Ruth Ford, Actress and Salon Hostess, Dead at 98

Obituaries   Ruth Ford, Actress and Salon Hostess, Dead at 98
 
Ruth Ford, whose considerable career as an actress was perhaps outshined in cultural circles by her role as a hostess to the famous and talented, died on Aug. 12. She was 98.

Following her poet brother to New York from her native Mississippi in the 1930s, Ms. Ford quickly established herself first as a model, then an actress, notably taking part in The Shoemaker's Holiday and Danton's Death, two of the few productions in Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre's short but legendary career, and the original New York productions of Sartre's No Exit and Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba. She also acted in the Mercury's short film “Too Much Johnson.”

But she found a more vital purpose in the social gatherings she hosted at her apartment in the Dakota, the grand Upper West Side apartment building. William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote were all visitors. (She appears in plays written by all three.) Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents met at one party, resulting in the two working together on West Side Story, the landmark musical that forged young Sondheim’s reputation.

Ms. Ford became acquainted with many artists early on through her brother, the noted bohemian writer Charles Henri Ford (“The Young and Evil”), who traveled in rarified creative circles, was the editor of the Surrealist magazine View (1940-1947) and was romantically linked to Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. "As a brother and sister team, they were quite spectacular," said Allen Frame, a family friend. In the 1930s, Ms. Ford did some modeling work for photographers such as Carl Van Vechten, Man Ray and Cecil Beaton. She appeared on the covers of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mademoiselle. Novelist Faulkner she had already known from her days attending the University of Mississippi; she dated both his brother and his nephew. She later wrote a film adaptation on his “Sanctuary,” which was directed in 1961 by Tony Richardson.

Ms. Ford married into the arts as well. In the early 1940s, she wed the actor Peter van Eyck, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. In 1950 film star Zachary Scott became her second husband. Mr. Scott, who nicknamed his wife “Ruthless,” died in 1965. Ms. Ford is survived by a daughter, Shelly Scott of Santa Barbara, CA. Shelly was born is 1941; her godfather is Orson Welles. Scott subsequently adopted her, and she took her stepfather’s name. Mother and daughter became estranged when, after Scott’s death, Shelly Scott retained the royalties to her stepfather’s films, even though Zachary Scott had requested she give them to Ms. Ford as long as she was alive.

During the 1940s, Ms. Ford made many B-movies in Hollywood, including “Truck Busters,” "The Gorilla Man” and “Lady Gangster,” never moving up to higher quality projects. She had better material to work with on Broadway, starring in Faulkner’s Requium for a Nun in 1959, a play the author wrote with Ms. Ford in mind; playing in a Phoenix Theatre double bill of Strindberg’s Miss Julie and The Stronger and appearing in a 1964 revival of Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore opposite Tallulah Bankhead. Other stage credits included The Grass Harp, Dinner at Eight and Harold and Maude.

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