Cast & Crew
In 1913, seventeen-year-old Ruth Gordon Jones watches breathlessly from the balcony of a Boston theater as stage star Hazel Dawn performs in a lavish musical number. That night, at her family's modest apartment in Wollaston, Ruth listens as her gruff father Clinton, from whom she has kept her own theatrical aspirations a secret, complains to her mother Annie about their financial difficulties. Ruth is thrilled when she receives an autographed photograph of Hazel, and tells her boyfriend, Harvard student Fred Whitmarsh, that she intends to become a successful actress. Meanwhile, Clinton, a former sailor who now works in a factory, informs his wife that he has decided Ruth should attend the Boston Physical Culture Institute and train for a career as a physical education teacher. Ruth later receives a letter from Hazel inviting her for a visit at the theater following the Wednesday matinee, and she feigns illness to get out of school. Several days later, while going to an amateur gymnastics exhibition at the YMCA with her parents, Ruth receives a telegram stating that Hazel has arranged an interview for her with well-known director John Craig. Ruth is distracted throughout the exhibition, although she is mortified by Clinton's comic participation in the event. When the family gets home, Clinton insists on filling out Ruth's application to the School of Physical Culture right away, and with Annie's encouragement, Ruth timidly tells her father that she wants to go on the stage. Clinton admits he has always enjoyed the theater, but remains skeptical about his diminutive daughter's potential. Ruth puts on a hasty performance for her parents and tells them about her upcoming interview with Craig, but Clinton insists that she finish high school before seeking work. The following day, Clinton tells Annie that he is worried about his job security, as one of his co-workers, Dan, may have been forced to retire early. Meanwhile, Fred encounters Ruth outside of Craig's office and proposes to her, but she gently declines his offer. That evening, a crestfallen Ruth returns home and tells her parents that Craig was not impressed with her. Just then, Clinton gets a phone call from Dan, who assures him that he chose to retire. Greatly relieved, Clinton comforts Ruth and promises to give her half of his annual bonus so that she can study acting in New York after graduation. Explaining his determination to help his daughter get a start in life, Clinton speaks for the first time about his own miserable childhood, his mother's suicide and how he ran away from his cruel great-aunts when he was eight years old and became a cabin boy on a whaling vessel. On the day Ruth is to leave for New York, however, Clinton comes home and tells Annie he has quit his job after an argument with his boss. Ruth refuses to be defeated by her circumstances, and Clinton, impressed by her gumption, gives her his valuable telescope and instructs her to sell it in New York. After Clinton tells his grateful daughter that her kind thoughts are all the repayment her parents need, the Jones family walks together to the train station.
Norma Jean Nilsson
C. M. S. Mclellan
Edwin B. Willis
Best Costume Design
In real life, Ruth Gordon's obsession with acting was partly inspired by a performance she attended of The Pink Lady at a Boston theatre. It starred Hazel Dawn as a seductive Parisian vamp and led Gordon to later remark, "All I wanted out of a career was to look like Hazel Dawn and wear pink feathers.
Cukor's research for the film was extensive, and he returned with Gordon, who adapted her play for the screen, to her hometown of Wollaston, Ma., meeting with her old friends and visiting locations that would never actually appear in the film (exteriors were shot in Pasadena, Ca.), so that he could get a real feel for it. In Richard Schickel's book The Men Who Made the Movies, Cukor says that seeing Ruth's house, in particular, was pivotal to the story's feel of authenticity: "It was much smaller than she'd thought and the kitchen was a room that had eight doors. Now, no architect or art director would have imagined that, but it had the texture of reality...and we did all sorts of research on that trip....Ruth Gordon's father had worked for the Mellin's Company - Mellin's Food - and we went to where they were dismantling it. We went to see the neighbors. You do a complete research so that you really know what you're doing, and even though you don't use it...some of it seeps through."
In what many believe to be one of his finest roles, Tracy provides a fascinatingly complex weave of crankiness and compassion in the character of Ruth's father. One of the wonders of his tough, sad but ultimately supportive Mr. Jones is the character's ability to respond, though reluctantly, to the strength of his daughter's dream. Tracy drew on some of his own experiences to make it real, as he explains in Gene D. Phillip's biography of Cukor: "Well, I remember when I told my father I wanted to be an actor and he looked at me, this skinny kid with big ears, and he said, "Oh that poor little son of a bitch; he's going to go through an awful lot."
According to Cukor, Simmons and Tracy were very fond of each other, although Tracy could be a little too believable as the iron-fisted patriarch. In the scene where Ruth's father finds her with a copy of an expensive theater magazine and blows a gasket, Spencer's anger was so real that Simmons responded with nervous giggles. Cukor liked it though, and left it in.
And though the film faithfully delivers many bittersweet memories of Gordon's early years, Gordon herself was said to be disappointed with the casting of Jean Simmons as Ruth because she thought the actress was too pretty to play the young girl authentically. Gordon and some critics were also upset by cuts the producers made to the film that diluted the spitfire personality of the teenager (a trademark of the older Ruth). Meddling cuts aside, Cukor was very pleased with Simmons' performance: "It was the only time that I have ever seen a British-born actress play an American girl with absolute authenticity. She's a wonderful actress." Reportedly, Debbie Reynolds had wanted the role, but the studio felt she didn't have enough box-office appeal to carry a lead role at that time.
Anthony Perkins makes his film debut in The Actress as the gangly boyfriend who falls hard for Ruth, though she is too concerned with her dream of acting to be bothered with anything as mundane as the opposite sex. The role of Mrs. Jones was initially offered to Katharine Hepburn, but she decided to return to the stage in a revival of The Millionairess instead. According to Cukor biographer Gene D. Phillip, during first-run engagements of The Actress, selected movie houses around the country projected the film's opening sequence - a recreation of a production number from the play, The Pink Lady, in wide screen to emphasize the larger-than-life quality of Gordon's fascination with the stage.
The story of young Ruth Gordon Jones is all about insuppressible hope in the face of insurmountable odds. And no one could put that better than Gordon herself in her autobiography My Side. "I believe in God, Jesus, Life Eternal, people, luck, my voices, myself. Pan me, don't give me the part, publish everybody's book but this one and I will still make it! Why? Because I believe I will. If you believe, then you hang on."
Producer: Lawrence Weingarten
Director: George Cukor
Screenplay: Ruth Gordon
Cinematography: Harold Rosson
Film Editing: George Boemler
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Arthur Lonergan
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Clinton Jones), Jean Simmons (Ruth Gordon Jones), Teresa Wright (Annie Jones), Anthony Perkins (Fred Whitmarsh), Ian Wolfe (Mr. Bagley), Kay Williams (Hazel Dawn).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Emily Soares
Teresa Wright (1918-2005)
She was born Muriel Teresa Wright in New York City on October 27, 1918. She showed a keen interest in acting in grade school, and by the time she was 19, she made her Broadway debut in Thorton Wilder's Our Town (1938); the following year she scored a hit as Mary, the weeping ingénue in Life with Father (1939). The word was out that New York had a superb young acting talent on hand, and Samuel Goldwyn soon brought her to Hollywood for William Wyler's adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1941). She scored an Oscar® nomination for her film debut as Regina Giddens' (Bette Davis), honorable daughter, Alexandria.
She maintained her amazing momentum by scoring two Oscar® nominations the following year for her next two films: as Carol Miniver in Wyler's Mrs. Miniver (Best Supporting Actress Category), and as Lou Gehrig's (Gary Cooper) faithful wife Ellie in Pride of the Yankees (Best Actress Category), and won the Oscar for Miniver. Yet for most fans of Wright's work, her finest hour remains her perfectly modulated performance as young Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Wright's performance as the self-effacing, impressionable young niece who gradually realizes that her beloved uncle (Joseph Cotton) may have murdered several widows is effective since Wright's air of observation, subtly turns from idol gazing, to a watchful air of caution as the facts slowly being to unravel. 60 years on, fans of Hitchcock still acclaim Wright's performance as an integral part of the film's classic status.
