BONE OF MY BONES AND FLESH OF MY FLESH: RUTH GORDON
by Sarah Nevada Smith
People of the puritanical kind might suggest that a deal with the devil is the only way a woman born in 1896 could ever be nominated for four Academy Awards, three for writing and one for acting, win the latter and still have the best years of her career ahead of her at the tender age of 72. But those people are dumb, unlike this week’s Piece de Resistance of epic proportions, Ruth Gordon.
Born to a sea captain in Quincy, Massachusetts, Gordon moved to New York in 1914 to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her career as a successful theater actress ascended from there, simultaneously making a formidable name for herself as an accomplished playwright.
In 1942, she married Director Gregory Kanin, 16 years her junior, and together they wrote two Oscar nominated films for on screen legends and real life couple, Katherine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy, including Adam’s Rib, which was loosely based on Gordon and Kanin’s marriage.
In 1969 Gordon won her first and only Oscar for her role in Rosemary’s Baby. Playing Minnie Castavet, the sweet and sinister upstairs neighbor who mixed up pre-natal morning shakes for Mia Farrow’s Rosemary, Gordon all but stole the movie from her fellow actors, all contenders in their own right. Two years later she appeared as cougar legend, Maude, in Hal Ashby’s masterpiece Harold & Maude. She spent the next 14 years appearing in 14 films – a film a year – and countless 70’s sitcoms including Newhart and Taxi.
Known for her unparalleled comedic timing and sharp wit, Gordon worked up until 1985, when she died of a stroke at 89-years-old. In her most accessible work, Gordon often played eccentric and strong willed characters, the kind of woman who could fool the fools by acting old or feeble minded, only to flip them off when their backs were turned then effortlessly wilting when they faced front again. Gordon was the type of actress that people wanted to invite to parties, create roles for and make their friends, so that when she was gone they had first hand information about that time “Ruth did that thing,” the story itself bringing the house to their knees.
Not bad for a broad born a decade before the Ford Model T was built…