Ruth Roman: Started Out in a Carnival!

Ruth Roman (1922-1999) definitely had an interesting career, with enough notable projects, both well-known and quirky ones, that I had long intended to give her some attention in these annals. But a detail caught my eye that determined that I could defer this no longer.

Her parents ran a carnival. She was born in Lynn, Massachusetts but the carnival appears to have been in Revere Beach, Her mother was a dancer, and her father was outsider talker (in addition to being the proprietor). Her father died when she was eight necessitating the sale of the carnival, and her mother took a succession of menial jobs. When she was old enough, Ruth pursued her acting career in Boston, studying at Bishop Lee Dramatic School, and getting her first experience with the New England Repertory Company and the Elizabeth Peabody Players.

She made her first film appearance at age 21 as an extra in Stage Door Canteen (1943). She had extra roles in films like Incendiary Blonde (1945), Gilda (1946) and A Night in Casablanca (1946), but she got to play the title role in the Universal serial Jungle Queen (1945). But her sultry beauty and obvious talent did her some important leads in such pictures as Always Leave Them Laughing (1949) with Milton Berle, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951), as well as westerns like Belle Starr’s Daughter (1948), Colt .45 (1950), Dallas (1950), and Anthony Mann’s The Far Country (1954).

In 1956 Roman made headlines of a different sort when she happened to be a passenger on the Andrea Doria on the night of her fateful collision and capsizing. In the confusion in boarding the lifeboats she was separated from her three year old son, although both survived the ordeal and were soon reunited. 46 people died in the accident. Ironically, unlike many actors of her generation and her glamorous type, Roman was never in a major disaster movie.

Most of Roman’s work from the 1950s until her retirement was on television, although she was in several excellent cheesy movies in the mid ’70s, including the not-to-be-believed The Baby (1973), Go Ask Alice (1973), The Killing Kind (1973), A Knife for the Ladies (1974), Day of the Animals (1977), and the later Echoes (1982). Carnival indeed!

On TV, she had regular roles on The Long Hot Summer (1965-66) and Knots Landing (1986-87), and guest shots on such shows as The FBI, Mission: Impossible, Night Gallery, Marcus Welby MD, The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Ironside, Mod Squad, Kung Fu, Cannon, Harry O, Police Woman, and Fantasy Island. Her last screen credit was a recurring part on Murder, She Wrote (1987-1989).

To learn more about vaudeville and related variety arts, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous