling equilibrium, her fire. Her complex and multi-layered performances. I see her as a Black Woman. I see her as a woman. I see her as ubiquitous. Diana Sands refused to be typecast in roles that were confining and dishonest. I can imagine that she forged an inroad that would later influence incredible dramatic Black actresses like Alfre Woodard or Angela Bassett, women who exude that similar fire and vibrancy from the depths of their souls.

I think of Diana Sands and I think of an inner strength that burns it’s way to the surface until it’s so bright you feel it pierce your skin. There is an essence of a powerfully self-possessed woman who broke ground with her captivating performances in the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. I don’t like the phrase “color blind” it evokes an irresponsibility not to see inequality. But that is not what Diana Sands is saying in her quote. That’s not what she is asking of us.

So I am using her own words but want to be clear about how I feel in this post honoring one of the great actresses of all time during Black History Month. We need to recognize each other. It’s essential not to try and erase any aspect of who we are and we need to be conscious of those differences in a positive way, while we embrace what we all have in common and can relate to universally.

Diana Sands had to fend off the offensive scrutiny, the “mysogynoir‘ of being referred to by some 70s critics -one whose name I refuse to even give a moment’s attention here except to pluck out two terms from the ignorant context of his entire, misguided and disrespectful review. Who referred to her role as “cute” in terms of her being a Black woman trying to find herself and “afrocentric” in her performance as Beneatha Younger (A Raisin in the Sun). What she was, was a dynamic, courageous  woman who aspired to become a doctor. That isn’t cute. That is the story of real passion and possibility and a god-given right.

Diana Sands as Beneatha Younger, seen here with Claudia McNeil, Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier and Ivan Dixon.

As a white woman writing this post I want to just say one more thing. We need to see our own privilege and not be afraid to acknowledge that racism exists. I hope I am a good ally and when I pay tribute to a person of color, that I remain mindful to honor them fully and respectfully. I do see Diana Sands color. I see it as a strength and a dignity in all her pioneering roles. I see her emerge from a sea of white faces. She will not be marginalized, stereotyped and shut out of the conversation.

I began to follow Diana Sands’ career years ago, compelled by her dramatic, electrifying presence in film and in television. Growing up in New York, I wish my theatre mother would have taken me to see her on stage. She is remembered for her striking performance as Beneatha Younger in Lorraine Hansberrys play A Raisin in the Sun about the struggles of a poor black family from the side south of Chicago who have to decide about the direction their lives will take- “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”

What happens to a dream deferred? by Langston Hughes
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

The title A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by Langston Hughes’ powerful poem. The inspirational masterpiece that is A Raisin in the Sun is made all the more remarkable by the performances of the ensemble cast and standing out for me, though Poitier always grabs me by the guts and strums my heart strings, is his progressive sister Beneatha brought to life by Diana Sands with instinctual contemplation that was her acting style.

She was marvelous as sassy Fanny Johnson, married to a Black activist Copee (Louis Gossett Jr.) in Hal Ashby’s (Harold and Maude 1971, The Last Detail 1973, Being There 1979) The Landlord 1970. The story of Elgar Enders a young wealthy white New Yorker (Beau Bridges) who buys a tenement building in a low-income neighborhood afflicted by white-flight and going through gentrification. Elgar Intends to evict the black residents so he can turn it into a luxury apartment building and live there all by himself. The cast is rich with superb performances by Pearl Baily, Mel Stewart, Lee Grant, Louis Gossett Jr, and Marki Bey as Lanie.  In Ashby’s thought provoking method, it’s an interesting meditation on race during the close of the 1960s.

Diana appeared in innovative television dramas, such as the innovative socially conscious series East Side/West Side 1963-1964 that dealt realistically with social problems. The gritty series starred Cicely Tyson, George C. Scott, and Elizabeth Wilson as social workers in 1960s New York City. Sands appeared on several episodes of the 1960s series The Doctors and the Nurses which I am desperately waiting for it to somehow be released on disc. The groundbreaking series surrounded the lives of nurses who in their daily lives confront socially relevant issues. Diana Sands even graced one of my favorite television series The Outer Limits in 1964 as Dr. Julie Harrison in the episode “The Mice”. She also played Dr. Marylou Neeley who went head to head with Chad Everett (who always wore clogs and his scrubs 2 sized too small, but who would mind!) in Medical Center’s episode “The Nowhere Child”. She appeared as Nurse Helen Straughn having an affair with Richard Crenna in George Schaefer’s pulpy Doctors’ Wives 1971, and as Cora in Willie Dynamite 1974 the title played by Roscoe Orman, a nasty piece of work who has a license plate that says Willie on the front and Dynamite on the back! As Cora, Diana Sands played a prostitute turned social worker who helps other prostitutes get out of jail and find a better life, while also trying to battle the badass pimp Willie who is smacking women around.

