It was wonderful to see how much former screen star Ann Rutherford, a.k.a. Polly Benedict in the much-beloved “Andy Hardy” series and familiar as Careen O’Hara, Scarlett’s younger sister in “Gone With the Wind” (1939), enjoyed her retirement when I first met her in 2003. Residing in her Beverly Hills home, she still was at least as much in demand as she used to be in her long, illustrious career during the 1930s and 1940s, when she graced the silver screen with her impeccable screen persona.
These days however, she was not appearing in front of the camera any longer, but she was a much sought-after actress to attend various film festivals all over the country to talk about her days at Republic when, still a teen, she was the leading lady of actors such as John Wayne and Gene Autry, before moving to MGM where she became one of the favorites on the lot. A heartwarming storyteller, she still was amazed that her work up until then was so fondly remembered and was appreciated thoroughly by movie fans from virtually anywhere. People still adored her and, while in her eighties then, she still got an awful lot of mail from her fans, asking her for autographed pictures. To meet all those requests, she had dug in the files that her mother had put together for her, wound up looking for old negatives and ordered thousands of stills to send out. Miss Rutherford had nothing but fond memories about her career.
Although you have been retired for about three decades now, you still look back with respect and dignity to the film moguls, the studios, your co-stars, everyone who made your dreams come true, don’t you?
Absolutely. You know, movies back then were such a gift to the public, when you consider that the golden era went straight through the terrible worldwide Depression. I was so shocked one day to read that in 1930 the annual income of the average person in the United States was $ 750. Yet, he could squeeze out 15 cents to walk into a movie palace with the golden trimming, the red carpet, sit down in a comfortable seat and escape for the next two hours into the never-neverland of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire where all the walls were white and the furniture was wonderful—or when Judy Garland was in Oz, you were in the land of Oz. So it gave everybody a chance to get away from what was then a very depressing life in 1929 when there was a stock market crash and people were literally selling apples on the corner of the street. I was so grateful to be associated with this business, because it got my foot in the door that would never have been opened to me—I just stumbled into it [laughs]. I was also blessed to have been in motion pictures that had, what we call, legs. While we were shooting them, nobody ever went to a picture that was three or four years old. You only went to see the latest movies: they played around once, and then they went away, buried underground in a mineshaft someplace in Kansas so they wouldn’t burst into flames. I would have sworn that everything that I had made back then was turned into guitar picks by now, but then along came television and a gentleman by the name of Ted Turner who had the foresight to buy up these unwanted negatives of films—the MGM library. Who knew that this wonderful library could be polished up, brought out and that people would love seeing even the black-and-white movies? Young people today are having their first pass at Greta Garbo, they’re seeing Joan Crawford in “Our Dancing Daughters,” things like that.
You entered films at a very young age, barely seventeen. How did that exactly happen?
It all started with a lie [laughs]. When I was in junior high school, my girlfriend and I used to rollerskate home down Wilshire Boulevard and we always passed two radio stations, KABC and KFAC, both in the same building. One day, we wondered if any of those radio stations had a place where you can watch a broadcast. So we took our skates off, went upstairs in the elevator, got off at the right floor and discovered they did indeed have a very small room with a sofa, a couple of chairs and a whole glass front. We took a seat and, sure enough, pretty soon here came the sound man and the actors. From then on we’d stop frequently and watch whatever show was on. I once asked this nice lady at the reception desk, ‘Where do I go to to apply for a job?’ She said, ‘What?!’ I said, ‘I’m an actress.’ Now, I was no more an actress than she was, but I had one thing going for me. Every Saturday my mother would take my sister and me to downtown Los Angeles where there was a repertory company and we went to see shows. We loved it, my sister and I used to save the programs, we’d discuss the shows all the way home in the streetcars and I remembered the names of these shows. So this lady said, ‘Just a moment, I’ll get you the casting director.’ This man, who was only twenty-two or twenty-three, asked, ‘What have you done?’ I said, ‘I’ve been in plays all my life,’ and I started naming all these shows. I lied like a rug [laughs], he had to be young and he wasn’t very bright, because I even mentioned shows where they even didn’t have a kid. About a month later, when I got back home from school, my mother was awaiting me, her arms crossed, and she asked me, ‘Have any of you girls tapped on the glass at KFAC?’ I said, ‘No, why?’ She said, ‘Well, I’m so relieved, I was afraid you had gotten in trouble, they want you down there right away.’ So I put my skates back on and I skated about four blocks back.
There you got your first job?
Yes, it turned out to be a series called “Nancy and Dick in the Spirit of 76.” The boy who played Dick, turned out to be a very fine director, called Richard Quine. We played Nancy and Dick for about two years on Saturday, so it didn’t bother with my school, and this one radio show lead to another. Meanwhile, a retired agent called John Lancaster had seen my picture in the paper and thought I resembled Anne Darling [1915-1991], an actress that had to be replaced for “Waterfront Lady” —produced by Nat Levine, a close personal friend of Mr. Lancaster—as she had eloped with an executive, so he called me at the radio station to ask if I would replace her. Of course, I was wary, I had heard about dirty old men who’d call you and offer you a part in a picture [laughs], so I said, ‘I’m awfully sorry, they’re calling me now, I have to go.’ So I just hung up. He thought that Rutherford must be my real name, nobody in the business had that name, it was too long. Finally he took the phone book and called three or four Rutherfords until he talked to my mother. By the time I got home from the radio station, he was sitting in our living room talking to my mother who was a very good judge of character. She said to me, ‘Honey, if you would like to do it, Mr. Lancaster would pick us up tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning and take us over the hills to the set of “Waterfront Lady” in the Valley.’ Because of child labor laws, I had to pretend I was 18 and Mascott [which became Republic in 1935] offered me a contract right away. In the first ten months I was at Republic, I did fourteen movies, plus a twelve episode serial, working endlessly until my mother took one good look at me in broad daylight and said, ‘Ooohhh!’ She went to court, broke the contract and said I had lied about my age. So the next three months, I caught up on my sleep, but still had my agent who got me an acting job with Richard Dix and a few short subjects at MGM. One of them was shot at Forest Lawn, the cemetery of the rich and the famous.
Was it easy to start working at MGM right away?
I wasn’t complaining: I was signed at MGM for $ 350 a week [in 1937] which was a lot of money, and I was able to save enough money to buy a house for my mother and my grandmother, so we wouldn’t have to rent anymore. Then the word was out on the MGM lot, a couple of girls came crying to me one morning: they had looked forward to their option being lifted from $ 50 to $ 75, then their next jump would be to $ 100, then $ 150 if they could hang in that long, and so on, while I was already earning $ 350 a week. These were kids who probably bought their first fur coat or made a first down payment on their second-hand car, but they had no agents, that was why I got so much more. So one day, I got a call from Ida Koverman, who was Mr. Mayer’s secretary and he said he’d like to see me as soon as I had a break. By then, we were on our fourth “Andy Hardy” picture and you have to remember that those pictures were big, fat hits. So I went up to Mr. Mayer in the Thalberg Building and he said, ‘We have big plans for you, your future is unlimited, but…’ And then I unexpectedly said the magic word—that word was mother—I said, ‘Mr. Mayer, if I can’t stay at MGM, I guess I’ll have to go someplace else, because I am saving my money to buy my mother and my grandmother a home, and it will be in my mothers’ name.’ He got very emotional, he got up, came around, gave me a real grandfatherly hug and said, ‘Honey, don’t you worry about anything, you just go ahead and buy your house’—and I did. They never bothered me after that and I got all my raises. I went from $ 350 to $ 500, then to $ 750—I got every option. If you asked Louis B. Mayer what time it was, he would cry. He could cry more easily than anybody I ever knew.
The “Andy Hardy” pictures, a series of fourteen films, started with “A Family Affair”  and ended with “Love Finds Andy Hardy” , although one more film was made much later, “Andy Hardy Comes Home” . How important were your twelve “Andy Hardy” pictures to you career wise?
The Hardys portrayed an idealized family, before everybody thought divorce was a solution. This was back in the days when the people made due and worked things out, they were patient. Another thing was, I grew up with my grandmother and her wisdom and the expression when she’d say things like, ‘Well, he’s just as handy as a pocket in a shirt’ and ‘he just thinks he’s so many’ which I never knew what that really meant, but I also used it [laughs]. She gave me the love for cooking and for sewing, we didn’t have babysitters: we had a grandma. Today it must be awfully tough on these young women to hold on to a full-time job, have children and come home and cook dinner. It’s a total change of the American way of life, we had all the security that we could go home to Mom, she’d kiss and make it better and fix the booboo. It’s a different world. On the MGM lot, the town of Carvel, referred to as a typical American small town, was the home of the Hardy family and it boomed with each new “Hardy” picture that came along. The complete set included a bank, a school, a radio station, a newspaper office, stores and a main street to accommodate the anticipated increase in traffic and to give it a more metropolitan air. The Hardy residence, originally built as a part of the New England village of “Ah, Wilderness!” [1935, directed by Clarence Brown, starring Wallace Beery and Lionel Barrymore], was preserved remarkably well, with railway stations, rivers, papier-mâché mansions, false fronts of a thousand houses, staircases that led nowhere, doors that opened to nothing, New York streets that started in Paris and ended in Chicago. In those days, the audiences learned about love and marriage or success and failure from slightly used celluloid: in the dark of a movie theater, people learned what was worth doing, why they did it and, in some cases, how they could do it. Even though Samuel Goldwyn had said, ‘If you want to send a message, send it by Western Union,’ people cheated and took Carvel, Atlanta or Casablanca for granted. With all of this in mind, it’s quite easy to understand why the series were terribly successful.
Mickey Rooney, who played Andy Hardy, the central character in the series was America’s number one box-office star in 1939, 1940 and 1941. How do you look back to your collaboration with him?
Mickey Rooney was the driving force of the series and he was the best. He played a midget when he was three, wearing a little man’s suit and he was holding a cigar! He had about three different names when he was growing up: his real name was Joe Yule, Jr., he then became Mickey McGuire and finally they gave him the good Irish name Mickey Rooney. The “Andy Hardy” pictures made him a star. To watch this kid work… At fifteen, he waved to the director and said, ‘Print it,’ after a scene was shot. Sometimes he went over to the director, took him by the sleeve and said, ‘Uncle George, I have an idea about that.’ The director we had, George Seitz, was secure and wise enough to know that what Mickey was saying was pure gold. He’d call us back in and would say, ‘Let’s try it once again and do it Mickey’s way.’ That was usually the take that wound up in the picture. Mickey just couldn’t help it: he was born with so many talents that he never did decide which one to use for the rest of his life. He was such a wonderful actor, yet I think he should have been a director. When he was off a picture, they would let him direct young people in tests to keep him quiet, and they always got the jobs. Can you imagine, he was 15 or 16 and was directing actors in a scene. He was wonderful. He was always instinctively right. After about our fourth picture, when we were doing so well at the box office—those pictures made so much money for MGM, things we didn’t really know about, we never got to read our fan mail, that all went to the second floor where it was handled by secretaries—I realized that Mickey hadn’t been having lunch with us, the kids—Georgie Breakstone, Cecilia Parker and the others—we’d all have one table at the commissary, so I said to him, ‘Oh, you must think you’re so many—many whatever [laughs]—you don’t even have lunch with us anymore,’ and he said, ‘I can’t, I’m composing, I’m doing an orchestral suite.’ Now, whenever an orchestra was on the set and the crew took five, Mickey would go from chair to chair and he played every instrument instinctively. So, when he was shooting “Young Tom Edison” , he was at Henry Ford’s home one day, who had this big dinner party and Mickey went over to the piano, sat down and played something serious. Henry Ford came over to him and asked, ‘What’s the name of that?’ And Mickey said, ‘Oh, I haven’t named it yet.’ ‘You wrote it?’ ‘Yes. I haven’t really studied music, but I can play music.’ Mr. Ford said, ‘I’ll tell you, if you would like to write a four-piece orchestral suite, I will have it performed on our ‘Ford Symphony Hour’ [concert music radio series from 1934 till 1940s]. So that’s what Mickey was doing. His instincts were so genuine, but he should not have remained an actor: he could do anything. You’d give him an accent, like in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” [1961, starring Audrey Hepburn] when he played the Japanese man upstairs, look how magnificent that was. He and his wife Jan still have a nightclub act, they even do Las Vegas.
You really cherish all those precious memories, don’t you?
There’s absolutely no doubt about that! When we made those films, it was a golden era and I loved every minute of it, and of course, I didn’t miss it when I retired, because my husband [producer William Dozier] was involved with it: I read the same trade papers every day, gave and went to the same parties, etc. But I am so saddened that so many people write books about the old Hollywood, it has to be about Hollywood’s casting couch and all of that. I never had any experience like that, everybody was like my favorite uncle. The executives at the studios, the crews, they were all so wonderful. Every month [“Andy Hardy”] producer Carey Wilson would give a formal dinner party at his Bel Air home for the kids in his movies. It was black tie, thank you very large, he’d send cars for us if he had to, and we’d all play the game charades where you act out something. He would find the time to visit with each other and he used a lot of our conversations in the “Hardy” pictures. I had a boy friend from high school who had gotten his first new car and he paid more attention to it than to me, but I was complaining about that to Carey Wilson. Next thing, I knew he used it in his films.
And the films remained popular for many decades, even to this day they have a huge following, I suppose?
In the mid-1990s, I received a big envelope in the mail, it was a letter from Robert B. Ray, a Florida professor, who had many interests in life. He also taught a class of the Hardy pictures and wrote a book about it, called ‘The Avant-Garde Finds Andy Hardy’ . He wanted me to come over and speak to his class about those films. So I picked up the phone, called him, and said, ‘Are you really sure? If I were paying what the tuition is today for my child to go to college and I found they were spending the entire semester studying the “Andy Hardy” pictures, I would sue the whole state of Florida!’ [Laughs]. He said, ‘You know, I would like you to come over very much and talk to these kids and answer their questions about the themes of the “Hardy” pictures.’ So I went over to Florida, stayed with the professor, his wife and children. Very charming people. I went to the classes, they ran a “Hardy” picture, and I never had such tough questions in my life: he had turned his wonderful teaching abilities into a science, I asked him, ‘How does a college professor wind up with this in his resume?’ It turned out that his father was a surgeon, his mother a psychiatrist I think, and he and his sister were alone a lot, their parents worked all the time. When he was a child, he used to hang around the television set and looked forward to see the “Hardy” pictures, because it was the family he wished he had. It represented everything in his life that he thought was wonderful, and he had every “Hardy” picture that had been made. The professor came out here afterwards when Cecilia Parker was still alive, living in Ventura. I arranged for him to go out there. So to have been in things that have legs… let’s face it, we started the “Hardy” pictures in 1937! It’s surely paying dividends in my declining years.
And we even haven’t mentioned “Gone With the Wind” .
Well, at first, they didn’t want me to do “Gone With the Wind,” Mr. Mayer thought it was terrible. He called me into his office and said, ‘My son-in-law [producer David O. Selznick] wants to borrow you for his film, but I don’t want you to do it, because you are about to start in your own series with Red Skelton [“Whistling in the Dark,” 1941; “Whistling in Dixie,” 1942; “Whistling in Brooklyn,” 1943].’ But I wanted to be in “Gone With the Wind”: in my lifetime, up to that time and since that time, there has never been a book that has caught the attention of the entire world the way “Gone With the Wind” did. Everybody in the world had their idea of how it should be cast. Even [book’s author] Margaret Mitchell confessed to me later that she was describing Basil Rathbone as Rhett Butler [laughs]. In the end, Mr. Mayer said, ‘You know, when you finish working today, go over to David’s studio.’ That was just a few blocks down Culver Boulevard. So I told David I would be very happy to play Careen, and he said, ‘Well, that’s just fine, because I have already sent for your canvas.’ Back then, when you were under contract, you had a canvas: you stood with your arms out and they put you in this canvas bathing suit down to your knees, they would lace it up in the back, they’d pin it and they made a form. So he said [costume designer] Walter Plunkett had made the sketches, they were already making my costumes. A few weeks later I got a call to come over and try them all. Mr. Selznick wanted to have me photographed – he wanted me to play the girl who had just turned 13. In those days, when they asked me, ‘How old are you?’ I always replied, ‘How old do you want me to be?’ So when I arrived there, I was shocked. I had done about eight Westerns when I was lying my age up [laughs]—when I was about sixteen, I worked at Mascott, and there I had the distinction of being Gene Autry’s first leading lady. At that time I earned more money than he did, he didn’t have an agent and because I had an agent, I was getting $ 150 a week while he only got $ 100, and his sidekick Smiley Burnette only got $ 50 a week! Anyway, at Selznick’s they brought out a rack with petticoats with handrun lace with little ribbons, layer after layer, then they brought the most fancy shoes out like you had ever seen in your life. I told Mr. Selznick, ‘They’re making you spend too much money, nobody sees my petticoats, only the girls who sleep over after the barbecue.’ And he said, ‘Ann, you remember one thing: you are Careen O’Hara, your father was one of the most successful plantation owners in the South and this is the way he wants his daughters to be dressed.’ That set me back right on my heels, after that I didn’t open my mouth anymore [laughs].
Did you stay in touch with him after “Gone With the Wind” was finished?
Through the years, David O. Selznick became a very close personal friend—my second husband, William Dozier, who was a producer, had worked with David at his studio—they loved to play gin rummy together. When he heard I was going to Europe for the first time, that was in 1957, he said, ‘I am doing “Farewell to Arms” in Rome, are you going to Rome as well?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Okay, call me when you get to Rome, I will have a lot of night shooting and I’ll take you to dinner at what used to be Mussollini’s home.’ As we were having dinner, he said, ‘Well, what did you think of Venice?’ Bill said, ‘We can’t go to Venice, we have to go back after visiting Rome.’ David said, ‘What do you mean? You dragged Ann all the way to Europe and you’re not showing her Venice??’ [laughs]. Then David checked his watch and said, ‘Oops, I have to call the company.’ So he excused himself to make a telephone call. The next thing, the captain came over and motioned to Bill. I thought something had happened to David. I was sitting there, our food was getting cold until the captain came down again, he took me firmly by the hand and said, ‘Come with me.’ Then I really thought something serious had happened and he took me outside to the front door. There was a limo and on top I recognized our luggage. David O. Selznick had not called his company, he had called the Excelsior Hotel and had said, ‘You go to their suite—even if you need five men or maids or whatever—and you pack them up, empty every drawer, everything. Get it together and my car will be outside.’ I could see my silk belt hanging out of one of the suitcases, they must have been in a hurry.’ David told us that every night, just before midnight, there is a train which goes straight from Rome to Venice which has one compartment saved for the politicians. He said it was free that night. So we went to Venice, I had the most wonderful three days there, we spent most of the time in Harry’s Bar because it was pouring rain [laughs]. David had made the hotel reservations and he called us all the time. And he was smart enough: when we weren’t at the hotel, he would try Harry’s Bar. My husband wound up on the Herschfeld double page sketches at Harry’s Bar [laughs]. You see, David caused things to happen. Nothing was impossible for him. My deepest regrets is that he did not live long enough to see the strong legs that “Gone With the Wind” had. You wouldn’t believe how many letters I get, sometimes even presents, referring to “Gone With the Wind.”
Do you have other friendships that have lasted long after you retired from acting?
A.C. Lyles! He was a Paramount employee since 1928 who became a successful executive and producer at the studio. I have known him since he was 18, he’s in his eighties now—I think Bob Hope introduced him to me. When this gentleman [1918-2013] was about twelve, he got a Saturday job at the Paramount theater in his little Southern hometown, picking up the paper between the aisles, between shows, or whatever. But pretty soon they promoted him and let him be an usher and they got him a uniform. When he was fifteen, [film pioneer, producer and executive] Jesse L. Lasky was making a trip to see all the Paramount theaters in his chain and when he got to this little Southern town, this young man approached him and introduced himself by his initials, ‘Mr. Lasky, I’m A.C. Lyles and I’ve been working for your company for the last three years and I plan to work until I graduate. Then I’m coming to California and I’m going to be in your business.’ And Lasky patted him on the head and said, ‘Well, that’s fine boy, keep in touch.’ And what happened? Every Sunday, A.C. Lyles would sit down and write a letter to Jesse L. Lasky and send it to Paramount studios. Pretty soon, his secretaries knew his name, there’s this one boy writing letters and telling what he’s been doing and what he hopes to do in the future. Pretty soon, the secretaries would say to Mr. Lasky, ‘You got another letter from A.C. Lyles!’ Three years later, when he graduated from high school, he bought a one-way train ticket to California. When he got off the train, he took the streetcar and he hopped off at Paramount studios. He couldn’t understand why they stopped him at the gate. He said, ‘Just call Mr. Lasky and tell him A.C. Lyles is here!’ So they called Lasky’s office, the secretaries bursted out laughing and said, ‘Oh, we gotta see this kid!’ And they had him come up. Jesse L. Lasky indeed did give him a job in the mail department, figuring that he’ll get tired of it and he’ll go home. But this was such a personable, tall and slender man—within two weeks he was a gopher for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. They were crazy about him, they took him to every place they went. He did errands, he did everything and before he knew it, he was a second assistant director, then he became an assistant director and then he eventually wound up as a producer and now there’s a whole building named after him, the A.C. Lyles building. I went to his 80th birthday over there [in 1998], everybody turned up and he is Mr. Paramount. He has turned what was really a physically ugly-looking studio into one of the real beauties. It’s so wonderful to watch somebody from a modest background emerge like this. Remember the days of the gold rush or when people would strike oil which changed their lives totally? Well, the motion picture business had that same capacity: if it liked someone and if it took you to its bosom, meaning the audiences liked you, there you were. Some people are loved by a camera, others are not, but if something comes across the screen… Look at Shirley Temple, her wonderful little face—you can say something saddens you, you can also say something happies you. Just to see that beautiful face of hers happies you for the entire day. On the other hand, you didn’t even have to be adorable, you could be Mae West: there was also something about her that just struck you, you enjoyed it. No matter what she said, it sounded naughty. She could say ‘hello’ and make it sound naughty. You just wanted to see her. All these people struck their own type of oil, their own type of gold in this incredible business. I’m so blessed to have been part of it.
What about Red Skelton, you have mentioned him earlier?
Let me tell you this. How bad can people’s lives be, when you think of someone like Red Skelton used to do dance marathons, those brutal things like they showed in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” . He then discovered he was funny, he started doing burlesque and when that faded away because of vaudeville, somebody spotted him and put him on radio and from radio he went to motion pictures and television. I did three pictures with him and he was just so enormously talented, he was so off centre, there was something about his mind, it was different from the way other people thought. He had a great sense of the ridiculous. The three “Whistling” films we appeared in, were not a highlight in my career, but nevertheless they were very important to me, because I got to play an adult instead of a teenager, so it was a stepping stone for me, with the name above the title. Those films were highly amusing, with Skelton as a radio sleuth a.k.a. The Fox who was about to solve real-life crimes along with his fiancé, that’s the part I played.
