It’s not that I expected Hollywood to screech to a halt following the death of Ann Rutherford yesterday, but I’m sort of bummed that the news of her passing is barely getting a blip. If it weren’t for the fact that she played Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister Careen in “Gone With the Wind,” it might have been ignored completely.
Anyone who read this blog in its early days knows about my obsession with the Andy Hardy movies—the original title of this space was “Andy Hardy Writes a Blog.” The 17 movies of that MGM series starred Mickey Rooney as the irascible Andy Hardy, living in idyllic Carvel (aka MGM’s Culver City backlot) with his beloved parents (Lewis Stone and Fay Holden), his maiden (cough) Aunt Millie (Sara Haden), and his trouble-making older sister Marian (Cecilia Parker). Down the street, in a mansion that appeared in countless other MGM films before it was unceremoniously torn down in the 1970s to make way for a hideous condo development, was Andy’s longtime girlfriend, Polly Benedict, played by beautiful Ann Rutherford. Since the Hardy films were a training ground for MGM’s incoming roster of young talent, you’d often find Andy cavorting with other teenaged beauties including Esther Williams, Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, Donna Reed, Bonita Granville, and, of course, young Judy Garland who appeared in several of the films as Betsy Booth, a talented but naïve girl who had a serious crush on Mr. Hardy. But no matter how far he strayed, Andy always returned to Polly’s stern but ultimately forgiving arms by the end of the picture.
It’s hard to go into a room in our house without seeing Ann Rutherford staring you in the face. Back in my collecting days, I managed to get my hands on a bunch of gorgeous Andy Hardy movie posters from the 30s and 40s and had them restored and framed. When Leah was a toddler, she would frequently refer to “Andy’s girlfriend” and now Charlie does the same. Both went through a period where they thought I WAS Andy Hardy. Mickey Rooney is still with us, of course, as cantankerous as ever. I’ve seen him many times, the most recent being when I covered the red carpet at the opening night of the TCM Film Festival in February. He looked pretty frail. When I interviewed Robert Osborne during the festival, I asked him about Ann Rutherford. He reminded me that she had attended the year before but said that recently she'd taken ill.
Kendall and I ran into Rutherford at many events including a Friars benefit for June Allyson many years ago. We talked to her for quite a while and when I told her about what she and the Andy Hardy movies meant to me, she actually wiped a tear from her eye. She was very sweet and very active until recently. We’d see her at so many screenings that celebrated the history of movies and she was often on hand at “Gone With the Wind” events.
Other notable Ann Rutherford roles include the Ghost of Christmas Past in the Reginald Owen version of “A Christmas Carol,” Lydia Bennet in the 1940 version of “Pride and Prejudice,” a series of movies with Red Skelton, and opposite Danny Kaye in “The Secret Life of Water Mitty.” She played Suzanne Pleshette’s mother on “The Bob Newhart Show” and guest-starred on a bunch of series in the 1970s.
I know, I know, there’s nothing new in any of this and I know most people won’t be that interested, but there’s no way I wasn’t going to pay tribute to Ann Rutherford on this blog. From what I could see, she seemed to have a great life after her heyday in Hollywood and was philosophical about her role in the movies. “It’s titillating to do an occasional film,” she said in her later years, “but really, I don’t need it. Oh, I suppose, if you were a Helen Hayes, it might mean something if you left the business. You’d be depriving the world of something. I’m depriving the world of nothing.”
I beg to differ, Ann. Farewell, Polly, my first true love!