Ruth Gordon’s birthday is today. Gordon may have passed away in 1985 at the age of 88, but she lives on in cinema, which is a particularly long-lasting print to leave. Born in Quincy, Massachusetts, Gordon was a versatile talent, winning an Oscar for acting and being nominated for three others for her screenwriting. She also appeared on television, winning an Emmy for her performance on Taxi and being nominated for two others (for Rhoda and The Great Houdini), and regularly performed on Broadway starting in the 1910s (Tony-nominated for The Matchmaker).
But she is probably best known, and definitely to me, for her role as Minnie Castevet, the solicitous neighbour in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. In one of my all-time favourite horror performances, Gordon plays Castevet with the perfect balance of friendliness and unease, her subtlety winning her that Oscar. An elderly woman has never been so terrifying.
After Baby, Gordon had significant presence in movies like Harold and Maude and Every Which Way But Loose. With her husband and writing partner, Garson Kanin, she wrote the screenplays for A Double Life, Pat and Mike, and most notably, Adam’s Rib, a classic romantic comedy starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as married lawyers working against each other in court.
Along with Rosemary’s Baby, I think Gordon is best remembered by Inside Daisy Clover, a 1965 drama directed by Robert Mulligan about the cruelty of Hollywood and an important film as being one of the earliest depictions in American cinema of homosexuality being okay (however, apparently Robert Redford – who played the gay character – insisted he show some interest in women). Regardless, Gordon is wonderful as the main character’s mother, and she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. The film has since become a cult hit following its initial failure, and deserves to be more widely seen.
Henry Winkler’s birthday is also today, turning 68, and so is mine. I think I’ll celebrate by watching Rosemary’s Baby.