A native of Trenton, New Jersey, Ruth Donnelly was a member of the last generation of actors who honed their stagecraft in the touring stock companies. Contracting as a juvenile in the Selwyn Stock Company in 1913, Donnelly built her reputation as a "clever young woman" in the western circuits playing ingenue dramas, such as "The Quaker Girl."
In 1915 film actress and friend May Allison arranged Donnelly's entry into motion pictures when she played the lead in American Film Company's "The Broken Cross." But her personality did not come across as brightly on screen as on stage. In 1916 she was a hit playing a comic telephone girl in the George M. Cohan hit musical about airplanes, "Going Up." While capable of singing, her forte was comic repartee, so the majority of her important roles occurred in witty stage plays.
Throughout the 1920s she enjoyed a string of solid productions--comedies that ran between 80 and 200 performances. The biggest success was 1920's "The Meanest Man in the World." The coming of sound reactivated her screen career, and she would enjoy steady employment throughout the 1930s and 1940s playing comic aunts, worldly wise women, and useful nuns. David S. Shields/ALS