Judy Nugent, Young Actress on ‘The Ruggles’ and ‘Adventures of Superman,’ Dies at 83

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Judy Nugent, who portrayed one of the twins on the early TV sitcom The Ruggles and a girl who flies around the world in the arms of the Man of Steel on a heartwarming Adventures of Superman episode, has died. She was 83.

Nugent died Thursday surrounded by family at her Montana ranch after a short battle with cancer, according to a family statement shared by her daughter-in-law and Battlestar Galactica and Chicago Fire actress Anne Lockhart (the older daughter of Lassie and Lost in Space star June Lockhart).

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The younger daughter of a prop man at MGM, Nugent also appeared in two films directed by Douglas Sirk: as a wise-cracking tomboy who tries to get a blinded widow (Jane Wyman) to snap out of it in Magnificent Obsession (1954), and as one of the daughters of Fred MacMurray and Joan Bennett’s characters in There’s Always Tomorrow (1956).

Nugent also played Annette Funicello‘s pal Jet Maypen on the 1958 serial Annette, which aired during third-season episodes of ABC’s The Mickey Mouse Club.

When she was 9, Nugent was hired to portray Donna Ruggles opposite Jimmy Hawkins (It’s a Wonderful Life) as her brother Donald on The Ruggles, which aired live from 1949-52 on ABC as one of the first TV shows to emanate not from New York but from Hollywood.

Nugent, however, is probably best known for her turn as Ann Carson, a blind girl who enters and wins a Daily Planet contest, on the episode “Around the World With Superman,” which aired on March 13, 1954, as the second-season finale (and last black-and-white installment) of the syndicated series.

After an operation restores her sight — Superman (George Reeves) had spotted a piece of glass lodged near her optic nerve! — Ann gets an amazing bird’s eye view of the planet while being whisked around by a superhero.

“That was top secret. I was told never to tell anyone about how George Reeves flew,” she recalled in an undated interview for the website Western Clippings.

“Anyway, they put George on this cement thing and dressed him over it, form-fitting up to his chest. They had a huge fan that made his cape fly out. The special effects people did the ups and downs. There was a ladder underneath — I’d sit on the ladder and he’d hold me up. Even though I was still little, I got awfully heavy.”

Judy Ann Nugent was born in Los Angeles on Aug. 22, 1940. Her father was Carl Nugent, who propped up the Cowardly Lion’s tail in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

“He put my picture and my [older] sister Carol’s picture on the side of his prop box,” she said. “We were seen and offered a part in [1943’s] The Man From Down Under with Charles Laughton.”

Her mother, Lucille, then managed her daughters’ acting careers.

The girls appeared as younger versions of Ginger Rogers’ character in It Had to Be You (1947) before Judy worked on The Big Clock (1948), also starring Laughton, City Across the River (1949) and Angels in the Outfield (1949).

She and her sister worked together again in Here Comes the Groom (1951), starring Wyman and Bing Crosby, then played siblings in Ma and Pa Kettle at Home (1954), directed by Charles Lamont.

When original Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie was dropped from the Lamont-helmed Annette, also starring Tim Considine, Nugent came on as the ranch girl Jet. (Nugent described herself as a tomboy who loved to ride horses, and she did some stunt work later in her career.)

She also handled TV guest shots on The Lone RangerAnnie Oakley (she portrayed another blind girl in a reunion with Hawkins), The Life of RileyLassieThe Danny Thomas ShowSugarfootThe Millionaire77 Sunset StripRawhide and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.

RAWHIDE, from left, Judy Nugent, Clint Eastwood, 'Incident of the Night Horse'
Judy Nugent and Clint Eastwood on a 1960 episode of ‘Rawhide.’

While making Magnificent Obsession at Universal, she and Rock Hudson “were walking around the studio when Cary Grant walks by,” she recalled. “Rock introduced me, and in that great Cary Grant voice, Cary said, ‘Judy, Judy, Judy!’ It was so cool, I’ve never forgotten that. I’m not usually impressed with actors, but that was a standout! Really cute!”

Her film résumé also included Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), the Gene Autry-starring Night Stage to Galveston (1952), Down Laredo Way (1953), Navy Wife (1956), the Jane Powell-starring The Girl Most Likely (1957) and High School Caesar (1960).

After recurring on the 1960-62 NBC series The Tall Man, starring Barry Sullivan and Clu Gulager, Nugent gave up acting to raise a family with her husband, Buck Taylor. She was married to the Gunsmoke actor — and son of noted character actor Dub Taylor — from March 1961 until their 1983 divorce.

“She was mother to a daughter, Tiffany, and three boys, Adam, Matt and Cooper, and grandmother to children of Adam and Anne Lockhart, Carlyle and Zane,” a family statement said. Matt and Cooper have worked as stunt performers and stunt coordinators. Adam died at age 27 in a motorcycle accident in 1994.

Nugent’s sister, Carol, played one of the Gilbreth children in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) and its sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1952). The first of her two marriages was to The Rebel star Nick Adams, who died of a prescription drug overdose in 1968 at age 36.

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