Rosalind Russell

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Rosalind Russell
Rosalind Russell 1956.JPG
Russell in publicity photo for General Electric Theatre (1956)
BornCatherine Rosalind Russell[1]
(1907-06-04)June 4, 1907
Waterbury, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedNovember 28, 1976(1976-11-28) (aged 69)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Breast cancer
Resting place
Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
OccupationActress, singer, screenwriter
Years active1929–1972
Spouse(s)Frederick Brisson (m. 1941–76)
ChildrenLance (b. 1943)
 
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Rosalind Russell
Rosalind Russell 1956.JPG
Russell in publicity photo for General Electric Theatre (1956)
BornCatherine Rosalind Russell[1]
(1907-06-04)June 4, 1907
Waterbury, Connecticut, U.S.
DiedNovember 28, 1976(1976-11-28) (aged 69)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Breast cancer
Resting place
Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City
OccupationActress, singer, screenwriter
Years active1929–1972
Spouse(s)Frederick Brisson (m. 1941–76)
ChildrenLance (b. 1943)

Rosalind Russell (June 4, 1907 – November 28, 1976) was an American actress of stage and screen,[2] known for her role as fast-talking newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson in the Howard Hawks screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940), as well as the role of Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame (1958). She won all five Golden Globes for which she was nominated, and Meryl Streep was tied for wins until 2007 when Streep was awarded a sixth. Russell won a Tony Award in 1953 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Ruth in the Broadway show Wonderful Town (a musical based on the film My Sister Eileen, in which she also starred).

Russell was known for playing character roles, exceptionally wealthy, dignified ladylike women, as well as for being one of the few actresses of her time who regularly played professional women, such as judges, reporters, and psychiatrists.[3] She had a wide career span from the 1930s to the 1970s, and attributed her long career to the fact that, although usually playing classy and glamorous roles, she never became a sex symbol.[4]

Early years[edit]

Rosalind Russell was one of seven children born in Waterbury, Connecticut, to James Edward and Clara A. (née McKnight) Russell,[5] an Irish-American Catholic family.[6] She was named after a ship on which her parents had traveled,[6] not for the character from As You Like It. She attended Catholic schools, including Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, before attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. Her parents thought Russell was studying to become a teacher, and were unaware that she was planning to become a stage comedienne.[7]

Career[edit]

Russell (c. 1930)

Russell started her career as a fashion model and was in many Broadway shows. Against parental objections, she took a job at a stock company for seven months at Saranac Lake and then Hartford, Connecticut.[7] Afterwards, she moved to Boston, where she acted for a year at a theatre group for Edward E. Clive. Later, she appeared in a revue in New York (The Garrick Gaieties). There, she took voice lessons and built a career in the opera, which was short-lived due to her inability to reach high notes.[7]

In the early 1930s, Russell went west to Los Angeles to be a contract actress for Universal Pictures. When she first arrived on the lot, she was ignored by most of the crew and later told the press she felt terrible and humiliated at the studio, which had influence on her self-confidence.[8] Unhappy with Universal's leadership, and second-class film status at the time, Russell set her sights on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and was able to get out of her Universal contract on her own terms. When MGM first approached her for a screen test, Russell was not enthusiastic, remembering Universal. When she met MGM's Benny Thau and Ben Piazza, she was surprised, as they were "the soul of understanding."[8] Her screen test was directed by Harold S. Bucquet, and she later recalled that she was hired because of a closeup he took of her.[8]

In The Women (1939) with Norma Shearer

Picked up by MGM, Russell debuted in Evelyn Prentice (1934). Although the role was small she was noticed, with one critic saying that she was "convincing as the woman scorned."[9] She starred in many comedies, such as Forsaking All Others (1934), and Four's a Crowd (1938), as well as dramas, including Craig's Wife (1936) (which would be the film's second of three remakes; Joan Crawford did the third) and The Citadel (1938). Russell was first acclaimed when she co-starred with Robert Young in the MGM drama West Point of the Air (1935). One critic wrote: "Rosalind Russell as the 'other woman' in the story gives an intelligent and deft handling to her scenes with Young."[10] She quickly rose to fame and, by 1935, was seen as a replacement of actress Myrna Loy, as she took many roles Loy was initially set for.[11] Furthermore, one journalist claimed that she was the only newcomer of 1935 destined for stardom.

