Naomi Rutherford

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Naomi Rutherford (1892-) was an actress and producer.


Naomi Rutherford was born Winifred Naomi Georgina Widda in New Zealand on New Zealand, 13 April, 1892. In 1904, a Mr., Mrs. and a Miss Widdas came to South Africa on board the Armadale Castle and this may have been her and her parents. For some reason she was only baptised when she was 15 years of age and the two witnesses were both pupils at the Convent of the Holy Family in Parktown, Johannesburg. In fact, one of them was Adele Fillis, a member of the circus family who would go on to act in four silent movies.

Her first known stage appearance was in February 1908, when she acted for Leonard Rayne in The Prodigal Son at the Standard Theatre. She stayed with him until October 1910, at which time she left for England to gain experience. It is reported that many members of the company came to see her off at the station. Upon her return a year later she appeared in and, still only 19, toured with Stephen Black’s popular Helena’s Hope, Ltd, The Flapper, as well as two other plays. Thereafter she rejoined Leonard Rayne until in 1917 she became a member of the visiting American Dramatic Company, then including George Stillwell, Louise Holden, Richard Scott, Edward Donnelly, Florence Roberts, Anne Bradley and Jack Pendleton. Their first play at His Majesty’s Theatre was Kick In, produced by George R. Montford, whom she married in February of the following year.

After the American Dramatic Company broke up, she acted for the Madge Fabian-Stephen Ewart Company. In September 1919 her husband left for England and after the end of her contract she must have joined him as in 1921 she toured the counties with Paddy the Next Best Thing. Her performance was well received and one of the English reviewers enthused: ““Miss Naomi Rutherford makes a charming and vivacious Paddy. Her fits of winsomeness and of anger are splendidly delineated, and her laughter is so infectious that one rebels at her leaving the stage at all.”. Montford returned to South Africa in March 1923 and the following year they were both in Trilby, presented by Maurice Moscovitch first at His Majesty’s Theatre and then at the Cape Town Opera House. There was talk of Moscovitch taking his company to Australia, but there is no direct evidence of that.

Her reception in England echoed that which had always greeted her in South Africa and after the couple’s return from Australia she continued her stage career with companies like those of Olga Lindo, Allen Doone and Neilson-Terry. At one stage there was talk of her joining Mary Holder and her husband Jack Bligh in setting up a South African Academy of Dramatic Art, but this doesn’t seem to have materialised. However, in Cape Town she produced Honest Men (1935) and The Pigeon (1936) at the Little Theatre for the Repertory Theatre Society. After his retirement from the stage, Montford became a radio announcer and producer for the African Broadcasting Company, the precursor of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, based at its studio in Durban. He died in 1940, but she continued to work in radio, producing Lehar’s Frederika in 1947 and acting in Adventure Story, a play produced by Cedric Messina in 1949, both for the SABC. It is not known where and when she died. (FO)

South African Theatre Credits

1908 – The Prodigal Son, A Royal Divorce, East Lynne, Robin Hood, Two Little Vagabonds, The Lady of Lyons, Diana of Dobson’s, Oh! Susannah!. 1909 – The Flag Lieutenant, Charley’s Aunt, The Private Secretary, Olivetti. 1910 – Henry of Navarre, The Lights O’ London, Ben-my-Chree, , The School for Scandal, Faust. 1911 – Helena’s Hope, Ltd, The Flapper, The Uitlanders, The Shaughraun. 1912 – I.D.B. 1915 – Beau Brocade, The Golden Ladder, The Lily, The Second in Command, The Prince and the Beggar, Baby Mine, Monsieur Beaucaire. 1916 – General John Regan, The Man Who Stayed at Home, Peg O’ My Heart, Bought and Paid For, The Tyranny of Tears, The Affair of Room 17 1917 – Kick In. 1918 – Daddy Long-Legs, Turn to the Right, The Cinderella Man, Nothing but the Truth, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, The Thirteenth Chair, The Silent Witness, Business Before Pleasure. 1919 – Romance, Seven Days’ Leave, Within the Law, The Little Brother, Nobody’s Widow, Madame X, The Yellow Ticket, Fair and Warmer, Twin Beds, Parlour, Bedroom and Bath. 1920 – The High Cost of Loving, Potash and Perlmutter. 1924 – Trilby, What Money Can’t Buy. 1925 – Pygmalion, Spring Cleaning, A Dear Little Wife. 1926 – The Best People, Rookery Nook, A Cuckoo in the Nest. 1930 – Her Past, The Stranger Within, Rain, The Constant Nymph, The Forty Thieves. 1931 – Murder on the Second Floor, The Parish Priest, Barry of Ballymoore, Molly Bawn. 1932 – The Terror, The Man at Six, The Monkey’s Paw, That Brute Simmons, A Week-end. 1934 – Mother of Pearl, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, Road House.

(This list does not include the many revivals and tours to centres outside Johannesburg, nor performances outside South Africa)


S.A. Pictorial (numerous issues)

Rand Daily Mail (numerous issues)

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