Childhood & Early Life
Ruth Gordon Jones was born on October 30, 1896, in Quincy, Massachusetts, USA, to Clinton Jones and Annie Tapley. When she was an infant, her photograph was used in an advertising campaign for a company called ‘Mellin's Food for Infants & Invalids’ where her father was employed at the time.
While attending high school, Gordon wrote to her favorite actresses requesting them to send their autographed pictures. She received a reply from actress Hazel Dawn whom she had earlier seen in a play titled ‘The Pink Lady.’ Hazel Dawn’s reply inspired her to pursue a career in acting.
After graduating from ‘Quincy High School,’ she convinced her father to enroll her at the ‘American Academy of Dramatic Arts’ (AADA). She made her acting debut in 1915, playing minor roles in films, such as ‘The Whirl of Life,’ ‘Madame Butterfly,’ and ‘Camille.’ In the same year, she also made her Broadway debut in a play titled ‘Peter Pan.’
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She continued making Broadway appearances, playing prominent roles in plays, such as ‘Mrs. Partridge Presents,’ ‘The Fall of Eve,’ ‘The Violet and One, Two, Three,’ ‘The Wiser They Are,’ ‘They Shall Not Die,’ ‘A Doll's House,’ ‘The Country Wife,’ and ‘Ethan Frome.’
After establishing herself as a Broadway actress, Gordon returned to playing film roles. In 1940, she played Mary Todd Lincoln in the John Cromwell-directed biographical film ‘Abe Lincoln in Illinois.’ In the same year, she played Hedwig Ehrlich opposite actor Edward G. Robinson in the William Dieterle-directed biographical film ‘Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet.’
She made her writing debut in 1944 when she wrote a play titled ‘Over 21.’ She also appeared in the play, portraying the role of Paula Wharton. In 1946, she wrote another play titled ‘Years Ago’ which was staged from December 3, 1946 to May 31, 1947. In 1947, she co-wrote the screenplay of a film titled ‘A Double Life.’ Her work earned her an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Original Screenplay.’
In 1949, she co-wrote the screenplay of the romantic comedy film ‘Adam's Rib’ for which she received an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Story and Screenplay.’ Gordon was also nominated for ‘Writers Guild of America Award’ for ‘Best Written American Comedy.’
Gordon made her television debut in 1950 when she reprised her role as Paula Wharton in an episode titled ‘Over 21’ in ‘CBS’ network’s anthology drama series ‘Prudential Family Playhouse.’ In 1952, she received another ‘Academy Award’ nomination for ‘Best Screenplay’ for writing the romantic comedy film ‘Pat and Mike.’ In the same year, she was nominated for ‘Writers Guild of America Award’ for writing the screenplay of a comedy-drama film titled ‘The Marrying Kind.’
From 1955 to 1957, she played Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi in Thornton Wilder’s play ‘The Matchmaker.’ In 1956, she received a ‘Tony Award’ nomination for ‘Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play’ for her performance in ‘The Matchmaker.’
In 1965, she played Lucile Clover in the Robert Mulligan-directed drama film ‘Inside Daisy Clover.’ Gordon received the ‘Golden Globe Award’ for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ and an ‘Academy Award’ nomination for her performance in the film. In 1968, she received ‘Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award,’ ‘Golden Globe Award,’ and an ‘Academy Award’ for her performance in the psychological horror film ‘Rosemary's Baby.’
Gordon was cast to play Maude in the Hal Ashby-directed 1971 romantic black comedy film ‘Harold and Maude.’ Her performance in the film earned her a nomination at the 29th ‘Golden Globe Awards.’ In 1975, she appeared in one of the episodes of an American sitcom titled ‘Rhoda’ for which she received a nomination at the 28th ‘Primetime Emmy Awards.’ The following year, she received another ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ nomination for playing Cecilia Weiss in a biographical television film titled ‘The Great Houdini.’
She made her final Broadway appearance in 1976 when she played Mrs. Kitty Warren in George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Mrs. Warren's Profession.’ In 1979, she played Dee Wilcox in a television series titled ‘Taxi.’ Her performance in the series earned her a ‘Primetime Emmy Award’ for ‘Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.’
Gordon was last seen on television in 1984 when she played Blanche Devane in ‘CBS’ network’s sitcom ‘Newhart.’ The following year, she played Mrs. Lavin in Paul Aaron-directed fantasy film ‘Maxie.’ Her performance in the movie earned her a ‘Saturn Award’ nomination for ‘Best Supporting Actress.’ She played her final film role in the 1987 Burt Kennedy-directed spy spoof comedy film ‘The Trouble with Spies.’ Though the movie was filmed in 1984, it was released in 1987 after Gordon’s death.
Family & Personal Life
Ruth Gordon’s father Clinton Jones worked as a factory foreman and also served as the captain of a ship. Gordon had an older half-sibling named Claire who was born from Jones’ first marriage.
She met actor Gregory Kelly in 1918 while playing Lola Pratt in the Broadway adaptation of a novel titled ‘Seventeen.’ She married Kelly in 1920 and remained married to him until his death in 1927.
While starring in a play titled ‘Serena Blandish’ in 1929, Gordon became pregnant with Jed Harris’ child. On October 16, 1929, she gave birth to her son Jones Harris in Paris. Though they never got married, Gordon and Harris raised their son together.
She married writer Garson Kanin on December 4, 1942. She collaborated with Kanin to produce many of her written works. She remained married to him until her death on August 28, 1985.