I am trying to track down a copy of An Affair of the Skin 1963 co-starring Viveca Lindfors and Lee Grant, LOVE them both, and Georgia, Georgia 1972 written by Maya Angelou. If anyone has a lead on where I can purchase either film please drop me a note here at The Last Drive In.

Diana Sands Broke Barriers In Theater and On The Big Screen

Stacia L. Brown’s thoughtful tribute published on August 23, 2012 on Diana Sands birthday in her piece Diana Sands: What Was and What Could’ve Been

“If you’re familiar with Sands’ work at all, it’s probably owing to her memorable portrayal of Beneatha, the Younger family’s willful, progressive aspiring doctor, in the 1961 film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’’s A Raisin in the Sun. But by then, she had already established herself as a living walking testament to the power of risk-taking. Sands grew up in the Bronx with working class parents, her father a carpenter, her mother hatmaker. After high school graduation, she toured with a carnival before returning to New York and joining Greenwich Mews, a multicultural theatre repertory. She worked night jobs to survive, before scoring her first theatre roles (one of the earliest was the stage production of A Raisin in the Sun). By 1964, her star was rapidly rising. She won an Obie for the play, Living Premise, and a Tony nomination for her role in James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie.

This was also the year that Sands became a pioneer in colorblind casting as one of the first ever actresses to earn a role intended for a white actress, without any line rewriting to explain or accommodate her race. She played opposite Alan Alda as his love interest as a would-be actress to his would-be writer. When the film was adapted for screen, Barbra Streisand was cast in her role, but by that time, she’d already garnered a great deal of positive press and audience notice. Television came a-courtin’ and she eventually earned two Emmy nominations. Sands acted through the sixties in various theatre and TV roles. In 1970, she scored her first costarring film role in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord. But the early ’70s would mark the end of a steady and promising rise toward superstardom.”

Diana Sands was born in New York City, the Bronx to be exact, on August 22, 1934. She was a student at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts and a member of the Actor’s Studio. Nominated twice for a Tony Award and twice for an Emmy. She took risks and challenged racial barriers taking on roles that traditionally would have been performed by white actresses. She also fought against a system that marginalized black actors and their roles, becoming a driving force that saw an integration of the cast members.

In 1953 Diana made her debut in the off-Broadway play “An Evening with Will Shakespeare” She went on to appear in George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara” in 1954, also performing in the theatrical production of “The World of Sholem Aleichem.”

Her striking work is notable as she is the first Black actress to be cast in a major Broadway play. Cast in “Land Beyond the River” in 1957 and then appearing in “The Egg and I” in 1958.

It was in 1959 that Diana Sands made her memorable debut as the astonishingly nuanced Beneatha Younger in Raisin in the Sun, in which she won the Outer Circle Critics’ Award, eventually manifesting that magnetic performance in director Daniel Petrie’s (Resurrection 1980) film adaptation co-starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil and Ivan Dixon.

And I want to give a shout out to the incredible contribution by fine actress Claudia McNeil (Bernice Sadie Brown in Member of the Wedding 1958 for The Dupont Show of the Month, Mrs. Quincy in The Last Angry man 1959, Mrs. Hill in television series The Doctors and The Nurses 1963, Madam in There Was a Crooked Man 1970, Odessa Carter in Incident in San Francisco 1971 tv movie, Granny Marshall in Tv’s Mod Squad 1972, Sara in Moon of the Wolf 1972 tv movie, Mu’ Dear in Black Girl 1972, To Be Young, Gifted and Black 1972 tv movie, Ethel Hanson in Cry Panic 1974 tv movie, Big Ma in Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry 1978, Sister Will Ada Barnett in Roots: The Next Generation 1979) as the matriarch, Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun. An extraordinary actress herself who deserves the spotlight too. Partly what worked for Hansberry’s story is the chemistry and confluence of the entire cast.

Diana Sands returned to the stage in 1962 appearing in “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright.”

