Rosalind Russell


Actor
Rosalind Russell

About

Also Known As
C. A. Mcknight
Birth Place
Waterbury, Connecticut, USA
Born
June 04, 1912
Died
November 28, 1976
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

She was born into wealth and privilege but for Golden Age moviegoers, Rosalind Russell represented the epitome of the working woman. Warehoused as a Universal acquisition and underutilized at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the lanky, dark-eyed actress tested her comic chops in George Cukor's "The Women" (1939) before coming into her own as Cary Grant's co-star in Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday" (1...

Photos & Videos

The Feminine Touch - Publicity Stills
They Met in Bombay - Kapralik Trade Ad
They Met in Bombay - Publicity Still

Family & Companions

Frederick Brisson
Husband
Producer.

Biography

She was born into wealth and privilege but for Golden Age moviegoers, Rosalind Russell represented the epitome of the working woman. Warehoused as a Universal acquisition and underutilized at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the lanky, dark-eyed actress tested her comic chops in George Cukor's "The Women" (1939) before coming into her own as Cary Grant's co-star in Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday" (1940) - a role refused by almost every A-list actress in Hollywood. Tailoring the script to the talents of his stars, whom he encouraged to ad lib for the camera, Hawks delivered the rare Hollywood hit to please critics and audiences alike, while Russell made of her brassy distaff journalist Hildy Johnson a role model for American women braving the male-dominated workforce. Russell also found satisfaction on stage, winning a Tony for "Wonderful Town" in 1953 and reprising her 1956 Broadway success as "Auntie Mame" in Warner Brothers' lavish Technicolor film adaptation. The four-time Academy Award nominee transitioned deftly to middle-age, playing a small town spinster in "Picnic" (1955) and mentoring Natalie Wood's budding burlesque star in "Gypsy" (1962). Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, Russell threw herself into charity work, for which she received the 1973 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award only a few years before breast cancer robbed Hollywood of one of its most unique talents, a glamorous leading lady with the soul of a vaudevillian.

Catherine Rosalind Russell was born on June 4, 1907, in Waterbury, CT. The fourth of seven children born to James Edward Russell, a trial attorney, and the former Clara McKnight, a school teacher, Russell was raised in affluence on Waterbury's Cracker Hill, a conclave of stately Victorian homes shaded by fruit trees and backed by rose gardens. Called Rosalind by her parents, in memory of a happy sea cruise to Nova Scotia aboard the S.S. Rosalind, Russell developed into a tomboy, climbing trees, riding horses from her father's stable, and cutting classes to attend movies at her local bijou. Upon her high school graduation from the Notre Dame Academy, she enrolled in Tarrytown, New York's Marymount College, with the stated aim of becoming a teacher. Drawn to campus theatricals, Russell played the Jesuit saint Francis Xavier in a religious play and was given the lead role in a student production of the operetta "The Bohemian Girl." Leaving Marymount in 1927 after only two years, she enrolled in classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Art in Manhattan, assuring her now widowed mother that a diploma from AADA would enable her to teach voice and diction.

In 1929, Russell was cast in the lead role in Frederick Lonsdale's comedy of manners "The Last of Mrs. Cheney," which also featured another young AADA enrollee - Agnes Moorehead. Upon her graduation from the Academy, Russell transitioned to summer stock, joining a repertory company based at New York's Saranac Lake, and later traveling for acting work in Boston. As a member of the Adirondack Players, she starred in a regional staging of Edwin Burke's "This Thing Called Love," a recent Broadway hit. In 1930, Russell made her Broadway debut with an ensemble role in the Theatre Guild revue "Garrick Gaieties," alongside future television comedienne Imogene Coca. Equally short-lived was her return to the Great White Way in the Alma Wilson farce "Company's Coming!," which closed after a week at the Lyceum Theater. Tapped by Universal Pictures in Hollywood for potential film work, Russell traveled west but her brief time at Universal was an unhappy one. Breaking her studio contract, Russell found a more welcoming home at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for whom she made her feature film debut in "Evelyn Prentice" (1934), as Myrna Loy's snooty rival for the love of William Powell.

