Tributes from Ann Rutherford’s “Gone With the Wind” cast members were read Sunday during a two-hour memorial service for the acclaimed actress, including a message from another famed actress Olivia de Havilland, “Melanie.”
Rutherford was Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister Carreen in the Oscar-winning 1939 film. On June 11, Rutherford, 94, died of heart failure at her Beverly Hills home of 69 years.
De Havilland, 96, sent an email from Paris, France, to the Rev. Nicholas Inman, friend of both actresses and chairman of the Marshfield Cherry Blossom Festival in Missouri, to be read at the service that was sponsored by Georgia’s Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum. She wrote, “In spirit I will be with you in Marietta today, joining Ann’s many friends there as they gather together to celebrate her life in a Memorial Service. What a beautiful tribute this is, and how moving that it is being held in a place which brought her so much happiness, and among people who meant so much to her. I am sure that, in spirit, she, too, will be there – full of love and gratitude. My warmest regards, Olivia de Havilland.”
Since 2007, Rutherford visited Marietta for the museum’s annual events until this year due to her declining health.
When she died, one of her best friends, actress Anne Jeffreys of the famed “Topper” television series, was by her side. “I have lost my dearest, best friend,” Jeffreys wrote in another message to museum director Connie Sutherland that she read at Sunday’s service.
Upon her passing, Jeffreys called Dr. Christopher Sullivan of Ohio, owner of the Marietta museum’s GWTW collection, who had known Rutherford for 18 years. Then he called GWTW actors Mickey Kuhn, who portrayed Ashley and Melanie’s 6-year-old son Beau Wilkes, and Patrick Curtis, who was baby Beau during the burning of Atlanta.
Kuhn and Curtis made frequent appearances with Rutherford at GWTW reunion events around the nation in recent years.
Unable to attend her service due to eye surgery, Kuhn wrote to Sullivan that he called Rutherford every couple of months. Whenever he would ask her about her health, she always replied, “Oh, honey, I’m just fine” until about a week before her death when she was too weak to talk.
Curtis wrote in a message to Sullivan for her memorial service, “I will miss her with all my heart.” Curtis recalled her willingness to assist as a presenter at the Golden Boot Awards, which he produced to honor performers in Western movies – one of whom was Rutherford.
Other surviving GWTW cast members are Alicia Rhett (born Feb. 1, 1915, India Wilkes); Mary Anderson (born April 3, 1920, Maybelle Meriweather); Rick Holt (Beau Wilkes as a toddler); and Greg Giese (Bonnie Blue Butler and Beau Wilkes as infants).
Jeffreys also sent Sutherland a 2010 interview by Huell Howser when he interviewed “The Two Anns” for his “California’s Gold” series.
Rutherford is survived by her daughter Gloria May; her best friend of 20 years, Al Morley; a stepdaughter, Deborah Dozier Potter; and two grandsons. She was married to David May II, the grandson of the founder of the May Company department stores, from 1942 to 1953, when they divorced. Also in 1953, she married William Dozier, creator of the Batman TV series of the 1960s, until his death in 1991 of a stroke.
Morley sent this message to Sutherland: “I’ve never met anybody who enjoyed life more or was more generous. She was the most special person I have ever known.”
Concurring, Sutherland also said Rutherford “loved her Windies,” a group of about 150 avid GWTW fans from around the world who attend reunion events – often in GWTW costumes.
“Windie” Angela Danovi of Arkansas, founder of the Ann Rutherford Fans page on Facebook, said during her service that Rutherford greeted her when she first met her in 2009 during the museum’s 70th anniversary repremiere of the film in Marietta.
Rutherford told Danovi, “I’m so glad you young people are here. ‘Gone With the Wind’ belongs to you. Protect it and pass it on.”
To the 40 Windies in attendance on Sunday, Sutherland said, “You are the reason Ann did everything she did. To be loved by Ann was one of the great things in life.”
An MGM star, Rutherford shared top billing with Gene Autry, John Wayne, Mickey Rooney in the Andy Hardy films (as his girlfriend Polly Benedict); Glenn Miller in “Orchestra Wives” ; Sir Laurence Olivier in “Pride and Prejudice” ; Danny Kaye in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” ; Errol Flynn in “Adventures of Don Juan” ; and Red Skelton in a series of “Whistling” mystery comedies.
Rutherford also was the “Spirit of Christmas Past” in the 1938 movie “A Christmas Carol.” She starred in nearly 60 films from 1935 until 1950. On television during the 1970s, she had a recurring role as Bob Newhart’s mother-in-law and Suzanne Pleshette’s mother on “The Bob Newhart Show,” according to Rutherford’s Turner Classic Movies biography.
Among Rutherford’s GWTW items on display in the Marietta museum are her personal letters to Sullivan, her GWTW script, a set of china given to her by the studio of David O. Selznick and her personal locket that she wore in GWTW and many of her other movies. A video tribute to Rutherford by Sullivan and Mark Williams has been shown at various events.