Which of your post-MGM films are you still fond of?
I like “Orchestra Wives” (1942), with George Montgomery as a trumpeter in the Glenn Miller Band. His music still is very popular and the movie is rerun every six or eight weeks on any of the movie channels. I’m sure that one day the big band music will come back and there we have it in its entirety. Glenn Miller was a natural actor, professional, he always knew his lines, as an actor he was as good as he was conducting his orchestra. This was my first picture at 20th Century Fox. After I had returned from entertaining the troops [early 1942], I received the script of “Seven Sweethearts.” I read it, and thought, ‘Where’s my part?’ It was the first time in my entire career that I stooped to count the lines. The only lines were ‘Hi’ or ‘Goodbye’ or ‘Yes’, you know, nothing lines. That was the only time that I complained about being put in a picture. I was always a feature player and had my name above the title. But since Joe Pasternak had moved over from Universal to MGM, he just helped himself and picked anybody who wasn’t booked on a picture. So I said I’d do it, but I wanted anybody to know that I wasn’t really happy about it. However, the day they were about to start the picture, I got sick—German measles, which I caught when entertaining the troops and as I had been complaining about the picture, they thought she was ‘playing hard to get.’ Darryl F. Zanuck wanted to borrow me then for a picture, but he thought Mr. Mayer wanted too much money for me. After a little negotiating, Mr. Mayer made an arrangement that he’d sell Darryl my contract, and if MGM needed me for more “Whistling” or “Hardy” pictures, Zanuck would make me available. So I felt like I had been sold down the river. I still believe MGM was the White House, the best studio you could possibly work for and even though I got paid extremely well after I had left MGM, I just didn’t have the same feelings about it that I had when I was at MGM, that was my home. I loved every movie I had made there—good, bad or indifferent. However, everything works out for the best. But I always liked Mr. Mayer very much, we still met, it’s a small town after all.
You returned once more to MGM when you made “They Only Kill Their Masters” , didn’t you?
Yes, it was shot at the MGM studios, and it was the first and only time I went back to the studio where they met me with the “Andy Hardy” car, a bouquet of roses and a banner hanging across the east gate that said ‘Welcome Home Polly.’ Yet, it was like going to a haunted house, it didn’t look at all like the studio I grew up with. I only made that film because it was the first production of a dear friend of ours, he had called me and asked me to do it as his good luck charm. I didn’t want to do it, and frankly, I wish I hadn’t. It was the last film shot on MGM’s lot two [the first film shot in lot two was “Quality Street,” 1927, with Marion Davis] while the studio was having its auction: they sold everything off, they no longer had a make-up department or a wardrobe department, they got rid of everything in the prop department, it was like doing a picture for Poverty Row—it wasn’t the MGM that I remembered with such joy. Times had changed, and the studio system had ended. But I didn’t understand why they sold everything, while they could have had in Culver City what they have in the Valley at Universal City—for tourists. Lot two had everything in the world, it was like a miniature trip to Europe with railroads, street city blocks, the Tarzan jungle, Esther Williams’s swimming pool. It was the most remarkable single location that this town ever had. On top of that, MGM had its own theatres, so they listened to what the theatres managers wanted to play, they practically told the studio who were the stars or the top players, who got the most attention, who brought them in the theater. The studio had its own electricity, it was a little world on its own. Places like the commissary, those even were a joy. If you had visitors from out-of-town and you brought them over to the studio, just for day, or if you took them to lunch at the commissary, they could have died happily and gone to heaven [laughs]. You could see almost every star sitting in the commissary, they all showed up, because almost everything in there was a recipe from Mr. Mayer’s mother: Mrs. Mayers’ chicken soup, Grandma Mayer’s chicken soup, with matzoh balls the size of a baseball. There was a special section where the kids all sat, they all got out of school at the same time – when they weren’t working, they went to school in the Little Red School house on the lot. When you went to the make-up department in the morning, everybody had a separate room with pink satin walls, they had hot coffee waiting for you and you took a mental nap in the chair while somebody would transform you. You had your own make-up person, usually it was a man—there were a couple of women too, but I think the men had a better vision of what they wanted you to be. There was also a make-up person on the set who made sure nothing got worn off, or if you needed lipstick, or if you got shiny, they’d dash up and powder your nose. We were spoiled rotten. I don’t think the other studios did that. I remember the first time I was loaned out, I went to Universal, I felt like I was lost at sea. I didn’t know my way around the studio, I had the impression I didn’t like anybody there. Besides, I was just getting the regular salary I had at MGM, they had made an independent deal. Since you were the studio’s property, they could lend you out to anybody they wished. With the contract you had signed, you had the insurance of being paid forty weeks a year, and the twelve weeks that you were off, you could work if they loaned you out to somebody. But of course, I couldn’t complain, I got paid very well. It was very gratifying, we earned a lot of money back then. The house that I bought my mother, I paid $ 18.500 for. She sold it for I think $ 300.000, it’s one house from Anne Jeffreys’ home, and Anne told me recently there’s nothing on that block priced at less than $ 1.000.000. So real estate pays off, I wish I had hung on to it [laughs].
Earlier in your career, when you were playing leading roles already, you worked with another young and upcoming actor, John Wayne.
He was one of the nicest men, he taught me how to hook my knee around the pommel, so it looked as if I was riding side-saddle, which was very handy because at Republic they didn’t have a side-saddle in the prop room to put on the horse. One of the films we made, “The Oregon Trail” , is missing, nobody seems to have a copy of it anymore, but everything surfaces after a while. So I haven’t seen it for a very long time, but I never look back. I have copies of most of the films I did, people have been sending those to me, but I don’t want to look at yesterday. I’m looking at tomorrow, although I’m very glad that yesterday was there. That philosophy works for me. I have a gift of contentment, I am blessed to have the opportunities that I’ve had: my golden years were platinum years.
+ Miss Rutherford passed away at her Beverly Hills home on June 11, 2012, at age 94, reportedly with her friend and actress Anne Jeffreys (1923) by her side. Miss Rutherford’s sister, Judith Arlen (1914-1968), was a screen actress in the early 1930s.
Beverly Hills, California
WATERFRONT LADY (Mascot, 1935) DIR Joseph Santley PROD Nat Levine SCR Wellyn Totman CAST Ann Rutherford (Joan O’Brien), Frank Albertson, J. Farrell MacDonald, Barbara Pepper, Charles C. Wilson
MELODY TRAIL (Republic, 1935) DIR Joseph Kane PROD Nat Levine SCR Sherman Lowe (story by Sherman Lowe, Betty Burbridge) CAST Gene Autry, Ann Rutherford (Millicent Thomas), Smiley Burnette, Wade Boteler, William Castello, Al Bridge
THE SINGING VAGABOND (Republic, 1935) DIR Carl Pierson PROD Nat Levine SCR Oliver Drake, Betty Burbridge (story by Oliver Drake) CAST Gene Autry, Ann Rutherford (Lettie Morgan), Smiley Burnette, Barbara Pepper, Niles Welch, Grace Goodall
THE FIGHTING MARINES (1935) DIR Joseph Kane, B. Reeves Eason PROD Nat Levine SCR Sherman L. Lowe, Barney A. Sarecky (story by Maurice Geraghty, Wallace MacDonald, Ray Trampe) CAST Grant Withers, Adrian Morris, Ann Rutherford (Frances Schiller), Robert Warwick, Frank Reicher
THE HARVESTER (Republic, 1936) DIR Joseph Santley PROD Nat Levine SCR Gertrude Orr, Homer Croy (adaptation by Robert Lee Johnston, Elizabeth Meehan, novel by Gene Stratton-Porter) CAST Alice Brady, Russell Hardie, Ann Rutherford (Ruth Jameson), Frank Craven, Cora Sue Collins, Emma Dunn
THE LAWLESS NINETIES (Republic, 1936) DIR Joseph Kane PROD Paul Malvern SCR Joseph F. Poland (story by Joseph F. Poland, Scott Pembroke) CAST John Wayne, Ann Rutherford (Janet Carter), Harry Woods, George Hayes, Al Bridge, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones
COMIN’ ROUND THE MOUNTAIN (Republic, 1936) DIR Mark V. Right PROD Nat Levine SCR Oliver Drake, Stuart E. McGowan, Dorrell McGowan (story by Oliver Drake) CAST Gene Autry, Ann Rutherford (Dolores Moreno), Smiley Burnette, LeRoy Mason, Raymond Brown, Ken Cooper
DOUGHNUTS AND SOCIETY (Republic, 1936) DIR Lewis D. Collins PROD Nat Levine SCR Karen DeWolf, Wallace MacDonald, Robert St. Claire (story by Karen DeWolf, Wallace MacDonald, Robert St. Claire) CAST Louise Fazenda, Maude Eburne, Ann Rutherford (Joan Dugan), Edward J. Nugent, Hedda Hopper, Franklin Pangborn, Smiley Burnette
DOWN TO THE SEA (Republic, 1936) DIR Lewis D. Collins PROD Nat Levine SCR Robert Lee Johnson, Wellyn Totman CAST Paul Procasi, Ann Rutherford (Helen Pappas), Irving Pichel, Fritz Leiber, Vince Barnett
THE LONELY TRAIL (Republic, 1936) DIR Joseph Kane PROD Nat Levine SCR Bernard McConville, Jack Natteford (story by Bernard McConville) CAST John Wayne, Ann Rutherford (Virginia Terry), Cy Kendall, Bob Kortman, Fred ‘Snowflake’ Toones, San Flint, Yakima Canutt
THE ORGEON TRAIL (Republic, 1936) DIR Scott Pembroke PROD Paul Malvern SCR Robert Emmett, Lindsley Parsons, Jack Natteford (story by Robert Emmett, Lindsley Parsons) CAST John Wayne, Ann Rutherford (Anne Ridgley), Joseph W. Girard, Yakima Canutt, Frank Rice, E. H. Calvert
THE BRIDE WORE RED (MGM, 1937) DIR Dorothy Arzner PROD Joseph L. Mankiewicz SCR Tess Slesinger, Bradbury Foote (play ‘The Girl from Trieste’ by Ferenc Molnar) CAST Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Robert Young, Billie Burke, Reginald Owen, Ann Rutherford (Peasant Girl)
YOU’RE ONLY YOUNG ONCE (MGM, 1937) DIR George B. Seitz SCR Kay Van Riper (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Lewis Stone, Cecilia Parker, Mickey Rooney, Fay Holden, Frank Craven, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict)
THE DEVIL IS DRIVING (Columbia, 1937) DIR Harry Lachman PROD Edward Chodorov SCR Richard Blake, Jo Milward (story by Harold Buchman, Lee Loeb) CAST Richard Dix, Joan Perry, Nana Bryant, Elisha Cook, Jr., Ann Rutherford (Kitty Wooster), Paul Harvey
PUBLIC COWBOY (1937) DIR Joseph Kane PROD Sol C. Siegel SCR Oliver Drake (story by Bernard McConville) CAST Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Ann Rutherford (Helen Morgan), William Farnum, Arthur Loft, Frankie Marvin
LIVE, LOVE AND LEARN (MGM, 1937) DIR George Fitzmaurice PROD Harry Rapf SCR Charles Brackett, Cyril Hume, Richard Mairbaum (story by Helen Grace Carlisle, Marion Parsonnet) CAST Robert Monrtgomery, Rosalind Russell, Robert Benchley, Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford (Class President)
OF HUMAN HEARTS (MGM, 1938) DIR Clarence Brown PROD Clarence Brown, John W. Considine, Jr. SCR Bradbury Foote (novel ‘Benefits’ by Honoré Morrow) CAST Walter Huston, James Stewart, Beulah Bondi, Gene Reynolds, Guy Kibbee, Ann Rutherford (Annie Hawks)
DRAMATIC SCHOOL (MGM, 1938) DIR Robert B. Sinclair PROD Mervyn LeRoy SCR Ernest Vajda, Mary C. McCall, Jr. (play by Hans Szekely, Zoltan Egyed) CAST Luise Rainer, Paulette Goddard, Alan Marshall, Lana Turner, Genevieve Tobin, Anthony Allan, Henry Stephenson, Ann Rutherford (Yvonne)
