Ann Rutherford, a wholesome supporting actress in Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s, notably as Scarlett OHaras youngest sister in Gone With the Wind and as Mickey Rooneys loyal sweetheart in the Andy Hardy movie series, died this week at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif.
She was 94 and had heart ailments. The death Monday was confirmed by a friend, actress Anne Jeffreys.
A demure brunette with strikingly big brown eyes, Rutherford was the quintessential girl-next-door in dozens of films. Time magazine once described her as having two of Hollywoods gentlest shoulders and most innocent eyes.
Despite the general sweetness of her screen persona, she proved convincing as Danny Kayes henpecking fiancée in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).
While the prominence and quality of her roles fluctuated, Rutherford was a sensitive performer at light comedy and melodrama.
She appeared in high-end productions such as Pride and Prejudice (1940), starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson, and low-budget westerns opposite the warbling cowboy Gene Autry.
I was Gene Autrys first leading lady and the only one he ever kissed, she once quipped. After that, he kissed his horse.
The daughter of entertainers, Rutherford made her screen debut in 1935 as the star of the low-budget drama Waterfront Lady. Two years later, Rutherford was signed by the most prestigious studio in Hollywood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and was cast in the Andy Hardy series.
They starred Rooney as an all-American teenager who learns lessons in love and friendship – often at the foot of his understanding father, a small-town judge fond of man-to-man talks. The films, with their idealized vision of American small-town life, were a box-office sensation during the Depression and World War II.
The series earned more than $75 million for MGM (when movie tickets cost about 25 cents) and made Rooney the worlds biggest movie star for three years.
Rutherford later recalled that she was not excited initially about taking the part. Perhaps apocryphally, she told interviewer Richard Lamparksi that for much of the run, she had to stand in a hole so she would not tower over the diminutive Rooney.
As her clout rose at MGM, Rutherford said she fought for the role of Carreen – the youngest of the three OHara sisters in Gone With the Wind (1939) – despite studio chief Louis Mayers objections that it was a nothing part at a rival studio.
A fan of the Margaret Mitchell novel, Rutherford insisted on being loaned out to producer David Selznick. She said Mayer relented after she uncharacteristically burst into tears in his office.
He was usually the emotional one, she told the Los Angeles Times in 2010. All it needed for me was to burst out crying. He said, Get in your car and go over to the studio.
Rutherford became a gregarious fixture at anniversary screenings of the Civil War epic and was besieged by autograph seekers.
That nothing part turned my golden years into platinum, the Times quoted her as saying.