Ann Rutherford, the Gone With the Wind actress who starred as Mickey Rooney’s ever-faithful girlfriend Polly Benedict in the popular Andy Hardy movies of the 1930s and ’40s and is still seen around the holidays as the sweet Spirit of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol, has died. She was 94.
Rutherford died Monday evening at her home in Beverly Hills, her close friend and fellow actress Anne Jeffreys told the Los Angeles Times. Rutherford had been in declining health with heart problems.
In 1947, Rutherford starred opposite Danny Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, based on the short story by James Thurber, and the following year, she co-starred in Adventures of Don Juan, starring Errol Flynn. During her career, she appeared in more than 60 movies, many of them while under contract to MGM in the 1930s and early ’40s.
Most recently, she was approached to do the role of Rose in 1997’s Titanic but declined the part, which brought Gloria Stuart the Academy Award for best supporting actress.
As a teen, Rutherford had a role in Gone With the Wind, playing Scarlett O’Hara’s (Vivien Leigh) younger sister Carreen. She was one of the last surviving actors from the 1939 MGM classic.
Rutherford was born Mary Cecilia Ramone on Nov. 2, 1917, in Vancouver, the daughter of opera star John Rutherford and an actress. When she was a child, her family moved to San Francisco and then Los Angeles, and she got her first stage part in 1925. She thrived as a child stage actress and did radio as a youth.
In 1935, Rutherford appeared in Waterfront Lady, Melody Trail with Gene Autry (she claimed she was the last actress to kiss The Singing Cowboy on film) and The Fighting Marines. A year later, she starred with John Wayne in The Lonely Trail.
At age 17, Rutherford signed a contract with MGM and went on to star alongside Rooney in 13 Andy Hardy films, including Out West With the Hardys (1938), Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Judge Hardy’s Children (1938) and Andy Hardy’s Double Life (1942), after which she did not renew her contract with MGM. She also teamed with Rooney in You’re Only Young Once (1937).
In addition to 1938’s A Christmas Carol, Rutherford’s other prominent credits include Of Human Hearts (1938), Pride and Prejudice (1940), Orchestra Wives (1942), Bedside Manner (1945), Murder in the Music Hall (1946) and They Only Kill Their Masters (1972). She starred opposite Red Skelton in three films, including 1943’s Whistling in Brooklyn. Her last performance came in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976).
When Rutherford was cast in Gone with the Wind, she nearly wasn't able to accept the part. She was under contract with MGM, and studio head Louis B. Mayer wanted to turn the role down on her behalf, calling it “a nothing part." In a 2010 interview, Rutherford revealed he allowed her to accept when the actress, a fan of the book, burst into tears.
In 1989, Rutherford and nine other surviving Gone With the Wind cast members assembled in Atlanta to celebrate the film’s 50thanniversary. She used the occasion to remark on the film's legacy.
"Anyone who had read the book sensed they were into something that would belong to the ages, and everyone was in a frenzy to read the book," she said.
Rutherford made infrequent guest-star appearances on TV for such shows as Perry Mason, Love, American Style, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Bob Newhart Show (as the mother of Suzanne Pleshette’s character) and, in the early days of live TV, Kraft Television Theatre.
She married Donald May II, the grandson of the founder of the May Co. department store chain, in 1942, but the couple divorced in 1953. Rutherford that year wed producer William Dozier, who had been married to Joan Fontaine, the sister of the last-remaining star from Gone With the Wind, Olivia de Havilland. Dozier, the producer of the Batman TV series, died in 1991.
Her older sister was actress Judith Arlen, who died in 1968 at age 54.
Survivors include her daughter Gloria and two grandsons.