Alternately termed "smoldering" and "babelicious" by TV Guide, the 5'8" U.S. actress Kelly Rutherford -- who spent her adolescence as something of a sports nut instead of a très féminine prima donna -- ironically broke through to the public with a series of white-hot-sexy small-screen roles: barroom chanteuse Dixie Cousins on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.; onetime-prostitute Megan Lewis on Melrose Place; and sensuous bartender Judy Owen on the post-WWII drama Homefront.
Born in Elizabethtown, KY, in the late '60s (and only two years old at the time of her parents' divorce), Rutherford spent years moving from town to town across the country, under the guardianship of her fashion-model mother, Ann Edwards, until she reached her teenage years. At that point, Rutherford, Edwards, and the family's oldest child, Anthony, settled in Newport Beach, CA. Rutherford made a beeline for New York City after graduating from high school in the late '80s, where she planned to enroll in a formal drama program; instead, she signed to do several commercials and appeared on the daytime soapers Loving (opposite Luke Perry) and Generations. Returning to the West Coast, Rutherford subsequently trained at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, where a drama coach reportedly advised her to "work on [her] sexuality" -- a suggestion that helped her immensely.
Though Rutherford's feature debut was a bit part in the undistinguished James Glickenhaus-directed actioner Shakedown (1988) -- starring Sam Elliott and Peter Weller -- the 1994 romantic comedy-mystery I Love Trouble constituted both her first significant assignment and the type of material she most warmed to: contemporary throwbacks to golden-age Hollywood cinema. Following a string of banal telemovies between 1994 and 1997, Rutherford joined the cast of the slasher movie sequel Scream 3 (2000) and the political drama Chaos Factor (2000), directed by Terry Cunningham. She received second billing (her highest, up through that time) in the direct-to-video police detective thriller Angels Don't Sleep Here (2001), opposite Roy Scheider and Robert Patrick.
It was on television, though, that Rutherford continued to find greatest success. Beginning in the early 2000s, the actress garnered prominant roles a series of programs, starting with a recurring role as Deputy Mayor Melinda Lockhart on The District. She next played Special Agent Frankie Ellroy Kilmer on the counterterrorism thriller Threat Matrix, followed by a role as Samantha "Sonny" Liston on the similarly themed political drama E-Ring. Despite Rutherford's impressive ability to make it into the casts of highly-touted prime-time series, those programs also tended to be disappointingly short-lived. That all changed in 2007, when she was cast as Lily van der Woodsen, mother of the troubled Serena (Blake Lively), on Gossip Girl, a teen-oriented prime-time soap on the fledgling CW network. Taking a cue from previous rich-kid drama The O.C., Gossip Girl devoted a portion of its storyline to the main characters' parents, and Lily had no shortage of drama and relationship issues. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi