LOS ANGELES -- Ann Rutherford, the demure brunette actress who played the sweetheart in the long-running Andy Hardy movie series and Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister in "Gone With the Wind," has died. She was 94.
A close friend, Anne Jeffreys, said she was at Rutherford's side when the actress died Monday evening at home in Beverly Hills. Rutherford died of heart problems and had been ill for several months, Jeffreys said.
Rutherford was a frequent guest at "Gone With the Wind" celebrations in Georgia and, as one of the few remaining actors from the movie, continued to attract fans from around the world, Jeffreys said.
She was also known for the Andy Hardy series, a hugely popular string of comical, sentimental films, that starred Lewis Stone as a small-town judge and Mickey Rooney as his spirited teenage son.
She first appeared in the second film of the series, "You're Only Young Once," in 1938, and then 11 more. She played Polly Benedict, the ever-faithful girlfriend that Andy always returned to, no matter what other, more glamorous girl had temporarily caught his eye, including Judy Garland and Lana Turner.
Rutherford reportedly won the part of Carreen -- the youngest of the three O'Hara sisters in "Gone With the Wind" -- because Garland was filming "The Wizard of Oz."
She told the Times in 2010 that MGM head Louis B. Mayer was going to refuse her the role, calling it "a nothing part." But Rutherford, who was a fan of the novel, burst into tears, and he relented.
She played the sister who, early in the film, begs to be allowed to go to the ball at Ashley Wilkes' 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.
She agreed 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."
Rutherford was born in 1917. The daughter of an opera tenor and an actress, she began performing on the stage as a child.
She launched her movie career in Westerns while still 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 for several years 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.