Ruth Gordon was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusettes, the only child of Annie Ziegler Jones and Clinton Jones, a factory foreman who had been a ship's captain.
She came to New York in 1914 and studied acting at American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She made both her broadway and film debut in 1915.
Her Broadway debut was in "Peter Pan" and she spent the next 20 years on stage, even appearing at the Old Vic in London in the successful run of "The Country Wife" in 1936. She also appeared in Seventeen, The First Year, Ethan Frome, A Doll's House, and Saturday's Children. While appearing in Seventeen, she met her first husband, Gregory Kelly. They were married in 1921 and remained married until his death in 1927.
In 1956 she was nominated for a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker.
In 1915, Gordon appeared as an extra in the silent film The Whirl of Life, a film based on the lives of Veron and Irene Castle. Nearly twenty five years after her film debut, she returned to movies. She went on to star in such films as Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), Two Faced Woman (1941), Edge of Darkness (1943), Inside Daisy Clover (1965), Rosemary's Baby (1968), and Harold and Maude (1971). She also played the mother of Orville Boggs in the Every Which Way Films.
She received an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Rosemary's Baby (1968). She was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Inside Daisy Clover (1965).
In 1942, she married Garson Kanin. Together they collaborated and wrote screenplays such as A Double Life (1947), Adam's Rib (1949), and Pat and Mike (1952), all of which earned the couple Academy Award nominations for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay.
In 1978 she won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Taxi in an episode entitled "Sugar Mama" in which her character tries to solicit the services of a taxi driver, played by series star Judd Hirsch, as a male escort.
In 1975, she became the oldest person to host Saturday Night Live at the age of 79.
A small theater in Westboro, Massachusetts was named in her honer, as was an outdoor amphitheater in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Ruth Gordon passed away at the age of 88 on August 28, 1985 from complications of a stroke.