Ruth Clifford; Early Movie Star, Character Actress


Ruth Clifford, a silent film star who moved into talkies and television and became a prime source for historians of the silent screen era, has died. She was 98.

Clifford, who was divorced from banker and real estate businessman James A. Cornelius, died Nov. 30 at the Motion Picture and Television Fund hospital in Woodland Hills, hospital officials announced Tuesday.

Born in Pawtucket, R.I., in 1900, Clifford began her acting career with the Thomas Edison studio when she was 14. Two years later she moved to Universal.


She went on to make about 50 motion pictures, including 10 for legendary director John Ford. Among her films for Ford were movies such as “The Face on the Barroom Floor,” “Wagon Master” and “The Searchers.”

Among Clifford’s silent pictures were “A Kentucky Cinderella” in 1917, “The Kaiser--Beast of Berlin” in 1918 and “Abraham Lincoln” in which she played Ann Rutledge in 1924.

Unlike many actors, Clifford had no voice problems in making the switch to talking pictures. But her career waned, nevertheless, and she moved from leading ingenue roles to smaller parts. Although she gave interviews about silent films until shortly before her death, she was described in news reports as a “former motion picture actress” beginning in the 1930s.

Major films in which she appeared included “Stand Up and Cheer” with Shirley Temple, “Dante’s Inferno” with Spencer Tracy, “Four Men and a Prayer” with Loretta Young and “The Keys of the Kingdom” and “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” with Gregory Peck.

Clifford occasionally appeared on stage in such plays as “Private Lives” and “Claudio” and had roles in such early television series as “Highway Patrol” and “I Led Three Lives.”

When the actress married Cornelius in 1924, the wedding was modest by Hollywood standards. But they cruised to Hawaii for the honeymoon, accompanied by five wardrobe trunks containing the bride’s carefully coordinated trousseau.

The couple had a son, James, in 1930, but separated in 1934. Their court battles, with each charging cruelty and clashing over alimony, dragged on for several years.

The actress is survived by two first cousins, William Flatley and Mary Rickey, both of Pawtucket, R.I. She was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.