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Rosalind Russell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rosalind Russell
Russell in 1955
Catherine Rosalind Russell[1]

(1907-06-04)June 4, 1907
DiedNovember 28, 1976(1976-11-28) (aged 69)
Resting placeHoly Cross Cemetery
Other namesC.A. McKnight
Alma mater
  • Actress
  • model
  • comedian
  • screenwriter
  • singer
Years active1929–1972
Known for
Political partyRepublican
Frederick Brisson
(m. 1941)
AwardsTony Award for Best Actress in a Musical
Hollywood Walk of Fame

Catherine Rosalind Russell (June 4, 1907 – November 28, 1976) was an American actress, model, comedian, screenwriter, and singer,[2] known for her role as fast-talking newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson in the Howard Hawks screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940), opposite Cary Grant, as well as for her portrayals of Mame Dennis in the 1956 stage and 1958 film adaptations of Auntie Mame, and Rose in Gypsy (1962). A noted comedienne,[3] she won all five Golden Globes for which she was nominated. Russell won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1953 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). She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress four times during her career before being awarded a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1973.

In addition to her comedic roles, Russell was known for playing dramatic characters, often wealthy, dignified, and stylish women. She was one of the few actresses of her time to portray women in professional roles such as judges, reporters, and psychiatrists.[4] Russell's career spanned from the 1930s to the 1970s and she attributed this longevity to the fact that, although she had many glamorous roles, she never became a sex symbol.[5]

YouTube Encyclopedic

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    20 217
    26 519
    30 326
    2 248
    379 169
  • Rosalind Russell - Funny Moments IX
  • Rosalind Russell - Funny Moments XXI
  • Rosalind Russell’s Son Reveals Details About Her Private Life
  • Rosalind Russell - Funny Moments
  • AUNTIE MAME (1958), Rosalind Russell, scenes abt Montebank Home for Jewish Refuge Children (spoiler)


Early years

Catherine Rosalind Russell was one of seven children born in Waterbury, Connecticut, to James Edward, a lawyer,[6] and Clara A. Russell (née McKnight),[7] a teacher. The Russells were an Irish-American, Catholic family.[8] She was named after a ship on which her parents had traveled.[8] Russell attended Catholic schools, including the women's-only Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania and Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. She then attended 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 an actress.[9] Upon graduation from the performing arts school, Russell acted in summer stock and joined a repertory company in Boston.


Early career

Russell began her career as a fashion model and was in many Broadway shows. Against parental objections, she took a job with a stock company for seven months at Saranac Lake, New York, and then Hartford, Connecticut.[9] Afterwards, she moved to Boston, where she acted for a year with a theater group run by Edward E. Clive. Later, she appeared in a revue in New York (The Garrick Gaieties). There, she took voice lessons and had a brief career in opera, which was cut short because she had difficulty reaching high notes.[9]

In the early 1930s, Russell went to Los Angeles, where she was hired as a contract player for Universal Studios. 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 Universal, which affected her self-confidence.[10] Unhappy with Universal's leadership, and second-class studio status at the time, Russell set her sights on Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 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 wary, remembering her experience at Universal. However, when she met MGM's Benny Thau and Ben Piazza, she was surprised; they were "the soul of understanding".[10] 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.[10]

In The Women (1939) with Norma Shearer
Lionel Barrymore's 61st birthday in 1939, standing: Mickey Rooney, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, Louis B. Mayer, William Powell, Robert Taylor, seated: Norma Shearer, Lionel Barrymore, and Rosalind Russell

Under contract to MGM, Russell debuted in Evelyn Prentice (1934). Although the role was small, she received good notices, with one critic saying that she was "convincing as the woman scorned".[11] 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) (the second of three film adaptations of the play of the same name; Joan Crawford starred in the third) and The Citadel (1938). Russell was 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."[12] She quickly rose to fame, and by 1935, was seen as a replacement for actress Myrna Loy, as she took many roles for which Loy was initially set.[13]