In 1964 she took on two outstanding roles onstage as Juanita in James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mr. Charlie” she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a play. She co-starred with Alan Alda as Doris W. in the The Owl and the Pussycat, originally offered to Kim Stanley another actress I find mesmerizing to watch, when Stanley was unavailable, with the script intentionally not re-written for a Black woman went to Diana Sands and once again she nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

In 1968, she was back on stage at the Vivien Beaumont Theater as the first Black woman to play Saint Joan of Arc in George Bernard Shaw’s play “St. Joan.”

In the beginning of the 1970s Diana Sands among other notable Black actors such as Ossie Davis and Brock Peters, who wanted to feature more positive roles for African-Americans in films, and so they founded Third World Cinema. One of their first productions was the film Georgia, Georgia written by Maya Angelou. Diana Sands plays Georgia Martin a Black woman artist struggling to find herself.

From a New York Times article printed in Feb 1971, A.H. Weiler writes that Third World Cinema Corporation founder and President actor/director Ossie Davis planned on filming The Billie Holiday Story which would have starred Diana Sands. How incredible would that have been.

In hopes of creating an independent film corporation, Sands and her colleagues hoped to ensure that there would be better opportunities for positive portrayals of African-American and People of Color, that would ensure films that presented Black actors with outstanding roles that were versatile and representational rather than stereotypes and limiting. “A group of black and Puerto Rican actors, writers and directors, backed by union leaders and public officials, have joined to form the minority‐controlled Third World Cinema Corporation, an independent company that plans to produce feature films and train minority group members in the film and television fields.”

Above image from the movie, Georgia, Georgia 1972.

In 1974 Diana Sands was ready to take on the role of Claudine, tragically suffering at this point with pancreatic cancer she was too ill by this time, and the part went to friend Diahann Carroll.

Theatre Roles:

As Beaneatha Younger in 1959 A Raisin in the Sun, as Adelaide Smith in Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright 1962 (Theatre World Award), The Living Premise 1963 (Obie Award Distinguished Performance), Doris W. The Owl and the Pussycat 1964, Juanita in Blues for Mr. Charlie 1964, The Premise 1965, as Ruth in We Bombed in New Haven 1968, as Cassandra in Tiger at the Gates 1968, as Joan in Saint Joan 1968, The Gingham Dog 1969.

Television Roles:

As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits “The Mice” 1964, in East Side/West Side 1963-1964 as Jane Foster “It’s War, Man and Ruth Goodwin in “Who Do You Kill?” As Sara Harris in Breaking Point 1964. As nurse Ollie Sutton three episodes of The Doctors and The Nurses 1962-1964 and Andrea Jagger in the episode “Night Shift”. In four episodes as Irene Rush along side James Earl Jones (whose wife she played in East Side/West Side episode Who Do You Kill?) In Dr. Kildare 1964, as Dr. Rachel Albert in I Spy 1966 “Turkish Delight”, as Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat” as as Mrs. May Bishop in Bracken’s World 1970 “Will Freddie’s Real Father Please Stand Up” as Cousin Sara in 5 episodes of Julia 1970-1971, as Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”

As Nurse Ollie Sutton from the episode “Imperfect Prodigy” – The Doctors and The Nurses 1964 television series

As Ruth Goodwin in the episode “Who Do You Kill?” from the television series East Side/West Side 1963

As Davala Unawa in The Fugitive 1967 “Dossier on a Diplomat

As Dr. Julie Harrison in The Outer Limits episode “The Mice” 1964

As Dr. Marylou Neeley in Medical Center 1971 “The Nowhere Child.”

As Fanny in Hal Ashby’s The Landlord 1970

As Helen in Doctors’ Wives 1971

As Cora Williams in Willie Dynamite 1974

Film Roles:

Appearing in two extraordinary films, Diana Sands still stood out…

Uncredited as a homeless woman in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd 1957, uncredited as a club hostess in Odds Against Tomorrow 1959, as Beneatha Younger in A Raisin in the Sun 1961, as Janice in An Affair of the Skin 1963, as Mila in Ensign Pulver 1964, as Fanny in The Landlord 1970, Helen Straughn in Doctors’ Wives 1971, as Georgia Martin in Georgia, Georgia 1972, as Nancy Newman in The Living End (tv movie) 1972, as Cora Williams who co-stars with Thalmus Rasulala (Dr. Gordon Thomas in Blacula 1972) in Willie Dynamite 1974 and as Laura Lewis in Honeybaby, Honeybaby 1974.

Thank you Diana Sands… You touch me with your powerful presence and I am deeply saddened that you left us at age 39, so young, too soon, and I wonder what might have been.

Your EverLovin’ Joey

 

 

All *kinds* of observable differences: The world of Ruth Gordon

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It’s that wonderful time of the year when we all get to celebrate those unsung actors with loads of character, thanks to Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Paula’s Cinema & Club & Outspoken and Freckled who are hosting the Fifth Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2016… This will be my fourth time contributing to this fantastic event, having covered Jeanette Nolan, Burgess Meredith and last year’s Agnes Moorehead. As many of you know, it’s often the actors on the periphery of some of our most favorite films that fill out the landscape with their extraordinary presence, a presence that becomes not only essential to the story, but at times become as memorable perhaps even larger than life when compared with the central stars themselves. I’m thrilled to be joining in the fun once again and am sure that it’s going to be just as memorable this year as ever before!

Actress Ruth Gordon (Photo by © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Ruth Gordon (Photo by © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

The ASTONISHING… RUTH GORDON!

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“The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.”-Ruth Gordon as Maude

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Maude:A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. *Reach* out. Take a *chance*. Get *hurt* even. But play as well as you can.”

I’ve been waiting to write about my love of Ruth Gordon for quite some time, and felt that this would be the best way to get off the pot and just start singing those praises for this remarkable lady of theatre, film and television. Ruth Gordon in so many ways channeled her true personality through the character of Maude, in life –she too always projected a spirit that played as well as she could…

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“Choose a color, you’re on your own, don’t be helpless.” –Ruth Gordon -An Open Book

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There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star. With her quirky wisdom and sassy vivacity that plucks at your hearth, Ruth Gordon stands out in a meadow of daisies she is emblazoned as bright and bold as the only sunflower in the field. No one, just no one has ever been nor will ever be like this incredible personality.

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For a woman who is impish in stature she emanates a tremendous presence, a smile like the Mona Lisa, sporting a unique and stylish way she expresses herself with a poetic & fable-like language. Ruth Gordon is a character who dances to a different rhythm — how she sees herself and how she performs *life* is uniquely mesmerizing as it is burgeoning with all the colors of the universe.

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Ruth Gordon is a dramaturgical pixie, with a curious hitch in her git along… an impish dame who rouses and fortifies each role she inhabits with a playful, mischievous and almost esoteric brand of articulation.

In a field of different daisies Ruth Gordon is that sunflower that Maude soliloquies poetically to Harold —

Maude-“I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They’re so tall and simple. What flower would you like to be?”

Harold-“I don’t know. One of these, maybe.”

Maude-“Why do you say that?”

Harold-“Because they’re all alike.”

Maude-“Ooooh, but they’re *not*. Look. See, some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have lost some petals. All *kinds* of observable differences. You see, Harold, I feel that much of the world’s sorrow come from people who are *this”, (pointing to a daisy) yet allow themselves to be treated as *that*.” (she gestures to a field of daisies)

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From the Arlene Francis 1983 interview with Ruth Gordon– actress, screenwriter and playwright…

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Ruth Gordon 1975 photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Ruth Gordon never wanted to be told how to write nor be instructed on how to act… from her autobiography An Open Book- “I don’t like to be told how to act either. When I’m left alone thoughts come… ‘Don’t try to think’ said our New England philosopher, Emerson, leave yourself open to thought. If you find out stuff for yourself, you get to know what you believe; what you like, how to live, how to have a good time. It’s important to have a good time.”

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from Hugh Downs Interview

“ I did grow up to have character. And I’m always doing some damn thing that uh I don’t wanna do but I know it’s right to do. And I finally thought of something in my next book and I’m gonna have it in there and it’s a very important thing to remember. Just because a thing is hard to do doesn’t make it any good. You tackle something and you work at it and slave at it and say now I’m gonna do this I’m gonna do it and when you’ve done it better think it over and see if it was worth it… some easy things like falling off a log and stuff  those easy things probably just as good but a New Englander has to do it the hard way. “