Despite possessing a flair for comedy, Russell's initial film roles often cast her as the other woman in such dramas as "West Point of the Air" (1935) with Robert Young and "China Seas" (1935) with Clark Gable. Though romance favored her in the class comedy "It Had to Happen" (1936) with George Raft and in the psychological thriller "Night Must Fall" (1937) with Robert Montgomery, Russell's unique abilities were largely wasted. A happy exception was her turn as the journalist heroine of Michael Curtiz's "Four's a Crowd" (1938), co-starring Errol Flynn, and her breakthrough role as the catty Sylvia Fowler in George Cukor's madcap "The Women" (1939). The latter classic allowed Russell to bring all of her talents to bear, contrasting her haughty, patrician mien (which so often limited her to playing socialites) with an affinity for slapstick. If "The Women" showed Russell's great promise as a top-tier comedienne, that promise was fulfilled when she was loaned out to Columbia Pictures to co-star opposite Cary Grant in Howard Hawks' "His Girl Friday" (1940), a reworking of the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur stage play with one of the principle roles gender-reversed for a woman.

Russell's enthusiasm to take the lead in an A-list comedy tailored to her particular talents was tempered initially when she learned that the role of ace reporter Hildy Johnson had been rejected by nearly every major Hollywood comedienne - among them Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard and Jean Arthur. Glumly submitting to costume tests for Hawks, the actress boldly voiced her apprehension but was reassured by the veteran director and co-star Grant, with whom she enjoyed a professional relationship of complete equanimity that had little precedent in Hollywood at the time. Though Hawks had a reputation for demanding from his actors absolute fidelity to the shooting script, he allowed and encouraged Russell and Grant to ad lib for the camera, even to the extreme of breaking the presumed forth wall separating players and audience. The film's manic pacing; overlapping, fast-flying dialogue; and the winning union of Russell and Grant made it a hit with both the critics and moviegoers. The production also had the benefit of bringing Russell together with Frederick Brisson, a Danish expatriate and agency executive whom she would marry in 1941, with Cary Grant as their best man.

Russell earned Academy Award nominations for her roles in the comedy "My Cousin Eileen" (1942), for the historical biopic "Sister Kenny" (1946), and for "Mourning Becomes Electra" (1947), an adaptation of the grim Eugene O'Neill play that proved a disastrous venture for RKO-Radio Pictures. If the majority of her subsequent film roles proved unmemorable, Russell found greater job satisfaction by returning to the stage. She toured with a 1951 production of "Bell, Book and Candle" and won a Tony for starring in the 1953 Broadway production of "Wonderful Town" and George Abbott's musical adaptation of "My Cousin Eileen." She stayed with the hit show through 556 performances and reprised the role of Ruth Sherwood for a 1958 television adaptation broadcast by CBS. In the interim, the 47-year-old actress accepted a supporting role as a small town spinster in Joshua Logan's "Picnic" (1955) but refused a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination when Columbia denied her top billing. In 1956, Russell returned to Broadway for the last time to star as the free-spirited "Auntie Mame," another box office juggernaut that ran for over 600 performances at the Broadhurst Theater.

When Russell reprised her role as Mame Dennis in Morton DaCosta's film adaptation of "Auntie Mame" (1958), she had found a signature role to bookend her indelible turn as Hildy Johnson in "His Girl Friday" (1940). The film garnered six Oscar nominations, among them one for Russell as Best Actress, but she had to content herself with a Golden Globe and some of the best reviews of her career. After the diagnosis of breast cancer in 1959 required Russell to undergo a double mastectomy, she worked less often. She played Mama Rose to Natalie Wood's budding burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee in "Gypsy" (1962) and appeared as a martinet Mother Superior in the convent comedy "The Trouble with Angels" (1966) and its sequel, "Where Angels Go, Trouble Follow" (1968). "Rosie!" (1967) gave the actress another whack at Mame-style irreverence in the role of a widow whose avaricious daughters have her committed to a sanitarium for fear she will spend their inheritance before she dies. Billing herself as C.A. McKnight (in honor of her mother), Russell co-wrote her final film appearance, playing a New Jersey housewife who volunteers for espionage work in the comedy "Mrs. Pollifax - Spy" (1971), based on a series of novels by Dorothy Gilman.

Russell's final credit was in the ABC telefilm "The Crooked Hearts" (1972), a geriatric romantic comedy which finds her posing as a socialite in order to meet wealthy widowers, only to snag Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., a debonair confidence man targeting wealthy widows. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 1969, Russell refused to acknowledge her disability publicly but devoted herself to charity work, for which she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 1973 Academy Awards. The metastasis of her cancer brought about Russell's death in her Beverly Hills home on Nov. 28, 1976. Her autobiography, Life is a Banquet (a title cadged from "Auntie Mame") was published a year after her death. In 1978, the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis was founded at UCLA-San Francisco. In 2000, "His Girl Friday" and "Auntie Mame" were included in the American Film Institute's Top 100 comedies. In 2009, Jonathan Gruber's documentary "Life Is a Banquet: The Rosalind Russell Story" was exhibited at film festivals nationwide.

By Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

The Crooked Hearts (1972)
Mrs. Pollifax--Spy (1971)
Mrs. [Emily] Pollifax
Where Angels Go ... Trouble Follows! (1968)
Mother Simplicia
Rosie (1967)
Rosie Lord
Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad (1967)
Madame Rosepettle
The Trouble With Angels (1966)
Mother Superior
Five Finger Exercise (1962)
Louise Harrington
A Majority of One (1962)
Mrs. Jacoby
Gypsy (1962)
Rose
Auntie Mame (1958)
Auntie Mame [Dennis]
Picnic (1955)
Rosemary [Sydney], the school teacher
The Girl Rush (1955)
Kim Halliday
Never Wave at a WAC (1953)
Jo McBain
A Woman of Distinction (1950)
Susan Manning Middlecott
Tell It to the Judge (1949)
Marsha Meredith
The Velvet Touch (1948)
Valerie Stanton
Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)
Lavinia Mannon
The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947)
Janet Ames
Sister Kenny (1946)
Elizabeth Kenny
Roughly Speaking (1945)
Louise Randall
She Wouldn't Say Yes (1945)
Dr. Susan Lane
Flight for Freedom (1943)
Tonie Carter
What a Woman! (1943)
Carol Ainsley
Take a Letter, Darling (1942)
A. M. "Mac" MacGregor
My Sister Eileen (1942)
Ruth Sherwood
They Met in Bombay (1941)
Anya von Duren [also known as the Baroness von Duren]
Design for Scandal (1941)
Judge Cornelia Porter
The Feminine Touch (1941)
Julie Hathaway
This Thing Called Love (1941)
Ann Winters
No Time for Comedy (1940)
Linda [Paige] Esterbrook
His Girl Friday (1940)
Hildy Johnson
Hired Wife (1940)
Kendal Browning
Fast and Loose (1939)
Garda Sloane
The Women (1939)
Mrs. Howard Fowler, Sylvia
The Citadel (1938)
Christine [Barlow Manson]
Man-Proof (1938)
Elizabeth Kent [Wythe]
Four's a Crowd (1938)
Jean Christy
Live, Love and Learn (1937)
Julie Stoddard [Graham]
Night Must Fall (1937)
Olivia [Grayne]
Trouble for Two (1936)
[Princess Brenda, also known as] Miss Vandeleur
It Had to Happen (1936)
Beatrice Newnes
Craig's Wife (1936)
Harriet Craig
Under Two Flags (1936)
Lady Venetia Cunningham
The President Vanishes (1935)
Sally Voorman
The Night Is Young (1935)
Countess Rafay
Reckless (1935)
[Josephine] "Jo" [Mercer]
West Point of the Air (1935)
Dare Marshall
China Seas (1935)
Sybil [Barclay]
Rendezvous (1935)
Joel [Carter]
The Casino Murder Case (1935)
Doris [Reed]
Forsaking All Others (1934)
Eleanor
Evelyn Prentice (1934)
Mrs. [Nancy] Harrison

Writer (Feature Film)

Mrs. Pollifax--Spy (1971)
Screenwriter
The Unguarded Moment (1956)
Based on a Story by

Music (Feature Film)

Destroyer (2018)
Song
Rhosyn a Rhith (1987)
Song Performer ("Everything'S Coming Up Roses")

Cast (Special)

The American Film Institute Salute to John Ford (1973)
Performer
The Rosalind Russell Show (1959)
Host
Wonderful Town (1958)
Ruth Sherwood

Cast (Short)

King & Queen Meet the Stars (1954)
Herself
You Can't Fool a Camera (1941)
Herself
Breakdowns of 1938 (1938)
Herself
The Candid Camera Story (Very Candid) of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures 1937 Convention (1936)
Herself

Misc. Crew (Short)

Breakdowns of 1941 (1941)
Archival Footage

Life Events

1934

Film debut, "Evelyn Prentice"

1939

Confirmed star status with her role in "The Women"

1941

Opted not to renew her seven-year contract when it came time for renegotiation; began free-lancing

1953

Enjoyed landmark stage success in the long-running musical version of her 1942 comedy "My Sister Eileen", "Wonderful Town"

1955

Returned to films after a three-year absence with roles in "The Girl Rush" and "Picnic"

1958

Played one of her most famous roles, the title heroine of "Auntie Mame"; received her fourth Oscar nomination for Best Actress