In her first years at Hollywood, Russell was, both in her personal life and film career, characterized as a sophisticated lady. This dissatisfied Russell, who claimed in a 1936 interview:

Being typed as a lady is the greatest misfortune possible to a motion picture actress. It limits your characterizations, confines you to play feminine sops and menaces and the public never highly approves of either. An impeccably dressed lady is always viewed with suspicion in real life and when you strut onto the screen with beautiful clothes and charming manners, the most naive of theatergoers senses immediately that you are in a position to do the hero no good. I earnestly want to get away from this. First, because I want to improve my career and professional life and, secondly because I am tired of being a clothes horse – a sort of hothouse orchid in a stand of wild flowers.[12]

Russell approached director Frank Lloyd for help changing her image; but, instead of helping her, Lloyd cast her as a wealthy aristocrat in Under Two Flags (1936).[12] In 1939, she was cast as catty gossip Sylvia Fowler in the all-female comedy The Women, directed by George Cukor. The film was a major hit, boosting her career and establishing her reputation as a comedienne.

Russell continued to display her talent for comedy in the classic screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940), directed by Howard Hawks. In the film, a reworking of Ben Hecht's story The Front Page, Russell played quick-witted ace reporter Hildy Johnson, who was also the ex-wife of her newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Russell had been, as she put it, "Everyone's fifteenth choice" for the role of Hildy in the film. Prior to her being cast, Howard Hawks had asked Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Margaret Sullavan and Ginger Rogers if they'd like to play the brash, fast-talking reporter in his film. All of them refused.[13] Russell found out about this while riding on a train to New York, when she read an article in the New York Times saying that she'd been cast in the film and listing all the actresses who'd turned the part down.

In the 1940s, she made comedies such as The Feminine Touch (1941) and Take a Letter, Darling (1942), dramas including Sister Kenny (1946), and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and a murder mystery The Velvet Touch (1948).

Over the course of her career, Russell earned four Academy Award nominations for Best Actress: My Sister Eileen (1942); Sister Kenny (1946); Mourning Becomes Electra (1947); and the movie version of Auntie Mame (1958). She received a Special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1972. The awarded trophy for the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is an Oscar statuette.

Russell scored a big hit on Broadway with her Tony Award-winning performance in Wonderful Town (1953), a musical version of her successful film of a decade earlier, My Sister Eileen. Russell reprised her starring role for a 1958 television special.

Rosalind Russell (left) and Polly Rowles in the original Broadway production of Auntie Mame (1957)

Perhaps her most memorable performance was in the title role of the long-running stage hit Auntie Mame and the subsequent 1958 movie version, in which she played an eccentric aunt whose orphan nephew comes to live with her. When asked which role she was most closely identified with, she replied that strangers who spotted her still called out, "Hey, Auntie Mame!" She received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play in 1957 for her performance. Patrick Dennis dedicated his second Auntie Mame book Around the World with Auntie Mame to "the one and only Rosalind Russell" in 1958.[citation needed]

She continued to appear in movies through the mid-1960s, including Picnic (1955), A Majority of One (1961), Five Finger Exercise (1962), Gypsy (1962), and The Trouble with Angels (1966). Russell was the logical choice for reprising her role as Auntie Mame when its Broadway musical adaptation Mame was set for production in 1966, but she declined for health reasons. In addition to her acting career, Russell also wrote the story (under the name C. A. McKnight) for the film The Unguarded Moment (1956), a story of sexual harassment starring Esther Williams.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

On October 25, 1941, Russell married Danish-American producer Frederick Brisson, son of actor Carl Brisson.[14] Cary Grant was responsible for the couple having met, and was the best man at Fredrick and Rosalind's wedding. Brisson had been traveling from England to the United States by ship in 1939, and The Women was playing on an endless loop during the voyage. After hearing the audio for the film day after day while traveling, Brisson decided he had better sit down and watch the whole film. He became so enamored with Russell's performance as Sylvia Fowler, that he turned to his friends and proclaimed: "I'm either gonna kill that girl, or I'm gonna marry her." (Or so he liked to say.)[15]

Brisson stayed with Cary Grant in his guest house during which time Grant was filming His Girl Friday. Upon hearing that Grant was making the movie with Russell, Brisson asked his friend if he could meet her. [16] Cary Grant then spent weeks greeting Russell each morning on set with the question, "Have you met Freddie Brisson?" in an effort to pique the actress's curiosity. One night, when Russell opened her door to let Grant in before they went dancing, as they often did, she found him standing next to a stranger. Grant sheepishly explained that the odd fellow was Freddie Brisson, the man whom he had mentioned so often, and they set off for dinner, with Freddie in tow. Russell and Brisson's marriage lasted 35 years, ending with her death. They had one child in 1943, a son, Carl Lance Brisson.[1][17]

She was a Roman Catholic, and a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California.[18]

Death[edit]

Russell died of breast cancer on November 28, 1976.[17] She was survived by her husband and her son. She is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.[19]

Rosalind Russell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1708 Vine Street.

Her autobiography, written with Chris Chase, Life Is a Banquet, was published a year after her death. In the foreword (written by her husband), he states that Russell had a mental breakdown sometime in 1943. Details are scant (she made no films in 1944), but it indicates that her health problems paired with the deaths of a sister and a brother, can be traced back to the 1940s.[20]

In 2009, a documentary film Life Is a Banquet: The Life of Rosalind Russell, narrated by Kathleen Turner, was shown at film festivals across the U.S. and on some PBS stations.

Work[edit]

Film[edit]

YearTitleRoleNotes
1934Evelyn PrenticeMrs. Harrison
The President VanishesSally Voorman
Forsaking All OthersEleanor
1935The Night Is YoungCountess Zarika Rafay
The Casino Murder CaseDoris
West Point of the AirDare Marshall
RecklessJo
China SeasSybil
RendezvousJoel
1936It Had to HappenBeatrice Newnes
Under Two FlagsLady Venetia Cunningham
Trouble for TwoMiss Vandeleur
Craig's WifeHarriet Craig
1937Night Must FallOlivia
Live, Love and LearnJulie Stoddard
1938Man-ProofElizabeth Kent
Four's a CrowdJean Christy
The CitadelChristine
1939Fast and LooseGarda Sloane
The WomenMrs. Howard Fowler - Sylvia
1940His Girl FridayHildy Johnson
Hired WifeKendal Browning
No Time for ComedyLinda Esterbrook
This Thing Called LoveAnn Winters
1941They Met in BombayAnya Von Duren
The Feminine TouchJulie Hathaway
Design for ScandalJudge Cornelia C. Porter
1942Take a Letter, DarlingA.M. MacGregor
My Sister EileenRuth SherwoodNominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1943Flight for FreedomTonie Carter
What a Woman!Carol Ainsley
1945Roughly SpeakingLouise Randall Pierson
She Wouldn't Say YesDr. Susan A. Lane
1946Sister KennyElizabeth KennyGolden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1947The Guilt of Janet AmesJanet Ames
Mourning Becomes ElectraLavinia MannonGolden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
1948The Velvet TouchValerie Stanton
1949Tell It to the JudgeMarsha Meredith
1950A Woman of DistinctionSusan Manning Middlecott
1953Never Wave at a WACJo McBain
1955The Girl RushKim Halliday
PicnicMiss Rosemary Sydney
1958Auntie MameMame DennisGolden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated— BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1961A Majority of OneMrs. Bertha JacobyGolden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1962Five Finger ExerciseLouise Harington
GypsyRose HovickGolden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Laurel Award for Top Female Musical Performance (5th place)
1966The Trouble with AngelsMother SuperiorLaurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance (4th place)
1967Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So SadMadame Rosepettle
Rosie!Rosie Lord
1968Where Angels Go, Trouble FollowsMother Simplicia
1971Mrs. Pollifax – SpyMrs. Pollifax

