2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
Ann Rutherford’s death on Monday night reminds us how precious our time on this earth is. In fact, she once remarked to a friend that one special part of Gone With The Wind she liked was the sundial because of it’s saying: “Don’t squander time, for time is the thing that life is made of.”
She also liked that her character Carreen got to comment on her hands after they had all been working in the fields. SuEllen was complaining about picking cotton and she said: “I guess things like hands and ladies don’t matter so much anymore.”
Ann Rutherford said she was proud she was able to say that line. She was more than a movie star; she was a deep person who cared about people and about nature.
This writer interviewed Rutherford, both for a book and also with a camera crew for a documentary. While calling her back for fact checking she formed a friendship with her and they talked occasionally on the telephone. The best conversations were in person. Once on a trip to Marietta, Georgia for an appearance Ann Rutherford let the conversation stray from Gone With The Wind and it was evident how educated and up to date she was about the current situations in Atlanta, Marietta, and even nearby Athens where the University of Georgia was.
She was always learning and in turn she liked to impart that knowledge on others.
Our most recent conversation, which was in Sept. 2011 was a friendly, ‘how are you doing’ conversation. Rutherford said she stayed busy, but that she got tired more easily. At the time she said she was trying to put more time between her travels so she could rest up for the next one.
She had wanted to travel to Marshfield, Missouri last spring for the Cherry Blossom Festival, an event her step-daughter Deborah Dozier Potter attended, but was unable to make it due to other travels and needing to rest and re-group.
One of her last trips was in 2010 when she traveled to Kent State University and appeared with Turner Classic Movies’ (TCM) Robert Osborne, meeting up with Dr. Christopher Sullivan for a fund-raiser benefitting the university.
Rutherford, who never charged for her autograph and appearance only agreed to charge for her autograph because it was benefitting Kent State.
“They wanted me to charge for my autograph,” she said by phone shortly after she returned. “I wasn’t going to do that, but then Chris Sullivan said all the money would go straight to Kent State for their museum. If one of my autographs can bring in money to help, I’ll sign all day.”
Rutherford, who starred as Polly Benedict in the Andy Hardy films with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and many old Westerns, as well as many television shows and movies including Gone With The Wind, had a special relationship with Sullivan.
Sullivan, a GWTW collector corresponded with her and when they met something clicked.
She had an affection for him—she loved him as a son– and it was obvious, when she talked about him to this writer who was working on a book, “you must talk to Dr. Sullivan.”
“You have to talk to him,” she said, “And you have to travel to Marietta to see his museum.”
“His museum” is the Marietta Gone With The Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square, which is a facility owned by the city of Marietta and displays Sullivan’s collection.
Sullivan, who is from Ohio– thus the Kent State connection—got Rutherford to travel to Marietta several times for Gone With The Wind events put on by the museum, coordinated by Connie Sutherland. Ann Rutherford was always the highlight of the events.
She was splendid in her bright pant suits with matching chiffon scarves. She always wore a type of pony tail with the scarf tied around it—and glitzy diamond glasses.
Even as she got older, she attended the events.
“As I get older I need help, so I bought my walking cane,” she said once. “It’s great, I can use it for balance and walking and then when I get tired, I just turn it around and pull out the seat and voila, it’s a chair.”
Rutherford, who lived her last 20 years as a widow, had such great memories of her married life with television producer and actor Bill Dozier. They loved to travel.
Dozier was executive producer and a voice on the old Batman television programs. Because of Rutherford’s own successful career and then with Dozier’s money, she lived the life of an “Old Hollywood” star.
She enjoyed playing cards with her friends who were also stars, including Betty Lynn (who played Thelma Lou, the love interest for Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show.) She was also very good friends with Rosemary Clooney.
She has an interesting situation regarding her step-daughter Deborah Dozier Potter, who she helped raise. Potter is the niece of Olivia de Havilland, Melanie in Gone With The Wind.
Deborah’s mother is Joan Fontaine, de Havilland’s sister, and it has been documented that the two sisters have not had a relationship for years.
Rutherford, however had a good relationship with all three of them—the daugher, the mother, and the aunt. Rutherford’s character in Gone With The Wind, Careen O’Hara ended up living in the same house with de Havilland’s character, Melanie when Melanie and Ashley moved into Tara, so they were connected both on-screen and off-screen in the family way.
Here’s how it happened in real life: Dozier was married to Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland’s sister from 1946-51 and they had a daughter, Deborah Leslie Dozier. Rutherford and Dozier married in 1953 and that marriage was a solid and happy marriage and they stayed married for almost 40 years until his death in 1991 at age 83.
“We did so many fun things,” said Rutherford. “We traveled to Europe. In fact one time, after Gone With the Wind, we met up with David Selznick on a trip.”
Rutherford still lived in the same Hollywood style house she shared with Dozier and his then five-year-old-daughter. Deborah. Deborah Dozier Potter is the author of the book Let Buster Lead, which tells of her struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome after falling off a horse.
Even though she spent her last years celebrating Gone With The Wind, Rutherford was such a big star that the role was really just a blip on the radar screen of her movie and television career.
In fact she liked to remember how her boss Louis B. Mayer did not even want her to take the part. He called it a “nothing” part, but she had cried until he let her be lent to Selznick Studios for the movie.
In 1939 when Gone With The Wind premiered in Atlanta, Ann Rutherford was the first star to arrive. She came with her mother.
“I was still young and living with my mother at the time,” Rutherford told this writer earlier in an interview. “My family lived in Kentucky so we took the train to Atlanta and then went on to Kentucky.”
The Mayor of Atlanta met her at the train station, as well as a representative from the Governor’s Office. She came in a day earlier than most of the stars so she got the royal treatment.
Rutherford’s famous quote of “Gone With The Wind has made our golden years platinum” described how much she enjoyed attending the Gone With The Wind events and being with all the GWTW fans. No one who asked for an autograph was turned down, and she spent hours posing for pictures with fans. Those pictures will be treasured by those lucky enough to have known her.
Rest in peace beautiful lady.
Sally Tippett Rains is the author of The Making of a Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Classic Novel, Gone With The Wind. (www.GWTWBook.com)