JUDGE HARDY’S CHILDREN (MGM, 1938) DIR George B. Seitz SCR Kay Van Riper (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Betty Ross Clarke, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict)
LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (MGM, 1938) DIR George B. Seitz PROD Lou L. Ostrow SCR William Ludwig (stories by Vivien R. Bretherton, characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict)
OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS (MGM, 1938) DIR George B. Seitz PROD Lou L. Ostrow SCR Kay Van Riper, William Ludwig, Agnes Christine Johnston (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (MGM, 1938) DIR Edwin L. Marin PROD Joseph L. Mankiewicz SCR Hugo Butler (novel by Charles Dickens) CAST Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Ann Rutherford (Spirit of Christmas Past), Leo G. Carroll
FOUR GIRLS IN WHITE (MGM, 1939) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD Nat Levine SCR Dorothy Yost (story by Endre Bohem, Nathalie Bucknall) CAST Florence Rice, Una Merkel, Ann Rutherford (Patricia Page), Mary Howard, Alan Marshal, Buddy Ebsen
ANDY HARDY GETS SPRING FEVER (MGM, 1939) DIR W. S. Van Dyke II PROD Lou L. Olstrow SCR Kay Van Riper (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden
THE HARDYS RIDE HIGH (MGM, 1939) DIR George B. Seitz PROD Lou L. Ostrow SCR Kay Van Riper, William Ludwig, Agnes Christine Johnston (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden, Virginia Grey
DANCING CO-ED (MGM, 1939) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD Edgar Selwyn SCR Albert Mannheimer (story by Albert Treynor) CAST Lana Turner, Richard Carlson, Artie Shaw, Ann Rutherford (Eve), Lee Bowman, Thurston Hall
THESE GLAMOUR GIRLS (MGM, 1939) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD Sam Zimbalist SCR Jane Hall, Marion Parsonnet (story by Jane Hall) CAST Lew Ayres, Lana Turner, Tom Brown, Richard Carlson, Jane Bryan, Anita Louise, Marsha Hunt, Ann Rutherford (Mary Rose Wilston)
JUDGE HARDY AND SON (MGM, 1939) DIR George B. Seitz PROD Lou L. Ostrow SCR Carey Wilson (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden
GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, 1939) DIR Victor Fleming PROD David O. Selznick SCR Sidney Howard (novel by Margaret Mitchell) CAST Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Barbara O’Neil, Evelyn Keyes, Ann Rutherford (Carreen O’Hara), Hattie McDaniel
ANDY HARDY MEETS DEBUTANTE (MGM, 1940) DIR George B. Seitz PROD J. J. Cohn SCR Annalee Whitmore, Thomas Seller, Aurania Rouverol (story by Carey Wilson, characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker, Judy Garland, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden
THE GHOSTS COME HOME (MGM, 1940) DIR Wilhelm Thiele PROD Albert E. Levoy SCR Harry Ruskin, Richard Maibaum (story by Georg Kaiser) CAST Frank Morgan, Billie Burke, Ann Rutherford (Billie Adams), John Shelton, Reginald Owen, Donald Meek
KEEPING COMPANY (MGM, 1940) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD Samuel Marx SCR Adrian Scott, Harry Ruskin, James H. Hill (story by Herman J. Mankiewicz) CAST Frank Morgan, Ann Rutherford (Mary Thomas), John Shelton, Irene Rich, Virginia Grey, Gloria DeHaven
WYOMING (MGM, 1940) DIR Richard Thorpe PROD Milton Bren SCR Jack Levne, Hugo Butler (story by Jack Levne) CAST Wallace Beery, Leo Carrillo, Ann Rutherford (Lucy Kincaid), Lee Bowman, Bobs Watson
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (MGM, 1940) DIR Robert Z. Leonard PROD Hunt Stromberg SCR Aldous Huxley, Jane Murfin (play by Helen Jerome, novel by Jane Austen) CAST Greer Garson, Laurence Olivier, Mary Boland, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ann Rutherford (Lydia Bennet)
ANDY HARDY’S PRIVATE SECRETARY (MGM, 1941) DIR George B. Seitz SCR Jane Murfin, Harry Ruskin (story by Katharine Bush, characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden, Kathryn Grayson
WASHINGTON MELODRAMA (MGM, 1941) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD Edgar Selwyn SCR Roy Chanslor, Marion Parsonnet (play by J. Du Rocher MacPherson) CAST Frank Morgan, Ann Rutherford (Laurie Claymore), Kent Taylor, Dan Dailey, Lee Bowman, Fay Holden, Virginia Grey
WHISTLING IN THE DARK (MGM, 1941) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD George Haight SCR Henry Clork, Albert Mannheimer, Robert MacGonigle (play by Edward Childs Carpenter, Laurence Gross) CAST Red Skelton, Conrad Veidt, Ann Rutherford (Carol Lambert), Virginia Grey, Rags Ragland, Eve Arden
BADLANDS OF DAKOTA (Universal, 1941) DIR Alfred E. Green PROD George Waggner SCR Gerald Geraghty (story by Harold Shumate) CAST Robert Stack, Ann Rutherford (Anne Grayson), Richard Dix, Frances Farmer, Broderick Crawford, Andy Devine, Lon Chaney, Jr.
