Ruth McDevitt: Little Old Lady for Hire

Here are places where you may have seen Ruth McDevitt (Ruth Thane Shoecraft, 1895-1976): she was a regular on Kolchak: The Night Stalker (as Emily, the columnist); had a recurring role on All in the Family, along with Burt Mustin, as a couple of senior citizens, and was in such movies as Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963, as the pet shop owner) and the Don Knotts’ comedies The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968) and The Love God (1969). She obviously blossomed late in life as a “go to” little old lady in bit roles, often playing landladies and the like in film and on TV. She probably butted heads with Mildred Natwick over many an engagement. But one isn’t ALWAYS old. Her career had obviously begun decades before.

McDevitt studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her professional career began in the mid-1930s following the death of her husband. Straw Hat (1937) is the first of 16 Broadway credits, including the original productions of Mary Chases’s Harvey (1944), James Thurber’s The Male Animal (1952), William Inge’s Picnic (1953), George S. Kaufman’s The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953), and Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (1960). On radio she played Fay Wray’s mother on the series Keeping Up with Rosemary, and was a regular on the soap opera This Life is Mine, both in the early ’40s.

McDevitt has close to 100 screen credits, most of them in TV. She was a regular on Mister Peepers (1953-54) as Wally Cox’s mother, and was Ann Sheridan’s Grandma on the sitcom Pistols ‘n’ Petticoats (1966-67). You can also see her in such things as Change of Habit (1969) with Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler MooreJoan Rivers’ The Girl Most Likely To…(1973), Mame (1974) with Lucille Ball, and Mixed Company (1974) with Barbara Harris and Joe Bologna, as well as such shows as Bewitched, Love American Style, Room 222, McCloud, Little House on the Prairie, Emergency!, Marcus Welby MD, The Streets of San Francisco, Phyllis, and Ellery Queen. Having been in the Broadway production of The Male Animal she must have maintained a close connection to James Thurber, for she also appeared on the series My World and Welcome To It, and in the Thurber inspired from The War Between Men and Women (1972) with Jack Lemmon and Barbara Harris. Her last professional credit was a 1976 pilot for a show called The Cheerleaders, which featured Mary Kay Place.