One of my favorite blog series is beginning again today: “What a Character !” Our first character actor is Ruth McDevitt. You might not recognize her name, but the minute you see a photo of her you will definitely recognize this busy television star. Her on-screen personality is perfectly captured in her imdb biography where she is described as “delightfully daffy and quite an apple dumpling of a darling, a cheerfully wizened character.”
Ruth was born in Michigan but she spent most of her early life in Ohio. Her father was the county sheriff and both of her parents were musicians. After graduation, she attended college (some sites give her college as Bowling Green and others Wooster) and after her graduation, she studied at the Toledo Dramatic Academy. She then moved to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Art.
When she married Patrick McDevitt in 1928, she decided to devote her time to her husband, giving up her career. Her husband was a widowed contractor who lived in Florida, so she made the move south and participated in a variety of women’s clubs and community groups. Unfortunately, her husband passed away in 1934, and she then returned to her acting profession in her forties. She made her debut on Broadway in 1940 in several shows and later appeared in “Arsenic and Old Lace” in 1942 and “The Solid Gold Cadillac” in 1954.
In the thirties, Ruth also began her radio career, taking on the roles of Rosemary’s mother in “Keeping up with Rosemary” and Jane in “This Life is Mine.”
Ruth also found success on the big screen. Her first movie role was in The Guy Who Came Back in 1951. She would appear in a variety of movies during her career including The Birds, The Parent Trap, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Mame, and Angel in My Pocket.
It was in television that she found most of her fame. Her first appearances were in 1949 when she was cast in A Woman to Remember, The Ford Theater Hour, and Suspense. She continued to receive dramatic roles throughout the fifties. From 1953-54, she appeared in seven episodes of Mister Peepers as his mother.
Ruth began the 1960s in several medical shows and then transitioned to comedies appearing in The Andy Griffith Show, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Debbie Reynolds Show, I Dream of Jeanne, and Mayberry RFD. She received a recurring role in The Doctors in 1963 as Mrs. McMurtrie. She also became a cast member of Pistols and Petticoats in 1966. She was described as pistol-toting grannie, Effie Hanks. The show was set in Colorado in 1871 where the Hanks family are beloved residents and run things better than the sheriff does. It was canceled after its first season. Ann Sheridan starred in the tv series and she passed away a couple of months before the show was canceled.
The 1970s was Ruth’s busiest decade. She showed up in various dramas including Ironside, McCloud, Mannix, and The Rookies. She popped up in Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prairie and took part in the medical shows Marcus Welby and Medical Center.
However, comedies kept her employed. She accepted roles on My World and Welcome to It, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, Here’s Lucy, Love American Style, Nanny and the Professor, Bewitched, Room 222, and Phyllis. among others.
She accepted a recurring role on All in the Family as Jo Nelson from 1973-1975. Her last starring role was in Kolchak: The Night Stalker from 1974-1975. Darren McGavin plays a newspaper reporter who specializes in solving supernatural mysteries. His only friend was a coworker who also had a column in the paper played by McDevitt. The show supposedly inspired the X Files in part.
Ruth’s last two roles were in 1976 in made-for-tv movies. She passed away the same year from natural causes at age 80.
Whenever I write about these character actors, it makes me happy and sad. I respect them so much and appreciate the depth they add to make our television series better, but I am always disappointed that there is so little information available about their lives and careers. I very much enjoyed getting to know Ruth McDevitt a little better—she certainly was a character and we all benefit from that.