Ruth Donnelly

Active - 1927 - 1957  |   Born - May 17, 1896   |   Died - Nov 17, 1982   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Romance, Musical

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The daughter of a New Jersey newspaper reporter/ critic/ editor, Ruth Donnelly made her first stage appearance at 17, in the chorus of the touring show The Quaker Girl. Shortly afterward, she essayed the first of hundreds of comedy roles in a theatrical piece called Margie Pepper. Her Broadway debut occurred in 1914's A Scrap of Paper, which brought her to the attention of showman George M. Cohan, who cast Ruth in choice comic-relief roles for the next five years. Her first film was 1927's Rubber Heels, but Ruth didn't pursue a Hollywood career until the Wall Street crash reduced her opportunities in "live" theatre. From 1932's Blessed Event onward, Ruth was one of Tinseltown's favorite wisecracking matrons, brightening many a sagging scene in such films as Wonder Bar (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). She was proudest of her performance as a lively middle-aged nun in Leo McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's; unfortunately, most of that performance ended up on the cutting-room floor. Closing out her film career with Autumn Leaves (1956) and her stage career with The Riot Act (1963), Ruth Donnelly retired to a Manhattan residential hotel, politely but firmly refusing all offers to appear in TV commercials and soap operas.

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