Actress-writer Ruth Gordon died on this day in 1985. I picked the obvious photo this time, from the movie where many people instantly recognize her, Harold and Maude. I grew up with the impression that Harold and Maude was a family film -- my dad loves the movie, and when it first became available on videotape, my parents invited a bunch of people over to watch it. (Dad adores the scene with the priest.) I was a senior in high school before I realized it wasn't a family film at all but rather a cult classic, the kind that often screens as a midnight movie.

I was well into college before I learned what a remarkable life Ruth Gordon led. In her younger years, she was an actress on Broadway and also wrote successful plays. Gordon had a brief Hollywood career in the early 1940s, but returned to New York and theater. Later, she and her husband Garson Kanin co-wrote my two favorite Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy films, Adam's Rib and Pat and Mike. Kanin and Gordon were never contracted by a studio as screenwriters -- all their scripts were written on spec. In the mid-1960s, Gordon returned to acting in films and TV -- the first time I remember seeing her was as the crazy grandma in My Bodyguard, but she's also memorable in Rosemary's Baby (for which she won an Oscar) and the ultradark comedy Where's Poppa? with George Segal; she worked as an actress up until her death at age 88. Gordon wrote several autobiographies throughout her life; just writing this paragraph makes me want to go find one and read more about her.