By Tom Morrow
There are times in one’s life when unexpected pleasures come flooding in. I’ve had several of those occasions, one of them occurring back in 1979, while a cast member of the venerable stage play, The Philadelphia Story at the Patio Playhouse in Escondido.
I was cast as Uncle Willie, one of the supporting characters. The movie was a favorite of mine. The 1940 film featured Cary Grant, Katharyn Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey.
I don’t recall who, but one of my friends told me that Miss Hussey lived in Carlsbad and had the popular actress’ phone number. Miss Hussey had played the photographer Elizabeth Inbrig character, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, It occurred to me having the one-time popular star would be something of a coup if I could get her to one of the stage performances. I called her and she graciously accepted without hesitation – and, could she bring some of her Hollywood friends? I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough.
Ruth Carol Hussey born October 30, 1911, in Providence, R.I. In New York City, she worked as a model before landing a number of stage roles with touring companies. MGM signed her to a players’ contract and she made her film debut in 1937. She quickly became a leading lady in MGM’s “B” unit, usually playing sophisticated, worldly roles. In 1941, exhibitors voted her the third-most popular new star in Hollywood.
Other films she starred in included working with Robert Taylor in Flight Command (1940), Robert Young in Northwest Passage (1940), Van Heflin in Tennessee Johnson (1942), Ray Milland in The Uninvited (1944), Alan Ladd in The Great Gatsby (1949), and Clifton Webb in “Stars & Stripes Forever (1953). In 1960, she co-starred in The Facts of Life with Bob Hope. Miss Hussey was also active in early television drama.
She also was active in Catholic charities, was noted for painting in watercolors, and was a lifelong Democrat although she did vote for Republican Thomas Dewey in 1944, and for Hollywood friend and former co-star Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.
On the night she and her entourage arrived, I introduced the 18-year-old young lady playing the photographer’s role to Miss Hussey after the show. While the youngster had never seen the movie, nor had no idea who the star was, Miss Hussey praised girl for her Patio performance.
Among the friends Miss Hussey brought was her film producer-husband Bab Longnecker, Dick Simmons (Sgt Preston of the Yukon), and three other familiar character actors, whose names I don’t recall. The trio we easily recognizable after having seen them numerous times down through the years in supporting character roles of old films. They all lived in the Rancho Carlsbad community just off El Camino Real. Ruth Hussey died at the age of 95 on Aug. 19, 2005.
As for that Patio Playhouse production of The Philadelphia Story, “Uncle Willie” was honored with the “Best Supporting Actor” award at the close of the season. A nice way to remember a wonderful life experience.
GROANER — A movie producer was planning his next blockbuster — an action docudrama about famous composers, so he set up a meeting with such noted icons as Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger, offering each a chance to select which famous musicians they’d like to portray.
“I’ve always admired Mozart,” Stallone said. “I’d love to play him.”
“Chopin has always been my favorite,” said Van Damme. “That’s the part for me.”
The producer turned to Schwarzenegger. “And you, Arnold? Who do you want to be?” There was a long silence, then Arnold replied, “I’ll be Bach.”
GAS-X? —- One reader made this suggestion for a bit of pump relief: cut the state gasoline taxes.
“The state Legislature could reduce state taxes on gasoline,” he suggested. “It won’t deal with the supply or resource problem, but it would help with our pocket-book shock.”
He added, “As the price of gas goes up, the sales-tax collection increases, so, if the price drops through a tax cut, wouldn’t the rush for full tank resulting in additional sales make up the difference?”
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