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Arlene Francis “You once said ‘never face facts’ how can you avoid it?”
Ruth Gordon-“Oh my god look, we’re not facing facts now surely cause I might dry up and not have a thing to say in the world and then where would you be, you know… […] it would be stupid there are enough hazards in the world, I’m 85 now and I’m at my very best peak of my looks which might be an interesting thing to anybody because you figure, 18 why wouldn’t I be better looking than now?… “Don’t lets anyone tell their symptoms, it would be the most boring thing, even though everybody has so many… so the ‘don’t face your facts’ is if you face what’s the matter with you, you know we’d open a window and say goodbye everybody like tinker bell and take off and hope you could fly (she laughs) Don’t face the facts you know, I was 18 years old I was going on the stage didn’t know anybody in New York and I didn’t know anybody on the stage, and I wasn’t beautiful and I wasn’t tall which everybody was in those days, and uh I didn’t have any money and how was I gonna do this, so if I didn’t ‘not face those facts’ I’d say too bad she wanted to be an actress…”

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Ruth Gordon, who always dreamed of becoming a ‘film’ star, beside an astonishing stage presence talks about winning awards for her work–“ The main award that I really value is the award I give myself and people say Oh you don’t know when you’re good you know, the audience knows, people know but you don’t know Well that’s stupid I know when I’m good for myself You might not like it, they might not like it, the public might not like it, but I know that wonderful performance that doesn’t happen too often, when anticipation and realization come together because that night when it’s all perfect and is great and you know … that you’ve just taken off… that’s my award…” 

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Ruth Gordon is bold and vibrant and an actress who never shied away from taking the quirkiest and eccentric roles. From irreverent Ma in Every Which Way But Loose (1978)  the poignant Becky Rosen in Boardwalk (1979) to the perspicacious Maude in Harold and Maude (1971) George Segal’s tushy biting batty mother-Mrs. Hocheiser in Where’s Poppa? (1970) and of course the queen of campy kitschy New York City’s enigmatic coven hostess with the mostest– Minnie Castavet in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

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Once Ruth Gordon personified the unforgettable Minnie Castavet in “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1968 she manifesting a lasting and unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could infuse with that unforgettable energy.

Minnie is perhaps one of the most vividly colorful film characters with her sly and farcical mispronunciations and a wardrobe that is distinctly tacky. Part cosmopolitan part menacing, no one could have performed Minnie Castavet quite like Ruth Gordon, that next door meddling neighbor who befriends an American housewife, who is secretly waiting to become the godmother to the devil’s unborn son.

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Gordon appears as if she was cut from a mold that makes her seem like a rebel to the inner workings of Hollywood. And as extremely unconventional as she can be, there is always a depth and authenticity to the wackiest of characters she’s portraying. From the lyrically loving and life devouring Maude in Hal Ashby’s different style of love story.

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“ Well it’s a very good movie, I was absolutely wonderful Collin Higgins wrote a great movie Bud Cort was sensational, Hal Ashby became one of the top directors so how do you account for that, well it just happened. But, you see, some guy in Cambridge Mass. he wrote from the YMCA he wrote me a letter and he said, ‘I’ve seen Harold and Maude’ I don’t know how many times he’d seen it, and he said I’m at a loss to know why it means so much to me and I think about it , I think about it a lot and I finally came to the conclusion that it’s because to get through life you have to have somebody to tell it to’ that’s a very profound remark. I’ve had lovers I’ve have friends I’ve had family and I didn’t exactly tell it to them but Garson Kanin I tell it to him whether it’s bad whether I’m a failure whether I’m going grey. Somebody to tell it to. And it’s a very very necessary part of life. And in Harold & Maude Harold who was a kind of helpless geek with looks riches money everything he had … except knowing how to live. And Maude who didn’t have anything except she knew how to live. And Harold could tell it to her. he could tell it to her. She didn’t always have the answer. But he could pour it out. And so it was wonderful really, just pour it out, I said once even if I’m wrong agree with me because you know to Gar, have somebody you know would stand up for you.”

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Ruth and husband Garson Kanin… super writing team!

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Bud Cort remained very close friends with Ruth Gordon. Here he is talking about her tremendous influence on This is Your Life television show honoring the extraordinary actress/writer.

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Ruth Gordon and Hal Ashby on the set of Harold and Maude 1971

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from the Dick Cavett interview from September 19, 1969 expressing how if you had never seen Ruth Gordon on the stage “You would lament that facta lady who is one of the incomparable ladies of American Theatre. There have been cults about Ruth Gordon for years and years and years. When great performances on Broadway are discussed, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie or Mildred Dunnock in Death of a Salesman, or Vivien Leigh or any of the classics are referred to Olivier in Oedipus, Ruth Gordon in *The Matchmaker* is always brought up as one of the masterpieces of all time. And she has been a wondrous presence in the theatre for over 50 years. Splendid comedian and a splendid comic writer.”

