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Jean Rouverol, who played W.C. Fields’ daughter in It’s a Gift and then became a screenwriter who was blacklisted in Hollywood and driven with her husband to self-exile in Mexico, has died. She was 100.
Rouverol died Friday at the home of her caregiver in Wingdale, N.Y., Rick Lertzman, co-author of the 2015 book The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney, told The Hollywood Reporter.
In recent years, Rouverol had been living with actor Cliff Carpenter, who also had been blacklisted, in Pawling, N.Y. He died in 2014 at age 98.
Her mother was Aurania Rouverol, whose 1928 play Skidding introduced the character of Andy Hardy and served as the basis of the popular series of MGM films starring Mickey Rooney. And her late husband was Hugo Butler, a screenwriter behind such films as A Christmas Carol (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) and The Prowler (1951).
Rouverol in 1987 received the WGA’s Morgan Cox Award to honor her “vital ideas, continuing efforts and personal sacrifice” to the guild.
A native of St. Louis, Rouverol married Butler in 1940, and he joined the American Communist Party three years later. She then co-wrote the screenplay for So Young So Bad (1950), starring Paul Henreid.
In 1951, agents for the House Un-American Activities Committee came looking for her husband, she recalled in a May 2000 interview with the Writers Guild Foundation.
“The doorbell rang, it was a cold, dark January night,” she said. “I looked through the [peephole] in the door and see two men in hats. They asked for Hugo, and I said he wasn’t there. I knew I had to produce some sort of excuse for not being able to reach him, so I said, on the verge of tears, ‘We had a little disagreement and I don’t know where’s he gone.’ They looked at each other and said, ‘We’ll be back.’ “
Rather than risk being jailed — like their friends Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner Jr. had been — Rouverol and Butler took their four young children and fled to Mexico. They continued to write, often together, and used pseudonyms or fronts. (Their script for the 1956 Joan Crawford drama Autumn Leaves was credited to their friend, Jack Jevne; they were paid $5,500 and gave Jevne one-quarter of that, which was the “going rate for fronts in those days,” she noted). Trumbo eventually joined them in Mexico.
She and her husband also wrote Face in the Rain (1963), directed by Irvin Kershner, before finally returning to the U.S. in 1964.
Rouverol received Daytime Emmy nominations in 1976 and 1978 for her work on CBS’ The Guiding Light, wrote for other soap operas like Search for Tomorrow and As the World Turns and provided the story for a 1974 episode of Little House on the Prairie.
Born on July 8, 1916, Rouverol was signed by Paramount and made her screen debut in 1934 as Mildred Bissonette in It’s a Gift. She was going to star opposite Rooney in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl but was put into the Fields’ comedy at the last minute.
“When I was pulled out just before the dress rehearsal, I remember being so insulted … my feeling was, ‘They took me out of a Shakespeare play to make me act with this drunken vaudevillian?’ ” she said in the WGA Foundation interview. “And of course, [It’s a Gift] is now a classic!”
Rouverol then appeared in small roles in such films as Private Worlds (1935) with Claudette Colbert and Stage Door (1937) with Katharine Hepburn. She also performed on the long-running radio hit One Man’s Family.
Rouverol wrote several books, including a biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a book about writing for daytime dramas and, in 2000, Refugees From Hollywood: A Journal of the Blacklist Years.
Survivors include her children Michael, Susan, Mary, Emily, Debbie and Becky Butler, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
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