Ruth Channing was a gentle, well bred blonde who after a short dancing career and extensive theater experience landed in Hollywood purely by chance and tried to build a movie career for herself. It didn’t quite work out and Ruth retired to become a wife and mother, so let’s learn more about her!
Eva Louise Moynahan was born on May 18, 1904, in Boston, Massachusetts, to George Seymore Moynahan and Mary Gertrude Casey. She was the youngest of three children – her older siblings were Frederick, born in 1897, and Grace Gertrude, born on April 18, 1901. Her father was born in Ireland and worked as a professor at Harvard.
Ruth grew up in an intellectual East Coast Boston family, and due to her mother’s connections in the artistic world, was a mascot for the Boston Opera Company at the age of six. She studied ballet and dramatics, and wanted to become an actress from early on. She was formally educated in Notre Dame Academy, a private, all-girls Roman Catholic high school.
Sadly, her father died in 1919, and afterwards her mother moved to Los Angeles, while Ruth went to New York to try and establish a dancing career. In the early 1920s, she was appearing on Broadway and summer stock. Sadly, she suffered an injury which derailed her dancing, and she switched solely to acting.
In 1930, after quite a bit of theatrical experience, Ruth came to Hollywood because of her mother’s Illness. In need of money, it was natural for her to seek work at a studio, since she had extensive stage training. Numerous tests finally landed her a contract with MGM, bit she languished in the studio and did’t get a part for months, waiting on stand-by.
Namely, how Ruth got into “real” acting is a funny story. Jean Harlow arranged for a screen test of Jay Whidden, in whom she was quite interested. Ruth was chosen to make the test with him because the somewhat resembled Jean. The result was that Ruth landed a job, while Jay landed outside of the studio. And thus her career started in earnest!
Ruth appeared in only 10 movies, and was mostly uncredited. Her first movie was a minor Dorothy Arzner classic, Working Girls, about two country girls who come to New York to make it good. It’s a nice, nifty little movie, happy-go-lucky but not too saccharine, nothing outstanding but well made and with a charming cast of largely unknown but interesting actresses (Dorothy Hall, Judith Wood, Claire Dodd).
Ruth’s second movie was Vanity Street, a fast paced PreCoder with a marginally shocking story that is very much female centric! it does have some stupid moments, but it’s an interesting point about women who get into big towns to make a living and don’t quite succeed the way they expect it to. The cast is full of very talented but very neglected early 1930s actresses (Helen Chandler, Mayo Methot, Claudia Morgan) and some very good actors too (Charles Bickford, George Meeker). Then came Broadway to Hollywood, a over wrought, somewhat overtly heavy drama about three generations of vaudevillians and their battles with the changing times, alcohol and overall human drama. Watch for Jackie Cooper but little else is worth noting.
Ruth had a more prominent role in Lazy River. The story is quite simple: three ex-convicts (Robert Young, Nat Pendleton, Ted Healey) come to Louisiana bayou village intending to rip off the family of a dead inmate, bu tit seems that he overestimated the family’s wealth, and of course Young falls for a Jean Parker and helps her fight off a gang of Chinese criminals. The movie is a solid low budgeter, with a good cast and some great underwater sequences.
Ruth was then cast in a prestigious production of Men in White, a Myrna Loy/Clark Gable movie where Clark plays an idealistic young doctor who has to grow up and understand that the world is not what it seems. it’s one of Clark’s last roles before his “macho” period that lasted almost until the end of his career (he played Rhett Butler one way or another is many of his roles, although who doesn’t like him like that!). The movie, based on a play by Sidney Kingsley, is a superb outlook on many topics that are still taboo today, like back alley abortions and Antisemitism. The cinematography is superb, with deep shadows and almost dreamlike quality. A definite watch!
Ruth was again uncredited in Laughing Boy, a very weird drama with Ramon Novarro and Lupe Velez playing a Native Americans in a Romeo and Juliet plot (not quite, but it has some elements of it). Then came Hollywood Part. Whoa, this is a movie you can’t believe got made. Helmed by 6 different directors and a dozen screenwriters, it ends up a hilariously bad but funny film about the fact that Jimmy Durante’s having a party and everyone’s invited. Yes, that’s the whole story, but you can see a whole bunch of old school comedy classics like the Three Stooges and Lauren and Hardy and enjoy some music and dancing. Feel good all the way!