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Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts. “growing up with the brown taste of poverty in her mouth.” As a child she wrote fan letters to her favorite film stars and received a personal reply from Hazel Dawn. So struck with stage actress Hazel Dawn after seeing her  perform in “The Pink Lady” in Boston, Ruth Gordon decided to go into acting. After high school she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, and was an extra in silent films made in Fort Lee, New Jersey making $5 in 1915. She made her Broadway debut in 1915 as one of the Lost Boys later that year in Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up as Nibs. She garnered a favorable review by Alexander Woolcott, who at the time was an extremely influential theater critic eventually the two became close friends and he her mentor. Gordon was typecast in “beautiful but dumb” roles in the early 20s.

Ruth Gordon began to hone her craft and push the range of her acting ability which she revealed in Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, the restoration comedy The Country Wife in which she appeared at the influential theater–London’s Old Vic. She eventually found her way to Broadway, and landed a role in Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House during the 1930s.

Severely bow-legged, in 1920 she spent time in a hospital in Chicago where she had her legs broken and straightened.

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Ruth Gordon as Edward G. Robinson’s wife in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Erhlich’s Magic Bullet 1940
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Ruth Gordon with the great Greta Garbo in director George Cukor’s Two-Faced Woman 1941.
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She was married to actor Gregory Kelly from 1921-1927 when he died of heart disease. In 1929, she had a child (Jones Harris) with Broadway producer Jed Harris. She stared in plays in New York City and London, not doing another film until she played Mary Todd in director John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois 1940, co-starred with Edward G. Robinson in director William Dieterle’s Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet 1940 and appeared as Miss Ellis in director George Cukor’s film starring  Greta Garbo film Two-Faced Woman 1941 and co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in Action in the North Atlantic 1942.
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Ruth Gordon plays Ann Sheridan’s mother in director Lewis Milestone’s story of a small fishing village in Norway and the resistance to the Nazi occupation, Gordon plays Anna Stensgard the unassuming wife and neurotic mother who lives too much in the past in Edge of Darkness 1943.
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In 1942, active on Broadway again, she married writer Garson Kanin and started writing plays. Together with her husband she wrote screenplays for Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy like A Double Life 1947, Adam’s Rib 1949, and Pat and Mike 1952. She also wrote an autobiographical play “Years Ago”, that then became a film directed by the great George Cukor starring Jean Simmons, Spencer Tracy and Teresa Wright in The Actress 1953 about her life growing up and getting into the theatre.
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Ruth Gordon and her husband were included in a round up of theatre actors questioned by the House on Un-American Activities in 1947 and flown to Washington for questioning. Nothing came of the investigation.
In the 1960s she returned to Hollywood with roles in films and television adaptations–
The television movie version of Noel Coward’s 1941 play Blithe SpiritRuth Gordon manifests the spiritual medium Madame Arcati in the 1966 tv version.
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Ruth Gordon as Stella Barnard co-starring with Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld in Lord Love a Duck 1966.
Playing Mrs. Stella Barnard in Lord Love a Duck 1966 The film stars Tuesday Weld as the innocent attention seeking teenager from a broken home who aspires to become loved by everyone, wears 12 colorful cashmere sweaters given to her by friend and mastermind Roddy McDowall (who was 36 at the time playing a teen!) Director George Axelrod’s biting satire that pokes fun at teen beach movies of the 1960s, elitism and the adults that satellite around their machinations …

Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “You lied to me, Miss Greene. You permitted me to believe your father was dead.”

Barbara Ann: (Tuesday Weld) “Well, they’re divorced.”

Stella Bernard: (Ruth Gordon) “In our family we don’t divorce our men; we *bury* ’em!”

Where’s Poppa? 1970 In director Carl Reiner’s black comedy- Ruth Gordon lets it rip as the irreverent Mama Hocheiser who’s senile antics are driving New York attorney Gordon Hocheiser (George Segal) to the brink. When he finally meets the loving and naive nurse Louise Callan (Trish Van Devere) , worried his mother’s idiosyncrasies will ruin his budding romance, he grasps at any means to finally get rid of her! Ron Leibman is hilarious as brother Sidney!
 