In her first years in Hollywood, Russell was characterized, both in her personal life and film career, as a sophisticated "lady". This dissatisfied Russell, who said 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.[14]

Russell approached director Frank Lloyd for help changing her image, but instead, Lloyd cast her as a wealthy aristocrat in Under Two Flags (1936).[14] She was then cast as catty gossip Sylvia Fowler in the comedy The Women (1939), directed by George Cukor. The film was a major hit, boosting Russell's career and establishing her reputation as a comedienne.[citation needed]

With Cary Grant and Ralph Bellamy in His Girl Friday (1940)

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 plays 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. Before her being cast, Howard Hawks had asked Katharine Hepburn, Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Margaret Sullavan, and Ginger Rogers if they would like to play the brash, fast-talking reporter in his film. All of them refused.[15] Russell found out about this while riding on a train to New York, when she read an article in The New York Times stating that she had been cast in the film and listing all the actresses who had turned the part down.[citation needed]

Later career

In the 1940s, Russell made more comedies including The Feminine Touch (1941), Take a Letter, Darling and My Sister Eileen (both 1942), dramas including Sister Kenny (1946) and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and a murder mystery: The Velvet Touch (1948).

Rosalind Russell in Wonderful Town, on the cover of Time (March 30, 1953)

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.[citation needed]

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 comedy Auntie Mame (based on a Patrick Dennis novel) as well as the 1958 film version, in which she played an eccentric aunt whose orphaned nephew comes to live with her. When asked with which role she was most closely identified, she replied that strangers who spotted her still called out, "Hey, Auntie Mame!". The role earned her a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. Patrick Dennis dedicated his second Auntie Mame novel Around the World with Auntie Mame to "the one and only Rosalind Russell" in 1958.[16]

She continued to appear in movies through the mid-1960s, including Picnic (1955), A Majority of One (1961), Five Finger Exercise (1962), Gypsy (1962), The Trouble with Angels (1966), and its sequel Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968). Russell was the logical choice for reprising her role as Auntie Mame when the musical version Mame was set for a production on Broadway in 1966, but she declined for health reasons.[citation needed]

In addition to her acting career, Russell (under the name C.A. McKnight) also wrote the story for the film The Unguarded Moment (1956), a story of sexual harassment starring Esther Williams.[17] Russell used the pen name C.A. McKnight again in 1971, when she was credited as screenwriter for adapting the novel The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax into the screenplay for Mrs. Pollifax-Spy, in which she also starred.[18] It was Russell's last big screen role.

Awards and nominations

Over the course of her career, Russell was nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in My Sister Eileen (1942); Sister Kenny (1946); Mourning Becomes Electra (1947); and Auntie Mame (1958). She also won five Golden Globe Awards. She was nominated for two Tony Awards, winning once. She also received a Special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1972, which came with an Oscar statuette. In 1975, she was given the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.[19]

In 1972, Russell received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[20]She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Russell is honored at the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis. Her portrait and a description of her work hang in the lobby, as Congress made a grant in 1979 to establish the research center, in honor of her Congressional appointment to the National Commission on Arthritis.[21]

Personal life

On October 25, 1941, Russell married Danish-American producer Frederick Brisson (1912–1984), son of actor Carl Brisson.[22] Cary Grant was responsible for the couple having met and was the best man at Frederick 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."[23]

Brisson stayed with Cary Grant in his guest house while 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.[23] 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 were married for 35 years, until her death. They had one child in 1943, a son, Carl Lance Brisson.[1][24]

Russell was a registered Republican who supported the 1960 campaign of Richard Nixon.[25]

Russell was a devout Catholic, and a member of the Good Shepherd Parish and the Catholic Motion Picture Guild in Beverly Hills, California.[26]


Six months before her death, Russell meets with First Lady Betty Ford (herself a breast cancer survivor) at the White House on May 11, 1976
Grave of Rosalind Russell at Holy Cross Cemetery