LIFE BEGINS FOR ANDY HARDY (MGM, 1941) DIR George B. Seitz SCR Agnes Christine Johnston (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden, Judy Garland
THIS TIME FOR KEEPS (1942) DIR Charles Reisner PROD Samuel Marx SCR Harry Ruskin, Rian James, Muriel Roy Bolton (characters created by Herman J. Mankiewicz) CAST Ann Rutherford (Katherine White), Robert Sterling, Virginia Weidler, Guy Kibbee, Irene Rich, Henry O’Neill
THE COURTSHIP OF ANDY HARDY (MGM, 1942) DIR George B. Seitz PROD Carey Wilson SCR Agnes Christine Johnston (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden, Donna Reed
ANDY HARDY’S DOUBLE LIFE (MGM, 1942) DIR George B. Seitz SCR Agnes Christine Johnston (characters created by Aurania Rouverol) CAST Lewis Stone, Mickey Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden, Ann Rutherford (Polly Benedict), Sara Haden, Esther Williams
ORCHESTRA WIVES (20th Century Fox, 1942) DIR Archie Mayo PROD William LeBaron SCR Karl Thunberg, Darrell Ware (story by James Prindle) CAST George Montgomery, Ann Rutherford (Connie Ward), Glenn Miller, Lynn Bari, Carole Landis, Cesar Romero
WHISTLING IN DIXIE (MGM, 1942) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD George Haight SCR Nat Perrin, Wilkie Mahoney CAST Red Skelton, Ann Rutherford (Carole Lambert), George Bancroft, Guy Kibbee, Diana Lewis, Peter Whitney
WHISTLING IN BROOKLYN (MGM, 1943) DIR S. Sylvan Simon PROD George Haight SCR Nat Perrin, Wilkie C. Mahoney CAST Red Skelton, Ann Rutherford (Carol Lambert), Jean Rogers, Rags Ragland, Ray Collins, Henry O’Neill
HAPPY LAND (20th Century Fox, 1943) DIR Irving Pichel PROD Kenneth Macgowan SCR Kathryn Scola, Julien Josephson (novel by MacKinlay Kantor) CAST Don Ameche, Frances Dee, Harry Carey, Ann Rutherford (Lenore Prentiss), Cara Williams, Dickie Moore
BERMUDA MYSTERY (20th Century Fox, 1944) DIR Benjamin Stoloff PROD William Girard SCR W. Scott Darling (story by John Larkin) CAST Preston Foster, Ann Rutherford (Constance Martin), Charles Butterworth, Helene Reynolds, Jean Howard, Richard Lane, Jason Robards, Sr.
BEDSIDE MANNER (United Artists, 1945) DIR – PROD Andrew [L.] Stone SCR Frederick Jackson, Malcolm Stuart Boylan (story by Robert Carson) CAST John Carroll, Ruth Hussey, Charles Ruggles, Ann Rutherford (Lola Cross), Esther Dale, Grant Mitchell
TWO O’CLOCK COURAGE (RKO, 1945) DIR Anthony Mann PROD Ben Stoloff SCR Robert E. Kent (story by Gelett Burgess) CAST Tom Conway, Ann Rutherford (Patty Mitchell), Richard Lane, Lester Matthews, Ronald Drew, Bettejane Greer [Jane Greer]
THE MADONNA’S SECRET (Republic, 1946) DIR William Thiele SCR William Thiele, Bradbury Foote CAST Francis Lederer, Gail Patrick, Ann Rutherford (Linda North), Edward Ashley, Linda Sterling
MURDER IN THE MUSIC HALL (Republic, 1946) DIR John English SCR Frances Hyland, László Görög (story by Maria Matray, Arnold Phillips) CAST Vera Hruba Ralston, William Marshall, Helen Walker, Nancy Kelly, William Gargan, Ann Rutherford (Gracie), Julie Bishop
INSIDE JOB (Universal, 1946) DIR – PROD Jean Yarbrough SCR George Bricker, Jerry Warner (story by Tod Browning, Garrett Fort) CAST Preston Foster, Alan Curtis, Ann Rutherford (Claire Norton), Joe Sawyer, Joan Shawlee, Milburn Stone
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (RKO, 1947) DIR Norman Z. McLeod PROD Samuel Goldwyn SCR Everett Freeman, Ken Englund (story by James Thurber) CAST Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Boris Karloff, Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford (Gertrude Griswold), Thurston Hall
THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (Warner Bros., 1948) DIR Vincent Sherman PROD Jerry Wald SCR George Oppenheimer, Harry Kurnitz (story by Herbert Dalmas) CAST Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors, Robert Douglas, Alan Hale, Romney Brent, Ann Rutherford (Donna Elena)
OPERATION HAYLIFT (Lippert, 1950) DIR Wiliam Berke PROD Joe Sawyer SCR Joe Sawyer, Dean Riesner CAST Bill Williams, Ann Rutherford (Clara Masters), Tom Brown, Jane Nigh, Joe Sawyer, Richard Travis
THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS (MGM, 1972) DIR James Goldstone PROD William Belasco SCR Lane Slate CAST James Garner, Katharine Ross, Hal Holbrook, Harry Guardino, June Allyson, Tom Ewell, Peter Lawford, Edmond O’Brien, Arthur O’Connell, Ann Rutherford (Gloria)
WON TON TON, THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD (Paramount, 1976) DIR Michael Winner PROD Michael Winner, David V. Picker, Arnold Schulman SCR Arnold Schulman, Cy Howard CAST Bruce Dern, Madeline Kahn, Art Carney, Phil Silvers, Teri Garr, Milton Berle, Joan Blondell, Cyd Charisse, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dorothy Lamour, Victor Mature, Virginia Mayo, Ann Miller, Walter Pidgeon, Ann Rutherford (Grayson’s Secretary), Dean Stockwell, Rudy Vallee, Johnny Weissmuller