Ann Rutherford, the sweet-faced MGM starlet who achieved immortality as Scarlett O’Hara’s sister Carreen in Gone with the Wind, died Monday evening in her Beverly Hills home, reports the Los Angeles Times. She was 94.
The actress, who also made her mark opposite Mickey Rooney when she played Andy Hardy’s girlfriend Polly Benedict in that all-American boy series in the late ’30s, had been in declining health with heart problems, according to the newspaper.
Born in Vancouver to a singer father and a silent-film actress, Rutherford moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was nine, and as a teen figured out that if she became a radio actress she could get out of school. So she became a radio actress.
Her first movie role – eventually she did more than 60 – was in the low-budget 1935 Waterfront Lady. She then made Westerns with a very young John Wayne as well as Gene Autry, which led to her being signed by the prestigious MGM.
After she began appearing in the Andy Hardy series, studio head Louis B. Mayer tried to prevent her from being in Gone with the Wind (which was being produced by his son in law, David O. Selznick), because he thought Carreen, who was Scarlett’s understanding little sister, was “a nothing part,” Rutherford said in later interviews.
But she prevailed upon the boss, and, as the Times quotes her as saying in 2009, during a 70th anniversary showing of arguably the most beloved movie of all time, “That ‘nothing part’ turned my golden years into platinum.”
Her death leaves only one major star still alive from that 1939 box-office blockbuster: Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie. The two-time Oscar winner lives in Paris and will turn 96 on July 1.
Married twice, including to Batman TV producer William Dozier, who died in 1991, Rutherford is survived by a daughter and two grandsons.