Oscar Actors: Gordon, Ruth–Background, Career, Awards (Cumulative Advantage, Tony)

Research in Progress: October 16, 2021

Ruth Gordon Career Summary

Late Bloomer on Screen

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social class: middle

Formal Education:

Training: American Academy of Dramatic Arts

Inspiration: personal reply from Hazel Dawn (whom she had seen on stage in The Pink Lady) inspired her to go into acting.

Broadway Debut: age 19

Film Debut: 1939 (in her 40s)

Oscar Award: 1 Supp. Actress Oscar, Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; age 72

Oscar Nominations: 1 Supp. Actress, Inside Daisy Glover, 1965; age 69

Other Nominations: Tony Nomination 1956; age 59

Other Nominations: 3 Best Screenplay nominations

Marriages: 2; first was actor George Kelly;  Garson Kanin, writer-director; out of wedlock son Jed Harris


Death: 1985; age 88

Ruth Gordon Jones, film and TV actress, as well as screenwriter and playwright, began her career performing on Broadway at age 19.

Known for her nasal voice and distinctive personality, she gained international recognition and critical acclaim for film roles that continued into her seventies and eighties.

She reached her peak as actress rather late in her career, in such films as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Where’s Poppa? (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), Every Which Way but Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980).

Gordon was also an accomplished screenwriter, wrote numerous plays, film scripts, and books.  She is best known for co-writing the screenplay for the 1949 film Adam’s Rib.

Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts at 41 Winthrop Avenue. She later resided at 41 Marion Street (1901-1903) and 14 Elmwood Avenue (1903-1914). All 3 homes are in the Wollaston section of town.

She was the child of Annie Tapley (née Ziegler) and Clinton Jones. Her only sibling was an older half-sister Claire, from her father’s first marriage.

Her first public appearance came as an infant when her photo was used in advertising for her father’s employer, Mellin’s Food for Infants & Invalids.

Prior to graduating from Quincy High School, she wrote to her favorite actresses requesting autographed photos. A personal reply from Hazel Dawn (whom she had seen in stage production of The Pink Lady) inspired her to go into acting.

American Academy of Dramatic Arts

Though her father was skeptical of her chances of success in acting, in 1914 he took his daughter to New York, where he enrolled her in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA).

In 1915, Gordon appeared as extra in silent films that were shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey, including as dancer in The Whirl of Life, a film based on the lives of Vernon and Irene Castle.

That same year, she made her Broadway debut in revival of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, in the role of Nibs (one of the Lost Boys), appearing onstage with Maude Adams and earning a favorable mention from the powerful critic Alexander Woollcott. Woollcott, who described her favorably as “ever so gay”, would become her friend and mentor.

In 1918, Gordon played opposite actor Gregory Kelly in the Broadway adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen. The pair continued to perform together in North American tours of Frank Craven’s The First Year and Tarkington’s Clarence and Tweedles.

In 1921, Gordon and Kelly were wed.

In December 1920, Gordon checked into a Chicago hospital to have her legs broken and straightened to treat her lifelong bow-leggedness. After 3-month recovery, she and Kelly relocated to Indianapolis where they started a repertory company.

Kelly died of heart disease in 1927, at the age of 36. Gordon at the time had been appearing on Broadway as Bobby in Maxwell Anderson’s Saturday’s Children, a serious role after being typecast.

In 1929, Gordon was starring in the hit play, Serena Blandish, when she became pregnant by the show’s producer, Jed Harris. Their son, Jones Harris, was born in Paris that year and Gordon brought him back to New York. Although they never married, Gordon and Harris provided their son with normal upbringing and his parentage became public knowledge as social conventions changed.

In 1932 the family was living discreetly in a small, elegant NYC brownstone.

Gordon continued to act on stage in the 1930s, including notable runs as Mattie in Ethan Frome, Margery Pinchwife in William Wycherley’s Restoration comedy The Country Wife at London’s Old Vic and on Broadway, and Nora Helmer in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at Central City, Colorado, and Broadway.

Gordon was signed to MGM film contract for a brief period in the early 1930s but did not make a movie for the company until a supporting role in Greta Garbo’s final film, Two-Faced Woman (1941), directed by George Cukor.

Gordon had better luck at other studios, appearing in supporting roles in a string of films, including Abe Lincoln in Illinois (as Mary Todd Lincoln), Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (as Mrs. Ehrlich) and Action in the North Atlantic, in the early 1940s.

Gordon’s Broadway appearances in the 1940s included Iris in Paul Vincent Carroll’s The Strings, My Lord, Are False and Natasha in Katharine Cornell and Guthrie McClintic’s revival of  Chekhov’s Three Sisters, and lead roles in her own plays, Over Twenty-One and The Leading Lady.

Oscar Nominations for Screenplay

Gordon married her second husband, writer Garson Kanin, in 1942.

Gordon and Kanin collaborated on the screenplays for the Katharine Hepburn – Spencer Tracy films Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952), both directed by George Cukor. Gordon and Kanin received Oscar nominations for both screenplays, as well as for that of A Double Life (1947), also directed by Cukor.

Tony Nomination

In 1956, Gordon was nominated for Tony Award for lead actress for her portrayal of Dolly Levi in Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, a role she also played in London, Edinburgh and Berlin.

She died on August 28, 1985 at age 88.