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Ruth Ford, Literary Muse, Actress and wife to Zachary Scott, dies at Age 98

From The New York Times
Ruth Ford, Film and Stage Actress, Dies at 98
By DENNIS HEVESI

Ruth Ford, Zachary Scott's former wife

Ruth Ford, Zachary Scott's former wife

Ruth Ford, a film and stage actress who turned her Manhattan apartment in the Dakota into a salon as she became something of a muse to writers, artists and musicians, died at her home on Wednesday. She was 98.

Her lawyer, Karin Gustafson, confirmed her death and her age; Ms. Ford had long insisted she was four years younger.

For more than 40 years, Ms. Ford’s apartment in the Dakota — the gabled, fortresslike building on the northwest corner of 72nd Street that was built in the 1880s — welcomed the likes of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Terrence McNally and Truman Capote.

If Ms. Ford had lived in another century, she would have been one of the great salonnieres of all time, the lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim told People magazine in 1975.

“It was a chance encounter between Sondheim and librettist Arthur Laurents in her Manhattan living room that led to their collaboration, with Leonard Bernstein, on ‘West Side Story,’ ” the magazine said.

Dark-haired and delicate, Ms. Ford had arrived in New York from her native Mississippi in the mid-1930s and was soon modeling for famous photographers, including Carl Van Vechten, Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. Her image appeared in Harper’s, Mademoiselle and Vogue. The surrealist Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew did a portrait of her.

Ms. Ford’s entry into New York’s cultural scene was eased by her brother, Charles Henri Ford, a poet, novelist and artist who was already well known among the bohemian crowd and who was long the lover of Tchelitchew. (Ford died in 2002.)

She was already a friend of Faulkner, whom she had met while she was attending the University of Mississippi. He later played an important role in her acting career.

Modeling was not enough for Ms. Ford. Soon after arriving in New York, she started making casting calls. In 1938 she performed in “The Shoemakers’ Holiday,” a production of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater Group.

Soon afterward Ms. Ford went to Hollywood, where she was cast in B-movies like “Truck Busters,” The Gorilla Man” and “Lady Gangster,” among her more than two dozen films.

“I made so many terrible movies in Hollywood,” she said.

Greater success came onstage. In 1959 Ms. Ford starred in the only play written by Faulkner, “Requiem for a Nun,” based on one of his early novels, “Sanctuary.” The stage role of Temple Drake — a woman dealing with a violent past — was written expressly for Ms. Ford. She played opposite the film star Zachary Scott, her second husband, whom she had married in 1950.

Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, November 9, 1947

Pierre Balmain and Ruth Ford, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, November 9, 1947

Time magazine wrote of her performance, “She flicks out her lines with an invisible riding crop, aristocratic in disdain, febrile in sexuality, empty-eyed at the soul’s abyss.” She also got good reviews for her impassioned portrayal of a genteel drug addict in the 1973 Mart Crowley play “A Breeze From the Gulf.”

Ms. Ford had roles in more than a dozen Broadway shows and in many television productions.

Born in Brookhaven, Miss., on July 7, 1911, Ms. Ford was the daughter of Charles and Gertrude Cato Ford. Her parents owned hotels in four Southern towns, and she and her brother spent much of their childhoods moving from one town to another. After her brother moved to New York, she visited him and became entranced.

“My brother had all these strange, wonderful people around him,” she told After Dark magazine in 1974. “And once I had seen them, once I had seen New York, well, what the hell was I going to do in Mississippi? Marry a shoe salesman?”

She moved to New York and, in the early 1940s, married the actor Peter van Eyck. The marriage soon ended in divorce. Her second husband, Mr. Scott, died in 1965. Ms. Ford is survived by a daughter, Shelly Scott of Santa Barbara, Calif.; a granddaughter; and two great-grandchildren.

For a time in the 1970s, Ms. Ford’s companion was a man half her age, Dotson Rader, the author of, among other books, “I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore,” a recounting of the campus revolution of the ’60s.

“One’s chronological age has nothing to do with anything,” she told People magazine. “Marriage is a lost word; it has absolutely no meaning today.”

What really was important to her was her circle of creative, influential friends.

“My life has been too exciting, too wonderful,” she said, “to let anything else, and that includes acting, come first.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly rendered a portion of a quote from Ruth Ford. She said, “My life has been too exciting, too wonderful, to let anything else, and that includes acting, come first” — not “to come first.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/14/theater/14ford-1.html

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