The Associated Press is reporting the death of Ann Rutherford, the actress perhaps best known for playing Mickey Rooney's beleaguered best girl in the Andy Hardy movie series and her role as Scarlett O'Hara's younger sister in Gone With The Wind. She was 94.
Rutherford began acting in the 1930s, co-starring in several early Westerns alongside Gene Autry and John Wayne before being signed as an MGM contract player. It was there she had roles in 1938's A Christmas Carol and 1940's Pride And Prejudice, but her greatest early success came with her casting as Polly Benedict, the sweet girl-next-door type who remained ever-faithful to Mickey Rooney's rambunctious teen Andy Hardy, despite Rooney inevitably becoming briefly infatuated with some up-and-coming MGM starlet who always broke his heart. Rutherford first appeared in the second film in the long-running comedy series, sticking around for an even dozen in all.
Rutherford's other most famous role nearly didn't happen, but an impassioned, tear-filled plea from the actress herself finally won over MGM boss Louis Mayer, who agreed to loan Rutherford to David Selznick's Gone With The Wind. Stepping into a role that was originally intended for Judy Garland (who was busy with The Wizard Of Oz), Rutherford brought her typical demure charm to the role of Scarlett's sweet younger sister Carreen, who begs to be allowed to attend Ashley Wilkes' ball.
Back at MGM, Rutherford signed on to play another occasionally suffering girlfriend in the Whistling In The Dark film series opposite Red Skelton, eventually leaving the studio in the 1940s. Before retiring from movies in 1950, Rutherford also had some success starring in Fox's Orchestra Wives and as Danny Kaye's fiancée in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty (a film that is finally getting a long-gestating remake). She then transitioned to primarily working on TV, guesting on myriad 1950s anthology series like Suspense and Playhouse 90 before turning up as a regular recurring player on shows such as Perry Mason and The Bob Newhart Show.
Rutherford made two final, oddly dog-centric movies in the 1970s—They Only Kill Their Masters and Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood—before officially retiring, even turning down the role of the elder Rose in James Cameron's Titanic. She spent much of her later years attending commemorative events for Gone With The Wind; her death makes Olivia de Havilland the last surviving member of that film's major cast.
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