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She's Got Starlet Allure, '40s-Style
by Susan King
The Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1994

Kelly Rutherford looks to old movies for inspiration. And many compare the 'Brisco County Jr.' star to a combination of Dietrich, Bacall, and Mae West.

Kelly Rutherford loves old movies.
"Every once in a while, I need to have my fix," says the 25-year-old former model. "I think it's mainly when I need inspiration I look at the old pictures. I don't find it as much in the new stuff. I love Carole Lombard. I think she's wonderful. Gloria Grahame was really great. Garbo. Dietrich. People knew how to create an illusion. Now everything is very realistic and straightforward. Everyone's grunge."

But not the blond Rutherford. In fact, there's something very retro about the actress. And Hollywood has picked on that style. For two seasons, she was all Lauren Bacall allure as bartender Judy Owens on ABC's "Homefront." This season, she's a sassy combination of Marlene Dietrich and Mae West as saloon singer Dixie Cousins on Fox's Western-comedy "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr."

"She's definitely a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall," offers Bruce Campbell, who plays Dixie's flame, Brisco County. "I saw a head shot of her that was done in the 1940s' style and she easily could have been a studio starlet under contract for Warner Bros. And she kind of is."

The series' executive producer and creator Carlton Cuse agrees with Campbell. "'Homefront,' in a way, was an ideal showcase for that, because she really does seem like a movie star out of another era," he says. "She has that grace and old-fashioned kind of dignity about herself that very much reminds me of Bette Davis, with a certain kind of spiciness of Mae West."

When she landed the recurring role of Dixie, Rutherford watched numerous Dietrich and West flicks. "You know who I really loved was Madeline Kahn in 'Blazing Saddles,'" says Rutherford over breakfast at the Kings Road Cafe in West Hollywood.

"She was a huge inspiration. She really helped me get this off-the-cuff thing which I think is part of Dixie. I think there are so few characters written now, who you can just play up. 'Homefront' was the same thing for me. It was set in the '40s and you can get away being Lauren Becall."

Rutherford made seven episodes of "Brisco" this season- her last one airs April 22- while simultaneously filming the Touchstone Pictures summer release "I Love Trouble." This time around, Rutherford plays a contemporary woman- a lab technician who Chicago newspaper reporters Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts befriend to obtain information.

"One week I'm a modern woman seducing Nick Nolte and the next moment I'm in the late 1800s seducing Bruce Campbell," sighs Rutherford, who will also appear in "Cyclops, Baby...," a short film for Buena Vista Pictures.

Rutherford says she wasn't nervous reading for her part with Nolte. "I always look at those things as fun," Rutherford says. "Here's an actor whom I admire, who is obviously one of the sexiest men alive, and the history you have going in reading with someone like that. My audition wasn't difficult. I was just reacting to him." She erupts into laughter. "It's a tough job."

Rutherford, who grew up in New York and Los Angeles, left home at 17 to study acting in New York. "I don't know what quite got me into acting," she says. "I always loved movies. My mom brought me to movies as a kid."

To make ends meet in New York, she did commercials and modeled. "I preferred doing commercials," says Rutherford. "I loved modeling, but it wasn't my personality."

She got her big break doing a small scene on the ABC daytime drama "Loving," opposite a pre-"Beverly Hills, 90210" Luke Perry. Eventually, Rutherford left New York and moved back to Los Angeles.

After making the rounds for a year, Rutherford got a regular gig on the short lived NBC daytime drama "Generations." Guest shots on such sitcoms as "Teech" and "Davis Rules" followed before she landed on "Homefront."

If "Brisco," whose ratings have been low, returns for a second season, Cuse would love Rutherford to be a regular on the series. Dixie, Cuse says, has changed dramatically since the pilot.

"The original idea was to make Brisco more of a womanizer, where the guy has a different girl every episode. Maybe it was a pull of the times, in combination with Kelly's extraordinary talent, which led us to kind of change that. We decided to keep Brisco a one-woman man."

Just as Dietrich, Garbo, and Bacall are Rutherford's role models, the actress has discovered she's become an idol in her own right. "I get letters from little girls saying they want to be just like Dixie," Rutherford says, laughing. "They send me pictures of themselves dressing up like Dixie. I'm so worried what future generations will be like!"

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