Television[edit]

YearTitleRoleNotes
1951Schlitz Playhouse of StarsGuestepisode: Never Wave at a WAC
1955The Loretta Young ShowGuest Hostessepisode: Week-End in Winnetka
episode: Fear Me Not
1956General Electric TheaterCynthiaepisode: The Night Goes On
1958Wonderful TownRuth SherwoodTV movie
1959StartimeHostepisode: The Wonderful World of Entertainment
1972The Crooked HeartsLaurita DorseyTV movie

Theatre (Broadway)[edit]

Dates of productionTitleRoleGenreNotes
October 16, 1930 – October 1930The Garrick GaietiesMusical revue
April 20, 1931 – April 1931Company's ComingMiss MalloryComedy
February 25, 1953 – July 03, 1954Wonderful TownRuth SherwoodMusicalTony Award for Best Actress in a Musical
October 31, 1956 – June 28, 1958Auntie MameAuntie MameComedyNominated—Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Catherine Rosalind Russell as birthname
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, December 1, 1976, page 79.
  3. ^ Basinger, Jeanine (1993). A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930–1960 (Reprinted. ed.). Hanover: Wesleyan University Press. p. 178. ISBN 0-8195-6291-2. 
  4. ^ "Rosalind Russell Dies, Fought 15-Year Battle", Reading Eagle, November 29, 1976, p. 34
  5. ^ Rosalind Russell genealogy site; accessed April 9, 2014.
  6. ^ a b Cozad, W. Lee. More Magnificent Mountain Movies: The Silverscreen Years, 1940–2004. p. 145. ISBN 0-9723372-2-9. 
  7. ^ a b c "Show Girls Get Training In Colleges", Pittsburgh Press, December 3, 1930, p. 24
  8. ^ a b c "Take the Stand, Rosalind Russell" by Ed Sullivan, Pittsburgh Press, July 14, 1939, p. 27
  9. ^ "William Powell, Myrna Loy Score On Capitol Screen", The Salt Lake Tribune, November 19, 1934, p. 12
  10. ^ "Amusements", The Daily Times: Rochester and Beaver, August 11, 1935, p. 9
  11. ^ "For Your Amusement" by Miriam Bell, The Miami News, October 30, 1935, p. 11
  12. ^ a b "Rosalind Russell Yearns To Be Socked on Her Chin", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 3, 1936, p. 16
  13. ^ His Girl Friday (1940) - Articles - TCM.com
  14. ^ "People". Life (Time, Inc.): 51. 1941-11-10. ISSN 0024-3019. 
  15. ^ Russell, Rosalind; Chase, Chris (1977). Life Is a Banquet. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-42134-6. OCLC 3017310. 
  16. ^ Russell, Rosalind; Chase, Chris (1977). Life Is a Banquet. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-42134-6. OCLC 3017310. 
  17. ^ a b Sarvady, Andrea; Miller, Frank (2006). Leading Ladies: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actresses of the Studio Era. Chronicle Books. p. 169. ISBN 0-8118-5248-2. 
  18. ^ Church of the Good Shepherd: Our History
  19. ^ Dick, Bernard F. (2006). Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 256. ISBN 1-57806-890-8. 
  20. ^ Russell, Rosalind; Chase, Chris (1977). Life Is a Banquet. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-42134-6. OCLC 3017310. 

External links[edit]