- A minor Hollywood leading lady in the 1940s, Citizen Kane and Song of the South actress Ruth Warrick became a latter-day TV star via the daytime soap opera All My Children, in which she reveled in the role of the bitchy snob Phoebe Tyler.
- An active supporter of labor, education, and arts programs, at age 85 Ruth Warrick joined in the fight against the racist Confederate flag.
Actress Ruth Warrick was Charles Foster Kane’s wife in Citizen Kane & snob Phoebe Tyler on daytime soap All My Children
Minor 1940s Hollywood leading lady and second lead Ruth Warrick is best remembered for her film debut as Charles Foster Kane’s patrician wife in Citizen Kane and for playing the snooty Phoebe Tyler Wallingford in the popular daytime soap opera All My Children.
Though a pretty, personable actress, Warrick never quite reached the heights of movie stardom. Even so, she remained busy throughout the 1940s, mostly cast in undemanding roles as the romantic interest/wife of actors as dissimilar as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joseph Cotten, Edward G. Robinson, Ralph Bellamy, and Pat O’Brien.
Warrick would find more rewarding opportunities on television, eventually receiving three Emmy nominations (two Daytime, one Primetime) over the course of five decades of TV work.
Hollywood career peak in first year
Ruth Warrick (born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on June 29, 1915) began her show business career as a radio singer. She got her big break when Orson Welles hired her to play Emily Norton, niece of the president of the United States and eventual wife of ruthless publishing magnate Charles Foster Kane (portrayed by Welles and based on William Randolph Hearst) in what would turn out to be one of the most widely admired films ever made, the 1941 RKO release Citizen Kane.
“Orson needed a lady, and that was the lump sum of all I had been taught,” Warrick would recall for People magazine in 1984. “He was the master and we were the disciples.”
Albeit in a relatively small and unshowy role, she delivers an impressive performance as Emily, whose disintegrating marriage is visually expressed by a breakfast table montage sequence – courtesy of future filmmakers Robert Wise and Mark Robson – depicting the increasing emotional and physical distance separating the ever more aloof Emily from her husband.
Citizen Kane was a hit with critics, but not with the moviegoing public. From a commercial standpoint, another 1941 release featuring Ruth Warrick seems to have been more warmly embraced: Gregory Ratoff’s costume romantic adventure The Corsican Brothers, in which Warrick’s Countess Isabelle becomes enmeshed in assorted vendettas while finding herself the object of desire of the titular twins (both played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., with whom she recalled having a fling).
More 1940s Ruth Warrick movies
Following such an auspicious start, Ruth Warrick’s Hollywood future seemed promising. Bigger and better opportunities, however, failed to materialize.
Pregnancy is supposed to have made her lose a key role in Orson Welles’ second movie, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), but not long thereafter he had her cast in a supporting role as Joseph Cotten’s wife in the – now well-regarded in some quarters – box office flop Journey Into Fear (1943), an intricate film noir officially directed by Norman Foster, but with at least some input from Welles prior to his taking off for Brazil to shoot the ill-fated It’s All True.
Elsewhere, Warrick was no luckier, almost invariably being featured opposite well-known names in lesser fare or in smaller parts in A productions.
Examples of the former include the wife of football coach turned war veteran Francis Cavanaugh (played by former Warner Bros. star Pat O’Brien) in the B biopic The Iron Major (1943), and as Edward G. Robinson’s uppity wife in Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944).
Examples of the latter include Dana Andrews’ wife in Otto Preminger’s romantic drama Daisy Kenyon (1947), also starring Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda, and as Betty Hutton’s sister-in-law in Norman Z. McLeod’s musical Let’s Dance (1950), also starring Fred Astaire.
Racially controversial Disney effort Song of the South
One exception of sorts to this rule was the Walt Disney-produced animation/live-action mix Song of the South (1946). Set in the American South during the (post-Civil War) Reconstruction Era, the now controversial release – the live-action segments were directed by Harve Foster – revolves around the friendship between seven-year-old white boy Bobby Driscoll and a black plantation worker and storyteller known as Uncle Remus (eventual Honorary Academy Award winner James Baskett).
Ruth Warrick and Erik Rolf, her real-life husband at the time, played Driscoll’s parents. (The couple were married in 1938; their acrimonious divorce – Warrick would later say she discovered Rolf had been involved in same-sex liaisons – took place seven years later.)
Due to accusations of racism in recent decades, Disney has chosen not to release Song of the South in any home video format in the United States, lest cries of outrage tarnish the image of the Mickey Mouse company in its home country. In a number of other markets, Song of the South was launched on video, though it remains unavailable on DVD.
Rich bitch Phoebe Tyler Wallingford leads to TV stardom
Her big-screen career in the doldrums, in the early 1950s Ruth Warrick, by then pushing 40, began working mostly on television. At first, she was featured in various anthology series (e.g., Studio One Hollywood, Robert Montgomery Presents) and in the soap operas The Guiding Light and As the World Turns.
In the 1960s, she landed recurring roles in Father of the Bride (as the Mother Of) opposite fellow movie veteran Leon Ames (Meet Me in St. Louis), and in the hit primetime series Peyton Place. The latter earned her an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 1967. (She lost to fellow Citizen Kane player Agnes Moorehead, for a guest spot in The Wild Wild West.)
Three years later, Warrick would become a household name thanks to the long-running soap opera All My Children, which debuted in early January 1970. She was cast as American TV’s precursor to Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington Colby: Phoebe Tyler (later Phoebe Tyler Wallingford), inveterate snob and the self-described “Queen of [the fictional town of] Pine Valley.”
A brassy reactionary, Phoebe – unlike the more liberal-minded actress playing her – was an ardent supporter of the Vietnam War, a polarizing topic during that period and an unusually controversial one in the realm of fictional daytime TV.
An All My Children regular from the show’s inception to episodes aired after Ruth Warrick’s death, Phoebe Tyler Wallingford earned her portrayer two Daytime Emmy nominations (1975, 1977), in addition to a Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy Award in 2004.
Ruth Warrick’s last important film was Hy Averback’s comedy Western The Great Bank Robbery (1969), in which she had a supporting role. Zero Mostel, Kim Novak, and Clint Walker starred.
According to the IMDb, her final movie was the low-budget crime drama Death Mask, starring Samuel Goldwyn’s former contract star Farley Granger. Apparently shot in the mid-1980s, Death Mask is supposed to have come out on video in 1992.
Liberal-minded patron of the arts vs. the Confederate flag
While away from the cameras, Ruth Warrick was an active supporter of both the Democratic Party – especially labor and education issues – and arts programs. In July 2000, the 85-year-old actress became embroiled in a controversy involving, of all non-artistic things, the Confederate flag.
About to receive a lifetime achievement award from the South Carolina Arts Commission, the All My Children (and Song of the South) actress declined the honor once it was reported that, following threats of an organized boycott of the state for displaying the flag in the Capitol dome in Columbia, South Carolina legislators’ had decided to move the racist symbol to another spot on the grounds, next to a monument commemorating slain Confederate soldiers.
Sounding nothing like Phoebe Tyler, Warrick remarked at the time, “In my view, this was no compromise. It was a deliberate affront to the African-Americans, who see it as a sign of oppression and hate.”
Five or six marriages?
Ruth Warrick was married a total of either five or six times, depending on the source, including twice to the same man: Minor Danish-born actor Carl Neubert, who had bit roles in several Hollywood movies of the 1940s (Hitler’s Madman, The Mask of Dimitrios).
She died at age 88 in January 2005 at her home in Manhattan.
“Ruth Warrick: Actress” endnotes
Ruth Warrick mentions Erik Rolf’s gay affairs in the People interview.
Ruth Warrick Confederate flag quote source.
Orson Welles and Ruth Warrick Citizen Kane image: RKO Pictures.
“Ruth Warrick: From Citizen Kane to All My Children” last updated in September 2021.