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Ruth Hussey, 93; Oscar Nominee for Her Role in ‘Philadelphia Story’

Times Staff Writer

Actress Ruth Hussey, who was best known for her Oscar-nominated role as James Stewart’s sassy photographer girlfriend in the classic 1940 film “The Philadelphia Story,” has died. She was 93.

Her son, John Longenecker, said Hussey died Tuesday at Mary Health of the Sick Convalescent Home in Newbury Park of complications from an appendectomy.

“But my mom told her children and grandchildren she had ‘Cholery Marbles,’ a term for whatever ails you, invented by her mother in Rhode Island and well known and used by all the Hussey cousins and family,” he said, adding, “She was fun.”

Ruth Carol Hussey was born Oct. 30, 1911, in Providence, R.I., and graduated from Pembroke Women’s College at Brown University. She studied acting at the University of Michigan.

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She began her career as a fashion commentator on local radio and later was a model in New York for the famed Powers agency.

After Hussey began acting, she became a contract player for MGM when she was spotted by a talent scout while in Los Angeles with the road tour of “Dead End.”

Her first film was an uncredited role in “The Big City” in 1937, starring Spencer Tracy; in 1940 she was Tracy’s leading lady in “Northwest Passage.”

She also starred opposite Robert Taylor in “Flight Command” (1940), Melvyn Douglas in “Our Wife” (1941), Van Heflin in “Tennessee Johnson” (1943), Ray Milland in “The Uninvited” (1944), and John Carroll in “Bedside Manner” (1945).

“She has had a steady film career in which strong womanly roles have been her forte,” Times writer Edwin Schallert wrote of Hussey in 1949. “She is generally an important force in the plot of any film in which she appears.”

In 1945, Hussey appeared on Broadway, starring in the successful “State of the Union” as the wife of a presidential candidate, Ralph Bellamy. She was on Broadway in 1949 in the hit comedy “Goodbye, My Fancy,” and she toured with “The Royal Family of Broadway.”

“I personally am happy when I am acting, whether on stage or screen,” Hussey told The Times in 1949.

Her later movies included “I, Jane Doe” (1948), the 1949 remake of “The Great Gatsby,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” (1952). Her last feature film role was in 1960 in “The Facts of Life,” playing Bob Hope’s wife.

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Hussey later moved into television, including guest appearances in “The Magnificent Ambersons” and “Time Out for Ginger.”

She played the love interest of Robert Young in the 1973 television movie “My Darling Daughters’ Anniversary.”

But for many film fans, she will always be Elizabeth “Liz” Imbrie, the saucy journalist who works with reporter Mike Connor (Stewart) to cover the forthcoming wedding of socialite Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) in George Cukor’s “The Philadelphia Story.”

The script by Donald Ogden Stewart earned an Oscar and provided snappy dialogue to all the actors, including Cary Grant, who played Lord’s troublesome ex-husband, C.K. Dexter Haven.

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“We all go haywire at times and if we don’t, maybe we ought to,” Hussey says at one point.

“Ruth Hussey is splendidly true as Stewart’s friend and co-worker,” a Los Angeles Times writer commented after the picture was released.

Though nominated, she lost the best-supporting actress Oscar to Jane Darwell’s portrayal of Ma Joad in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Hussey’s husband of 60 years, talent agent George Longenecker, died in 2002. She is survived by her sons, John of Beverly Hills and Rob of Houston, and a daughter, Mary Hendrix of Oak Park, Calif.; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.


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