Friday, August 16, 2013

Ruth Clifford and the Tim Holt unit 1941

I met Ruth Clifford a couple of times at social functions. I recall our mutual host, UCLA nitrate maven Bob Gitt, introducing Ruth to the gathering with, "Here's Ruth Clifford everybody!" To which the 93-year-old quipped: "Or what's left of her!" But there was a lot left of Ruth Clifford, if not in the tiny frame then in a quick-witted mind that belied her advanced age. As old as the century, the Rhode Island born, Los Angeles reared Clifford entered films while still a teenager. A star for Carl Laemmle's Universal, Ruth remembered for us how uncomfortably it felt to "make love," cinematically, to aging matinee idol Monroe Salisbury, whose dentures and hairpiece both came equally askew in the clinch. The film in question was THE SAVAGE (1917), one of several outdoorsy melodramas she would make. (And, incidentally, the screen debut of future silent mega star Colleen Moore.)

Clifford became an extra/bit player in sound films, notably for John Ford, who, she admitted, usually brought her along more for her bridge-playing skills (they were both fanatics) than for any other reason and you usually had to look long and hard for a glimpse of her.

Ruth actually had a bigger role in the 1941 Tim Holt oater ALONG THE RIO GRANDE. She plays the hostess of a below-the-border dive where she not only keeps pretty songstress Betty Jane Rhodes more or less captive but also stupidly allows Ray Whitley to perform for a small but ecstatic crowd, Ray in reality being in cahoots with Tim Holt, who has infiltrated nasty Robert Fiske's gang of cutthroats. And it is Ruth who overhears Tim confess that he in reality is working with sheriff Hal Taliaferro and soon the jig is up. Cue a bullet strewn finale.

While with the Holt RKO unit, Clifford also turned up in LAND OF THE OPEN RANGE (rel. 1942), but here she was merely a townswoman, the kind of minuscule part she played in most of her sound films. By the time I met Ruth Clifford, she was staying in in one of the bungalows at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA, the retirement facility that Mary Pickford and Jean Hersholt had help fund, and it was here she died at the ripe old age of 98 in 1998.


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