Russell died of breast cancer on November 28, 1976.[24] She was survived by her husband and her son. She is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.[27]

Russell has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the 1700 block of Vine Street.[28]

Her autobiography Life Is a Banquet, written with Chris Chase, was published a year after her death. The foreword (written by her husband) states that Russell had a mental breakdown in 1943. She did not act in films in 1944. Details are scant, but the book indicates that health problems and the deaths of a sister and a brother were major factors leading to her breakdown.[29] Russell had rheumatoid arthritis, and an arthritis research center at the University of California, San Francisco currently bears her name.[30]

In 2009, the 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 / Acting / Voice Credits


Year Title Role Notes
1934 Evelyn Prentice Mrs. Nancy Harrison
The President Vanishes Sally Voorman
Forsaking All Others Eleanor
1935 The Night Is Young Countess Zarika Rafay
The Casino Murder Case Doris
West Point of the Air Dare Marshall
Reckless Jo
China Seas Sybil Barclay
Rendezvous Joel Carter
1936 It Had to Happen Beatrice Newnes
Under Two Flags Lady Venetia Cunningham
Trouble for Two Miss Vandeleur
Craig's Wife Harriet Craig
1937 Night Must Fall Olivia Grayne
Live, Love and Learn Julie Stoddard
1938 Man-Proof Elizabeth Kent
Four's a Crowd Jean Christy
The Citadel Christine Barlow
1939 Fast and Loose Garda Sloane
The Women Sylvia Fowler
1940 His Girl Friday Hildy Johnson
Hired Wife Kendal Browning
No Time for Comedy Linda Esterbrook
This Thing Called Love Ann Winters
1941 They Met in Bombay Anya Von Duren
The Feminine Touch Julie Hathaway
Design for Scandal Judge Cornelia C. Porter
1942 Take a Letter, Darling A.M. MacGregor
My Sister Eileen Ruth Sherwood Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
1943 Flight for Freedom Tonie Carter
What a Woman! Carol Ainsley
1945 Roughly Speaking Louise Randall Pierson
She Wouldn't Say Yes Dr. Susan A. Lane
1946 Sister Kenny Elizabeth Kenny Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
1947 The Guilt of Janet Ames Janet Ames
Mourning Becomes Electra Lavinia Mannon Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
1948 The Velvet Touch Valerie Stanton
1949 Tell It to the Judge Marsha Meredith
1950 A Woman of Distinction Susan Manning Middlecott
1953 Never Wave at a WAC Jo McBain
1955 The Girl Rush Kim Halliday
Picnic Miss Rosemary Sydney
1958 Auntie Mame Mame Dennis Golden 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
1961 A Majority of One Mrs. Bertha Jacoby Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1962 Five Finger Exercise Louise Harington
Gypsy Rose Hovick Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Laurel Award for Top Female Musical Performance (5th place)
1966 The Trouble with Angels Mother Superior Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance (4th place)
1967 Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad Madame Rosepettle
Rosie! Rosie Lord
1968 Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows Mother Superior
1971 Mrs. Pollifax-Spy Mrs. Emily Pollifax Also screenwriter, credited as "C. A. McKnight"
Last film role


Year Title Role Notes
1951 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Guest episode: Never Wave at a WAC
1953 What's My Line? Mystery Guest Air date: January 4, 1953
1955 The Loretta Young Show Guest Hostess episode: Week-End in Winnetka
episode: Fear Me Not
1956 General Electric Theater Cynthia episode: The Night Goes On
1958 Wonderful Town Ruth Sherwood TV movie
1959 Startime Host episode: The Wonderful World of Entertainment
1972 The Crooked Hearts Laurita Dorsey TV movie
Last appearance in any medium

