Human Flower Project

Calla to Sunflower ~ Ruth Gordon

The actress who gave us Minnie Castavet and Maude was first typecast as the dumb beauty.


Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude (1971)

Ruth Gordon is 112 today, except she died in 1985, plenty ripe at 88 years old.

For those of us who hit movie-buffdom around 1970, she will always be remembered for two roles: as Minnie Castavet, the squalking neighbor in Rosemary’s Baby who chewed with her mouth open and passed around smelly amulets, and Maude in Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971).

Among her many stolen scenes is a floral parable in Ashby’s fim. Maude, played by Gordon, is in her late 70s and befriends a wealthy, suicidal young man (They meet as onlookers at a funeral).  Here they walk among flowers at a nursery:

MAUDE: They grow and bloom, and fade, and die, and some change into something else. Ah, life! I should like to change into a sunflower most of all. They are so tall and simple. And you, Harold, what flower would you like to be?

HAROLD: I don’t know. Just one of those. (He gestures toward a field of daisies)

M: Why do you say that?

H: Because they are all the same.

M: Oooh, but they are not. Look. (They bend down together.)

See - some are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, some even have some petals missing - all kinds of observable differences, and we haven’t even touched the bio-chemical. You see, Harold, they’re like the Japanese. At first you think they all look alike, but after you get to know them you see there is not a repeat in the bunch. Each person is different, never existed before and never to exist again. Just like this daisy - (she picks it) - an individual.

H: Well, we may be individuals all right but- we have to grow up together.

M: Yes, that’s very true. Still I believe much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who know they are this (she holds the daisy) - yet let themselves be treated (she looks out at the field) - as that.

A concentration camp survivor, with a number imprinted on her arm, Maude can perhaps be forgiven her ethnic simile.


Ruth Gordon as sinister neighbor Minnie Castavet, in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Our friend in Australia, Keith Howes, could really go to town with this scene (Keith having dedicated himself to finding all daisy references in the history of film). This is a dilly, thanks to a human force of nature. Ruth Gordon manages to be both tender and terrifying: an innocent, psychedic Bette Davis.


Ruth Gordon as Serena Blandish, 1929

Photo: Cecil Beaton, for Vanity Fair

Hard to believe, Gordon spent her first years in acting typecast as the dumb beauty. Here’s a Cecil Beaton portrait from that era. Gordon poses with with calla lilies, not sunflowers, in her 1929 stage role of Serena Blandish, the lady who “possessed every imaginable charm of appearance and behavior.”

Like Maude, Ruth Gordon really did know something about change.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 10/30 at 01:50 PM


Strewth,stone the bloody crows! Recognition at last!
Yes, Harold and Maude is one of the great daisy films but so is Rosemary’s Baby, particularly in the scene in which Ms Gordon delivers the chocolate mousse prior to the Devil’s impregnation of Rosemary so that she gives birth to his Baby.

I’m having my own Ruth Gordon tribute here this weekend with a rare screening of Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? in which she meets a somewhat violent end. Unique actress, much missed.

If you happen to be in Sydney this Sunday afternoon, drop by. English afternoon tea will be served.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/06 at 05:57 AM


“This is a dilly, thanks to a human force of nature. Ruth Gordon manages to be both tender and terrifying: an innocent, psychedic Bette Davis.”

Bette Davis’s favorite flowers were (innocent!?) daisies and,I believe, they were the only ones she requested as her funeral. Most of her classic films (Now Voyager, All About Eve, Jezebel, The Letter) feature daisies at pivotal moments (all the way through in the case of The Letter).

And, Julie, look CLOSELY at the photograph of the young Ruth. What flowers are protuding to the left of the china ornament at the base of the vase of calla lillies. Not sunflowers, certainly but…

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/07 at 07:10 PM
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