Ruth Nelson (actress)

Ruth Gloria Nelson (August 2, 1905 – September 12, 1992) was an American stage and film actress. She is known for her roles in such films as Wilson, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Humoresque, 3 Women, The Late Show and Awakenings. She was the wife of John Cromwell, whom she acted alongside on multiple occasions.

Ruth Nelson
Ruth Nelson (Q3453627) (cropped).jpg
Promotional photograph for the film Wilson, starring Alexander Scourby and Ruth Nelson
Ruth Gloria Nelson

(1905-08-02)August 2, 1905
DiedSeptember 12, 1992(1992-09-12) (aged 87)
Years active1931–1991

Early lifeEdit

Ruth Nelson (back row, third from left) with members of the Group Theatre in 1938

Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Nelson was the daughter of vaudeville actress Eva Mudge. She attended Immaculate Heart Convent School in Los Angeles and went on to study at the American Laboratory Theatre in New York City during the early 1920s.[1] Nelson made her New York City stage debut as a member of the theatre collective Group Theatre throughout its run from 1931 to 1941, receiving praise for the role of the chief striker's wife in Clifford Odets' play Waiting for Lefty.[2]


Ruth Nelson as First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson in Wilson (1944)

After Group Theatre ended in 1941, Nelson relocated to Hollywood. Throughout the 1940s, she made a number of movies for 20th Century Fox and other Hollywood studios. One of these was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), directed by fellow Group Theatre member Elia Kazan. She also appeared in Kazan's film The Sea of Grass in 1947.

As her career began to take off, she was compelled to put things on hold when her husband, the director John Cromwell, a leading Roosevelt Democrat in the film industry, was falsely accused of Communism by actor Adolphe Menjou in front of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings on Hollywood in 1951[3] and his career went on to be blacklisted. While offered a New York stage role as a wife in what turned out to be Death of a Salesman, Nelson turned down most acting offers at this time to stay in Los Angeles and support Cromwell.[4]

Nelson had not made a Hollywood film for nearly 30 years before appearing with her husband in 1977's 3 Women, directed by Robert Altman, and The Late Show, a film Robert Benton wrote and directed that Altman produced. She and Cromwell played husband and wife as the aged patriarchal grandparents in the ensemble cast of Altman's black comedy the following year, A Wedding.

Her final feature-film role was in 1990's Awakenings, as the mother of a hospital patient played by Robert DeNiro.

Personal lifeEdit

Nelson was married twice. She wed actor William Challee in 1931. The marriage later dissolved and Nelson married actor/director John Cromwell in 1946. The marriage lasted 33 years, until Cromwell's death in 1979 from a pulmonary embolism.[5]

She was the stepmother of actor James Cromwell.

Nelson died on September 12, 1992, at her home in New York City from cancer complicated by a stroke and pneumonia.[4]



Year Title Role Notes
1943 The North Star Nadya Simonov
1944 None Shall Escape Alice Grimm
1944 The Eve of St. Mark Nell West
1944 Wilson Ellen Wilson
1944 The Keys of the Kingdom Lisbeth Chisholm
1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Miss McDonough
1945 The Girl of the Limberlost Kate Comstock
1946 Shock Mrs. Margaret Cross Voice, Uncredited
1946 Sentimental Journey Mrs. McMasters
1946 Till the End of Time Amy Harper
1946 Humoresque Esther Boray
1947 The Sea of Grass Selina Hall, Sam Hall's Wife
1947 Mother Wore Tights Miss Ridgeway
1948 Arch of Triumph Madame Fessier
1977 The Late Show Mrs. Schmidt
1977 3 Women Mrs. Rose
1978 A Wedding Aunt Beatrice Sloan Cory
1990 Awakenings Mrs. Lowe


Year Title Role Notes
1979 Visions Amelia "Ladies in Waiting"
1980 Ryan's Hope Mrs. Merck "1.1322"
1980 A Christmas Without Snow Inez TV film
1981 Hart to Hart Ida Cox "Blue Chip Murder"
1981 Skokie Grandma Jannsen TV film
1983 The Haunting Passion Judith Granville TV film
1991 Lethal Innocence Bernice TV film, (final film role)


  1. ^ "Ruth Nelson, 87; Veteran Actress". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. September 14, 1992. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  2. ^ Shipman, David (September 22, 1992). "Obituary: Ruth Nelson". The Independent. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  3. ^ "Cromwell" essay by Kingsley Canham, in World Film Directors, Vol. One 1890-1940 p. 158
  4. ^ a b Lambert, Bruce (September 13, 1992). "Ruth Nelson, 87, an Actress for Nearly 70 Years". The New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2013.
  5. ^ "John Cromwell – Hollywood Star Walk". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. October 1, 1979. Retrieved September 10, 2013.

Further readingEdit

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