She proved her talents in comedy with the delightful Casanova Brown (1944), but then saw her schedule slow down due to domesticity. After she married screenwriter Niven Busch in 1942, she gave birth to son, Niven Jr., in 1944, and took two years off to look after her family. She soon returned to film with another Wyler project, the Oscar®-winning, post war drama, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), playing Fredric March's level-headed daughter, Peggy, she again took some time off after giving birth to her daughter, Mary in 1947. On her second attempt to return to the big screen, Wright found her popularity on the wane. Her wholesome image was in sharp contrast of the tougher, more modern women in post-war Hollywood, and her stubborn refusal to pose for any swimsuit or cheesecake photos to alter her image led to her release from Sam Goldwyn's contract.
As a freelance actress, Wright still found some good roles, notably as a young widow in the thriller scripted by her husband, in The Capture; and as a faithful fiancée trying to help Marlin Brandon deal with his amputation in Stanley Kramer's The Men (both 1950). Yet within a few years, she was playing middle-aged mothers in film like The Actress (1953), and The Track of the Cat (1954), even though she was still in her early '30s. By the mid-50s she found work in live television, where she could apply her stage training, in a number of acclaimed shows: Playhouse 90, General Electric Theater, Four Star Playhouse, and The United States Steel Hour.
She took a break from acting when she married her second husband, the playwright Robert Anderson in 1959, (she had divorced her first husband, Busch, in 1952) and was out of the public eye for several decades, save for an isolated theater appearance. When she did return, it was intermittent, but she was always worth watching. In James Ivory's Roseland (1977), a portrait of the New York dancehall; she was poignant as a talkative widow obsessed with her late husband; and as an enigmatic old actress in Somewhere in Time, she nearly stole the picture from leads, Christopher Reeve and Jayne Seymour. She was still active in the '90s, appearing a few hit shows: Murder, She Wrote, Picket Fences; and a final film role in John Grisham's The Rainmaker (1997). She is survived by her son, Niven; daughter, Mary; and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Teresa Wright (1918-2005)
The working titles of this film were Years Ago, Fame and Fortune and Father and the Actress. The film was based on actress/writer Ruth Gordon's autobiographical play, Years Ago. Before writing the play, Gordon published reminiscences of her youth in The Atlantic Monthly under the title "Look in Your Glass" (Aug-October 1939). As portrayed in the film, Gordon (1896-1985) grew up in Wollaston, MA, and surprised her parents with her desire to be an actress. Gordon made her Broadway debut in 1915, and enjoyed a successful stage career before marrying writer Garson Kanin, with whom she collaborated on the Academy Award-nominated screenplays for A Double Life, Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike (see below). Gordon won an Academy Award for her performance in Rosemary's Baby in 1968, and published three memoirs and a novel.
According to 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items, Debbie Reynolds was originally cast as "Ruth." Hollywood Reporter news items also include Russ Saunders' acrobatic troupe and stage actress Mary Young in the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Portions of the film were shot on location at Inglewood High School in Southern California. The Actress was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Costume Design (Black and White). Anthony Perkins made his motion picture debut in the film. According to a December 2, 1953 Variety news item, the FBI was called in when the manager of a Columbus, OH movie theater received threatening letters demanding that The Actress no longer be shown. The author of the letters called the film "obscene and disgusting," complaining specifically about the scene in which Spencer Tracy's pants fall down during a gymnastics routine. The outcome of the investigation is not known.
1953 Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor--Drama (Tracy)
Voted Best Actress (Simmons) by the 1953 National Board of Review.
Released in United States Summer August 1953
Released in United States Summer August 1953