Broadway theatre

Production Dates Title Role Genre Notes
October 16, 1930 – October 1930 The Garrick Gaieties Performer Musical revue
April 20, 1931 – April 1931 Company's Coming Miss Mallory Comedy
February 25, 1953 – July 3, 1954 Wonderful Town Ruth Sherwood Musical Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical
October 31, 1956 – June 28, 1958 Auntie Mame Auntie Mame Comedy Nominated - Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/Source
1939 Lux Radio Theatre Stage Door role of Terry [31]
1940 Screen Guild Players Ninotchka[32]
1941 Lux Radio Theatre Craig's Wife[31]
1951 Screen Directors Playhouse Take a Letter, Darling[33]
1952 Theatre Guild on the Air The Damask Cheek[34]


  1. ^ a b Dick, Bernard F. (2009). Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1604731392 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ Obituary Variety, December 1, 1976, p. 79.
  3. ^ "Rosalind Russell: Biography". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "Rosalind Russell Dies, Fought 15-Year Battle", Reading Eagle, November 29, 1976, p. 34
  6. ^ 1910 United States Federal Census
  7. ^ Rosalind Russell genealogy site Archived December 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine; accessed April 9, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Cozad, W. Lee (2006). More Magnificent Mountain Movies: The Silverscreen Years, 1940–2004. Sunstroke Media. p. 145. ISBN 0-9723372-2-9.
  9. ^ a b c "Show Girls Get Training in Colleges", Pittsburgh Press, December 3, 1930, p. 24
  10. ^ a b c "Take the Stand, Rosalind Russell" by Ed Sullivan, Pittsburgh Press, July 14, 1939, p. 27
  11. ^ "William Powell, Myrna Loy Score on Capitol Screen", The Salt Lake Tribune, November 19, 1934, p. 12
  12. ^ "Amusements", The Daily Times: Rochester and Beaver, August 11, 1935, p. 9
  13. ^ "For Your Amusement" by Miriam Bell, The Miami News, October 30, 1935, p. 11
  14. ^ a b "Rosalind Russell Yearns To Be Socked on Her Chin", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 3, 1936, p. 16
  15. ^ "His Girl Friday (1940)". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on June 10, 2011. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  16. ^ Passafiume, Andrea. "Pop Culture 101: Auntie Mame". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on December 1, 2017. Retrieved May 28, 2017.
  17. ^ Stafford, Jeff. "The Unguarded Moment". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on March 11, 2018. Retrieved May 28, 2017.
  18. ^ "Mrs. Pollifax – Spy (1971) – Leslie Martinson – Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". Allmovie.
  19. ^ Russell Oscar Speechaccessed 04/15/2024
  20. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  21. ^ "Hometowns to Hollywood". Hometowns to Hollywood. July 2019.
  22. ^ "People". Life. November 10, 1941. p. 51. ISSN 0024-3019.
  23. ^ a b Russell, Rosalind; Chase, Chris (1977). Life Is a Banquet. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-42134-6. OCLC 3017310.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Commerce, United States Congress Senate Committee on (July 5, 1961). "Freedom of Communications: The joint appearances of Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon and other 1960 campaign presentations". U.S. Government Printing Office – via Google Books.
  26. ^ "Our History". Church of the Good Shepherd.
  27. ^ Dick, Bernard F. (2006). Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 256. ISBN 1-57806-890-8.
  28. ^ "Rosalind Russell". Los Angeles Times.
  29. ^ Russell, Rosalind; Chase, Chris (1977). Life Is a Banquet. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-42134-6. OCLC 3017310.
  30. ^ "Russell/Engleman Research Center". UCSF.
  31. ^ a b Russell, Rosalind. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
  32. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 37, no. 1. Winter 2011. p. 38.
  33. ^ "Radio's Golden Age". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 40, no. 1. Winter 2014. pp. 40–41.
  34. ^ Kirby, Walter (December 7, 1952). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. The Decatur Daily Review. p. 52. Retrieved June 14, 2015 – via Open access icon

External links

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