LOS ANGELES — Ann Rutherford, the demure brunette actress who played the sweetheart in the long-running Andy Hardy series and Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister in ‘‘Gone With the Wind,’’ has died. She was 94.
A close friend, Anne Jeffreys, said Ms. Rutherford died at home in Beverly Hills of heart problems and had been ill for several months.
‘‘She was a dear person, a very funny lady, wonderful heart, was always trying to do things for people,’’ said Jeffreys, a leading lady of many films of the 1940s and a star of the 1950s television situation comedy ‘‘Topper.’’
‘‘She loved it,’’ Jeffreys said. ‘‘It really stimulated the last years of her life, because she got thousands of e-mails from fans. She was in great demand.’’
Ms. Rutherford was also known for the Andy Hardy series, a hugely popular string of comic, sentimental films that starred Lewis Stone as a small-town judge and Mickey Rooney as his spirited teenage son.
Ms. Rutherford appeared in the second film of the series, ‘‘You’re Only Young Once,’’ in 1938, and she went on to 11 more. She played Polly Benedict, the ever-faithful girlfriend who Andy always returned to, no matter what other, more glamorous girl had temporarily caught his eye. (Among the other girls were Judy Garland and Lana Turner.)
It was said she won the part of Carreen, the youngest of the three O’Hara sisters in ‘‘Gone With the Wind,’’ because Judy Garland was filming ‘‘The Wizard of Oz.’’
Ms. Rutherford told the Times in 2010 that MGM head Louis B. Mayer was going to refuse her the role, calling it ‘‘a nothing part.’’ But Ms. Rutherford, who was a fan of the novel, uncharacteristically burst into tears, and he relented.
Ms. Rutherford plays the sister who, early in the film, begs to be allowed to go to the ball at Ashley Wilkes’s plantation. ‘‘Oh, Mother, can’t I stay up for the ball tomorrow? . . . I’m 13 now,’’ she says in a sweet voice.
In 1989, she was one of 10 surviving ‘‘GWTW’’ cast members who gathered in Atlanta for the celebration of the film’s 50th anniversary.
Ms. Rutherford concurred with other cast members that no matter what else they had done, ‘‘our obituary will say we were in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and we’ll be proud of it.’’
Ms. Rutherford was born in 1917, according to voter records. The daughter of an opera tenor and an actress, she began performing on the stage as a child.
She launched her career in Westerns while in her teens, often appearing with singing cowboy hero Gene Autry and sometimes with John Wayne.
She joined MGM in 1937, playing a variety of roles before leaving the studio to freelance.
Among her other films: ‘‘Whistling in the Dark,’’ with Red Skelton (1941), and its two sequels, ‘‘Whistling in Dixie’’ and ‘‘Whistling in Brooklyn”; ‘‘Orchestra Wives,’’ with bandleader Glenn Miller (1942); and ‘‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’’ with Danny Kaye (1947).
She largely retired from the screen in 1950, but appeared in a couple of films in the 1970s, ‘‘They Only Kill Their Masters’’ (1972), and ‘‘Won Ton Ton — The Dog Who Saved Hollywood” (1976).
Her first marriage, to David May in 1942, ended in divorce; they had two children. In 1953, she married producer William Dozier, a union that lasted until his death in 1991. He was best known as the producer of the ‘‘Batman’’ television series.
Ms. Rutherford recalled that the night of the ‘‘Gone With the Wind’’ premiere in Atlanta, author Margaret Mitchell invited the cast, including Vivien Leigh and costar Clark Gable, to her home for scrambled eggs. Gable and Mitchell disappeared.
‘‘Clark Gable and Margaret were hiding in the bathroom, Clark on the edge of the tub and Margaret you know where, just talking,’’ she chuckled. ‘‘They had to get away from the photographers.’’