Our Polly Benedict: Remembering Ann Rutherford

The heavens gained several stars this year as classic film stars passed away in 2012.

Since Comet Over Hollywood did not give several of them the full attention they deserved, the first few days of 2013 will be dedicated to some of the notable celebrities who left us.

Ann Rutherford in 1940

Ann Rutherford in 1940

At first glance, Ann Rutherford was just merely a young, pretty teen star who played Mickey Rooney’s girlfriend in the 1930s and 1940s Andy Hardy film series.

But Miss Rutherford was so much more.

Seemingly an all-American teen, Rutherford was actually born in Vancouver, Canada. Though the attractive brunette was in several lower budget MGM films, Ann always brought something special to the screen.

From performing as Scarlett O’Hara’s sister Careen in one of the biggest films of all time, “Gone with the Wind” (1939) to Andy Hardy’s selfish girlfriend Polly Benedict, Rutherford was a well-rounded young actress.

Rutherford decided to become an actress after she had to stay after school for disobeying a teacher, according to a 2010 Los Angeles Times article.

“I thought if I had a job I wouldn’t have to go to that crummy school anymore. That would liberate me,” she said.

She passed KFAC and applied for a job as an actor and got a job a month later, according to the article.

Rutherford lied about her age when she got into films, saying she was 18 instead of 15, according to the Los Angeles Times article.

“What did I know,” she said. “I stuffed a lot of Kleenex in my bra and went out and said, I’m a leading lady.”

She was even a leading lady in westerns at age 16, with leading men like Gene Autry and Walter Huston.

Young MGM stars gather for Judy Garland's 16th birthday party : Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper and Marjorie Gestring.

Young MGM stars gather for Judy Garland’s 16th birthday party : Mickey Rooney, Ann Rutherford, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper and Marjorie Gestring.

“I told them I was 18; otherwise they wouldn’t have used me. I did about 15 pictures for Mascot within ten months, until my mother took one good look at me in daylight and broke my contract.  I had circles under my circles,” she said. “In those days, you shot a six-day week, and if you were on location, you shot a seven-day week; and most of those pictures were made in eleven days.  If it was a big feature, they made it in fourteen days.”

While obituaries read “Gone with the Wind actress dies,” that isn’t the only reason I love Ann.

Ann Rutherford as Polly Benedict and Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy in 1938.

Ann Rutherford as Polly Benedict and Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy in 1938.

Naturally you also remember Andy Hardy and “Pride and Prejudice” (1940), where she plays Lydia, the foolish sister who runs away with a soldier.

But my favorite films of hers include the “Whistling” detective films with Red Skelton and “Keeping Company” (1940) where she plays a young newlywed. In these two films, Ann has the opportunity to grow up and perform as an adult woman.

Ann’s career ended in the late 1940s and she made occasional television appearances in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1953 she married director William Dozier until his death in 1991. She retired from acting to be a mother to her daughter and stepdaughter.

Ann’s days as an adolescent actor weren’t as bad as Natalie Woods or Judy Garland but she once said you have to know when to quit.

One day she got home early from the studio and her four-year-old daughter Gloria was playing with her nurse and didn’t want to stop to play with her mother.

“I thought, ‘What am I doing, letting a strange woman raise my daughter?’ So I quit acting,” she said.

Rutherford passed away on June 11, 2012, at the age of 94, one of the last living stars of “Gone with the Wind.”

But her legacy won’t just live in her role as Scarlett’s younger sister. She will be remembered for her fresh face and sparkling smile.

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