Ann Rutherford, an actress whose small role as Scarlett’s younger sister Carreen in the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind” was her most enduring, has died. She was 94.
Rutherford, who also portrayed Mickey Rooney‘s teenage girlfriend in the Andy Hardy movies, died Monday evening at her home in Beverly Hills, said her close friend and fellow actress Anne Jeffreys. Rutherford had been in declining health with heart problems.
As she became one of the last surviving cast members of “Gone With the Wind,” Rutherford made a second career out of attending festivals featuring the beloved Civil War epic.
Under contract with MGM, she was a regular in the hugely successful Andy Hardy series when studio head Louis B. Mayer informed her that his son-in-law, producer David O. Selznick, wanted to borrow her for “Gone With the Wind.”
Mayer called it “a nothing part” and planned to say no, Rutherford told The Times in 2010.
A fan of the Margaret Mitchell novel, Rutherford implored Mayer to reconsider. When she uncharacteristically burst into tears, he relented.
“I just wanted to watch the book come to life,” she said in The Times interview.
According to the AllMovie internet database, Rutherford was “quite appealing” as the optimistic Carreen O’Hara in the romantic drama that starred Vivien Leigh as her sister Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler.
The film “was Selznick’s baby,” Rutherford told The Times in 1989. “His word was law, and woe betide any actor who interjected an extra if, and or but.”
Thinking she was doing the producer a favor, Rutherford suggested that the expensive lace that lined her Southern belle dress could easily be replaced with more affordable muslin petticoats.
Selznick archly replied, “ ‘You are not to forget that you are the daughter of one of the richest plantation owners in Georgia,’ ” Rutherford later recalled.
For a cotton-picking scene, Rutherford and Evelyn Keyes, who played Scarlett’s other sister, were delivered to a cotton field and told to start picking so their hands would be “thoroughly bitten up” by the time filming started, Rutherford said in the 1989 Times interview.
At a 2009 screening in Marietta, Ga., to mark the 70th anniversary of the movie she called “The Wind,” Rutherford employed a phrase that she had often used to describe how the film influenced her life: “That ‘nothing part’ turned my golden years into platinum.”
She was born Nov. 2, 1917, in Vancouver to John Rutherford, a concert tenor, and his wife, Lucille Mansfield, a silent-film actress. Her older sister had a brief acting career in the 1930s as Judith Arlen; she died in 1968 at 54.
At 9, Rutherford moved with her family from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
While roller skating home from Virgil Junior High, Ann would detour to Wilshire Boulevard radio stations, where she wandered into viewing rooms to watch actors work.
“One day my English teacher criticized me,” Rutherford told The Times in 1969, “and I was furious. I thought, I wouldn’t have to listen to Miss So-and-So if I were an actress.”
She invented an acting history and presented it to KFAC, and a month later she was voicing Nancy in the radio series “Nancy and Dick: The Spirit of 76,” Rutherford recalled in 2010.
When an actress she resembled dropped out of the 1935 film “Waterfront Lady,” Rutherford was cast in the first of nearly 60 movies she would make by 1950.
As a teenager, she first appeared opposite Gene Autry and John Wayne in westerns.
“I was Gene Autry’s first leading lady and the only one he ever kissed — after that he kissed his horses,” Rutherford said in 2010.
For the 1936 movie “Down to the Sea,” Rutherford oversold her swimming skills to get the part. Actor-swimmer Buster Crabbe solved her crisis by giving her impromptu swimming lessons, she told The Times in 1972.
In 1937, MGM signed her to play Polly Benedict in the Andy Hardy films, which caught on because they “had such a wonderful outlook on life,” Rutherford said in the 2002 book “Ladies of the Western.”
With Red Skelton, she appeared in a trio of early 1940s films — “Whistling in the Dark,” “Whistling in Dixie,” “Whistling in Brooklyn” — that allowed her to display “her perky comic gifts,” according to AllMovies.com.
In 1942, Rutherford married David May II, grandson of the department store founder. By the early 1950s, she was acting less to spend more time with her daughter, born in 1944, Rutherford later said. The couple divorced in 1953.
She continued to act occasionally, mainly in television, into the late 1970s and played Suzanne Pleshette’s mother on “The Bob Newhart Show.”
Rutherford decided to marry William Dozier — who would produce the 1960s “Batman” TV series — after she arrived late for a dinner date. He expressed his anger by handing her a page that he had ripped from the dictionary.
“The word he’d underlined was ‘telephone.’ ‘Haven’t you ever heard of that?’ he said. I figured any man who’d ruin an unabridged dictionary must really care,” she told The Times in 1972.
They were married from 1953 until Dozier’s death at 83 in 1991.
In addition to her daughter, Gloria, Rutherford is survived by two grandsons, Jeffreys said.