Route 66 News

Child actor in “The Grapes of Wrath” dies

I missed this a few weeks ago, but Shirley Mills Hanson, 83, who portrayed a young Ruthie Joad in the 1940 classic film “The Grapes of Wrath,” died on March 31 from complications of pneumonia at a hospital in Arcadia, Calif., according to the Los Angeles Times.

Known during her acting career as Shirley Mills, she attended one of the big Route 66 festivals a few years ago and told the audience at the John Steinbeck Awards her memories of the film’s production.

Much of the film was shot on Route 66, including a scene near Bridgeport, Okla., where the Joad family has to bury just-deceased Grandpa near the west end of the Pony Bridge. That’s the scene where Mills wept in a heart-rending fashion. Her acting earned much praise from director John Ford.

Kevin Hansel, the former president of the California Route 66 Association, gave us this memory of Mills Hanson:

I was fortunate to to have her at our annual 66 dinner as a special guest speaker and had the evening taped. My picture with her, all the autographed items, are a treasure. She was a down-to-earth person and so full of life. Ironic was the dinner was held at the Aztec in Monrovia, the same city she lived.

Mills Hanson’s death leaves Darryl Hickman, now 78, as the only surviving cast member from “The Grapes of Wrath.” Hickman, who portrayed a young Winfield Joad, gave his memories of the film a few years ago, and the video includes a scene with Mills:

(Hat tip: Kevin Hansel)


4 thoughts on “Child actor in “The Grapes of Wrath” dies

  1. Billy Lenox

    Dang. I was at the Family Video last night and almost picked up “Grapes of Wrath.” Instead, we got “The Informer,” which curiously had both the Smothers Brothers and Candy Clark (of “American Graffiti” fame) in minor roles. Maybe I’ll grad “GoW” when I return “Informer.”

  2. Jay

    Wow, I just read about her passing. I was lucky to have met her during my time with Route 66 at our annual dinner. She will be missed.

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