Inside Daisy Clover 1965, for which Ruth Gordon returning to the screen after almost 20 years -was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe as Supporting Actress… One of my favorite directors Robert Mulligan creates a portrait of a tomboy (Natalie Wood) who dreams of being a singer, lives in a trailer and runs a beach side concession stand where she forges the autographs of Hollywood stars — suddenly discovered Daisy rises to stardom herself, falls in love with Robert Redford, only to turn her back on the viciousness of the business.
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Ruth Gordon plays her quirky card playing mother whom she calls ‘Old Chap’ who lives in her own world. Daisy loves her dearly, but the studio heads force her to hide Old Chap/Mrs. Clover in an old age home and tell the public she’s dead in order to project her star image without an eccentric & batty mother in her life. Ruth Gordon once again plays batty to the poignant level of art form.
Inside Daisy Clover co-stars Christopher Plummer, Robert Redford and Roddy McDowall, with a wonderful soundtrack “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” by André Previn and Dory Previn.
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Police (Harold Gould)-“You waited seven years to report your husband missing?” Mrs. Clover-‘The Dealer’ “I just started missin’ him this morning.”
Natalie Wood grew so fond of Ruth Gordon after working on the film Inside Daisy Clover that she made her the godmother to her daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner
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Gordon plays Alice Dimmock involved in a dangerous battle of wits with the menacing Clare Marrable who buries her victims in her lovely rose garden–Geraldine Page hires companions who have a nice savings built up and no relatives to come around looking for them in What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969.
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WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? 1969 directed by Lee H. Katrin Produced by Robert Aldrich Music by Gerald Fried.
In this taut Grande Dame Guignol horror thriller Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice 1969 Ruth Gordon portrays Alice Dimmock who sets out to uncover the truth behind her companion’s (Mildred Dunnock) disappearance after she takes a job with the austere and cunning Clare Marrable, a prolific serial killer who sows the seeds of her rose garden with her victims.
Director Lee H. Katzin and Bernard Girard’s psychological thriller that positions two powerful actresses in a taut game of cat and mouse…
Geraldine Pages plays the ghastly & audacious serial killer Claire Marrable, whose husband left her penniless. In order to keep living a life of luxury and comfort she begins offing her paid companions who have stashed doe and no family to come looking for them. When Edna Tinsley played by Mildred Dunnock goes missing and becomes part of Mrs Marrable’s wondrous garden of roses, Ruth Gordon pretends to be Page’s companion in order to get to the truth about her missing friend.
Ruth Gordon was amazed at the showing of What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? She figured that by playing the part of a woman in peril at the mercy of the ruthless and calculating psychopath, performed perfectly by Geraldine Page, at the final moment of confrontation her split decision to for self preservation and become a murderer herself or be true to her inherent goodness allowing herself to be a victim. Ruth Gordon believed that it was this defining moment the goodness that ruled Alice’s heart and head would be the most powerful moments in the film. Yet, when the audience responded at this critical scene, to her surprise they screamed out “Kill her, kill her!” The audience had wanted Ruth’s character to live so badly…

from director Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971)

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A 79 old woman and a twenty year old lost soul meet at a funeral, and find love and life together in a darkly light comedy. Bud Cort creates an iconic figure of a young privileged young man disillusioned by life, who gets a kick out of antagonizes his priggish mother Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles) with creative faked suicides. Once Harold is exposed to the wisdom and insight that Maude imparts, she manages to open up his heart and teaches him how to reach out and embrace the substance of life’s beauty.

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“You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing… oh my, how the world still *dearly* loves a *cage.* “-the inimitable Maude
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Harold: “Maude” Maude: “Hmm?” Harold: “Do you pray?” Maude: “Pray? No. I communicate.” Harold: “With God?Maude: “With *life*”

Every Which Way But Loose 1978

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Ruth Gordon plays the impertinently, uninhibited Ma to Clint Eastwood as trucker Philo Beddoe & Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) who travel around the West Coast looking for street style prize- fights. Along for the ride are Beverly D’Angelo as Echo, and evasive love interest Sondra Locke as country singer Lynn Halsey-Taylor. There’s a hilarious assorted misfit motorcycle gang members and Philo’s pet Orangutan Clyde who’s always stealling’s Ma’s Oreo cookies!

Ruth Gordon reprised her role as the cantankerous Ma in Any Which Way You Can 1980.
Ma after Clyde has eaten her bag of Oreos-“Ohh! Stop that, ya goddamn baboon. No respect! No privacy! No nothing!”
 
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co-staring with Lee Strasberg in Boardwalk 1979

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Lee Strasberg plays David Rosen and Ruth Gordon portrays wife Becky who own a wonderful little diner, a loving older couple who have lived in their Coney Island jewish neighborhood for 50 years, until a gang moves in and changes the communities quality of life by threatening the local store owners with violence if they don’t pay ‘protection’ money. When David defies them, they burn down the diner and desecrate the synagogue. Janet Leigh also co-stars as Florence Cohen.

Ruth Gordon manifests a marvelously warm and poignant chemistry with master actor/teacher Lee Strasberg.

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She personified the unforgettable role as Minnie Castavet in “Rosemary’s Baby” in 1969. Manifesting an unfading, enigmatic character that only Ruth Gordon could perform.
Ruth Gordon started to get more regular film and television roles. Reprising the role of Minnie Castavet in the made for tv fright-flick Look Whats Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976) and played the devouring Jewish mother Cecilia Weiss in the television movie The Great Houdini 1976. And the television movie The Prince of Central Park 1977.
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Ruth Gordon was cast in the feature film The Big Bus (1976) among a terrific ensemble of actors. She appeared as Arvilla Droll in Scavenger Hunt 1979 and the very touching film about growing up and friendship- My Bodyguard 1980 in -Maxie (1985) Ruth Gordon plays Chris Makepeace’s kindly but rascally grandmother, while he finds a way to school bully Matt Dillon from beating him to a pulp, he finds an outcast that everyone is afraid of to be his bodyguard in Adam Baldwin. The film also co-stars John Houseman.
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Ruth Gordon co-stars with Chris Makepeace in 1980’s My Bodyguard
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Ruth Gordon co-stars with Glenn Close in Maxie 1985
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As the eccentric Marge Savage in the ABC tv Movie of the Week directed by John Badham starring Alan Alda- Isn’t It Shocking (1973) Gordon possessed the seamless ability to oscillate between a delightfully aerated conviviality and acerbic snapdragon capable of delivering the most colorful tongue lashing!
Alda plays a small town sheriff with his quirky secretary/sidekick Blanche (Louise Lasser) who is daunted by a string of mysterious deaths that are plaguing the elderly town folk. Edmund O’Brien plays Justin Oates an odd serial killer who is holding a lifetime grudge against his old friends who humiliated him in high school. Marge was his great love who might have done him wrong! Co-stars Lloyd Nolan, and Will Geer and the county coroner who uncovers the weird details that connect the murders.
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Lynn Redgrave stars with Ruth Gordon in the stage production of George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession.
Ruth Gordon was nominated for Broadway’s 1956 Tony Award as Best Dramatic Actress for playing Dolly Levy in Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.” Ruth Gordon says that Wilder had been a tremendous help and influence to her, having ‘picked him up in front of The Booth Theater’ way back when. She won a Golden Globe award as Best Supporting Actress as Natalie Wood’s mother she calls Old Chap in Inside Daisy Clover, and a much deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in Rosemary’s Baby.
She was nominated for a Golden Globe for playing Maude in Harold and Maude in 1971.
In the 1970s and 1980s she played parts in well-known television shows like Kojak as psychic Miss Eudora Temple in Season 2 “I Want to Report a Dream”, Rhoda, and Taxi (which she won an Emmy for.)
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and in the superb episode of Columbo as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell one of the most sympathetic murderess’ of the series as she avenges the death of her beloved niece with unrelenting Lt. Columbo dauntlessly nipping at her heels. And though Abigail finds Columbo to be a very kind man,  he tells her not to count on that. He must stay true to his calling as a homicide detective though we wish he would just Abigail get away with murder– in “Try and Catch Me.”
Ruth Gordon as mystery writer Abigail Mitchell: I accept all superlatives.

Ruth Gordon also had the distinguished honor of hosting Saturday Night Live in 1977.

Ruth Gordon died of a stroke at 88 in Massachusetts with her husband Garson at her side.
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“She had a great gift for living the moment and it kept her ageless.” 

— Glenn Close

Ruth Gordon had quite a unique way of expressing herself on stage, screen and in person and as Dick Cavett had said about the great actresses’ ability to always project her incomparable persona, what we get!  —  “It’s a lesson in something that only Ruth Gordon can teach.” And as she would say, she had “a lot of zip in her doo dah.” 

I’ll end by saying this about this astonishingly iconic character whose sagacity and spark will never dim, when asked that particularly interesting question, ‘if you had 3 people you could meet in Heaven who would you choose?’ Ruth Gordon, you would be one of them!- With all my love, MonsterGirl