Ruth had a small role in The Thin Man, the major classic of her filmography. Love William and Myrna together, what more do we need to say? Another really good movie came with The Merry Widow, an Ernest Lubitsch classic. Famous movie critic Andrew Sarris once wrote that “Lubitsch suggests the art of lilting waltz or bubbling champagne” and his movies truly are like that, evanescent, out of this world but still madly sophisticated and with a certain charm that nobody could replicate. The plot is simple enough, When a small kingdom’s main tax payer (Jeannette MacDonald) leaves for Paris, its king dispatches a dashing count (Maurice Chevalier) to win back her allegiance. Maurice and Jeannette work wonderful together, and Edward Everett Horton in the supporting cast is an absolute gem!
Ruth closed of her career with Outlawed Guns, her first and last starring role, but sadly, as you can guess from the name, it’s a low budget western!! The star is Buck Jones and the plot is made to tear up your heart – he’s trying to save his kid brother from some bad influences. Ruth just had to look pretty in it and that was the whole point of her role. The movie itself a mixed bag. On the good side, this western i s a notch up the typical low budgeter, even has some deeper moments (but don’t look TOO deep) but on the downside, it’s still a low budgeter and has no great value, and it did nothing for Ruth’s career.
And that was it from Ruth!
Ruth gave a beauty hint for the readers:
Although I take part in active sports, tennis and golf, I am careful to keep my skin powdered over a make-up cream when exposed to sun and wind. I find this make-up excellent protection. I have never had a sun tan. When cleansing the skin, after removing the surface make-up with cream, I use warm water and a good mild soap.
Ruth was also civically minded. Along with fellow starlets Doris Hall and Pauline Brooks, she volunteered at the local Los Angeles Assistance League.
Ruth was married for the first time to a William Parker, on October 4, 1924 in New York. I couldn’t find any additional information about the marriage, but they divorced prior to her departure to Los Angeles in 1930.
Ruth married her second husband, Hamilton MacFadden, on September 29, 1934. Here is a very good article about MacFadden, taken from the MOMA web site:
Hamilton MacFadden was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1901, just a few years after the birth of motion pictures in the U.S. His entry into the world of performance came as an actor on Broadway in 1923, in the American adaptation of Luigi Pirandello’s drama Floriani’s Wife. MacFadden continued to act through 1925, when he performed his final role in George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly’s comic Beggar on Horseback. The play was a hit in the Broadway drama season of 1925, and was later made into a Paramount Pictures film of the same name, directed by James Cruze and starring the jocular Edward Everett Horton. (Interestingly, Beggar on Horseback examined the intersection of art and commerce and what artists need to do in order to feed their aesthetic passions as well as their bellies!)
Stepping from the front of house to behind the curtain, MacFadden took on the pivotal titles of producer, director, and stage designer from 1925 through 1929, assuming key production roles in The Carolinian (1925), Gods of the Lightning (1928), One Way Street (1928), La Gringa (1928) and Buckaroo (1929). As he said adieu to the Broadway stage, MacFadden’s curriculum vitae was packed with the foremost names in American theater, Maxwell Anderson and Tom Cushing among them.
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, MacFadden married actress Violet Dunn and soon was put under contract to Fox Films. Work as a contract director basically meant that you went to the studio every day, received a directorial assignment that hopefully played to your strengths, and completed the picture. This was not ignoble work, and some directors broke out to become notable on their own, but for the hundreds and hundreds of films made in the heyday of the studios, the contract director kept the pipeline full of new releases. MacFadden’s work might not be as well known as such Fox kinsmen as John Ford, Frank Borzage, or Raoul Walsh, but his films were popular with audiences and critics alike.
The marriage started on a slightly bad note when Ruth fell and suffered a broken wrist while the couple were en route to Santa Barbara and had stopped at a service station. She stepped out of the car she slipped. Luckily she recuperated easily and could enjoy her honeymoon phase with Hamilton afterwards.
Ruth gave up her career to devote herself to married life. The MacFaddens had three children: Channing,. born on May 4, 1936, Deirdre, born on July 26, 1939, and Folger, born on April 13, 1941. The family led a happy life in Los Angeles, where MacFadden worked in the movie industry as a writer and director.
MacFadden and Ruth divorced in 1949, and Ruth returned to New York afterwards, living in Manhattan. Little is known about her later life, except that she married a Mr. Robertson (about whom I could find no information) and lived with him in Brewster, Massachuests in their later years.
Ruth Channing Robertson died on December 8, 1992, in Brewster, Massachusets.