1970

Last feature film, "The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax"

1972

Last film, the TV-movie, "The Crooked Hearts"

Photo Collections

The Feminine Touch - Publicity Stills
Here are a few publicity stills from The Feminine Touch (1941), starring Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche and Kay Francis. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
They Met in Bombay - Kapralik Trade Ad
Here is a trade ad for MGM's They Met in Bombey (1941), starring Clark Gable and Rosaland Russell. The art is by mixed-media caricaturist Jaques Kapralik. Trade Ads were placed by studios in industry magazines like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
They Met in Bombay - Publicity Still
Here is a still of Clark Gable and Rosalind Russell, taken to help publicize They Met in Bombay (1941). Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
A Majority of One - Movie Poster
A Majority of One - Movie Poster
Design for Scandal - Movie Poster
Design for Scandal - Movie Poster
Auntie Mame - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Auntie Mame (1958), starring Rosalind Russell. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Sister Kenny - Scene Stills
Here are a few scene stills from RKO's Sister Kenny (1946), starring Rosalind Russell.
Gypsy - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Gypsy (1962), starring Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968), starring Rosalind Russell and Stella Stevens. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Night Must Fall - Lobby Card
Here is a lobby card from Night Must Fall (1937), starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Women - Publicity Stills
Here are a few photos taken to help publicize MGM's The Women (1939), starring Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Women - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's The Women (1939), directed by George Cukor and featuring an all-star, all-female cast.
My Sister Eileen - Title Lobby Card
Here is the Title Lobby Card from My Sister Eileen (1942), starring Rosalind Russell and Janet Blair. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Women - Movie Posters
Here are a few original-release and re-issue American movie posters for MGM's The Women (1939).
The Women - Scene Stills
Here are a number of scene stills from MGM's The Women (1939), starring Norman Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine.
The Trouble with Angels - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Trouble with Angels (1966), starring Rosalind Russell and Hayley Mills. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Live, Love and Learn - Publicity Still
Here is a publicity still from MGM's Live, Love and Learn (1937), starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, usually taken off the set, for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
Fast and Loose - Movie Poster
Here is a window card movie poster from MGM's Fast and Loose (1939), starring Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Window Cards were mini posters designed to be placed in store windows around town during a film's engagement. A blank space at the top of the poster featured theater and playdate infromation.

Videos

Movie Clip

Gypsy (1962) - Let Me Entertain You Early days, Karl Malden as Herbie (stage name Uncle Jocko) intervenes somewhat to do the right thing for young June (Suzanne Cupito) and Louise (Diane Pace), a Styne/Sondheim tune getting murdered, and Mama Rose (Rosalind Russell) storms in, 1920’s vaudeville, in Gypsy, 1962.
Night Must Fall (1937) -- You Agree With Me Danny (Robert Montgomery) is ingratiating himself with Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) while her niece Olivia (Rosalind Russell) reconsiders his charms, only to grow suspicious about the tune he whistles, in Night Must Fall, 1937.
Night Must Fall (1937) -- I Am Not A Snob Danny (Robert Montgomery) has just been introduced to the household where his girlfriend Dora (Merle Tottenham) is the maid and Olivia (Rosalind Russell) works for her aunt Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) in Night Must Fall, 1937.
Night Must Fall (1937) - Perfectly Ordinary English People Joining the interrogation by Matthew Boulton as detective Belsize, who’s just introduced himself to Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty), mistress of a quiet country household, with Kathleen Harrison her cook and Rosalind Russell her niece and assistant, providing a speech from the Emlyn Williams play, in MGM’s Night Must Fall, 1937, starring Academy Award-nominated Robert Montgomery.
His Girl Friday (1940) - The Real Red Menace In the press room at the courthouse, Howard Hawks directs the guys from Ben Hecht’s original play (Roscoe Karns as McCue, Porter Hall as Murphy, Ernest Truex as Roy, Cliff Edwards as Endicott, Frank Jenks as Wilson), and Roz Russell convincing as the title character, their pal Hildy, informing them she’s done, in His Girl Friday, 1940.
His Girl Friday (1940) - That Fella In The Movies, Ralph Bellamy Reporter Hildy (Rosalind Russell) tells ex-husband and almost-ex boss editor Walter (Cary Grant) of another scoop, he sends vamp Vangie (Marion Martin) and hood Louie (Abner Biberman) to scam her waiting fiancè Bruce (Ralph Bellamy), Howard Hawks directing the Ben Hecht/Charles MacArthur dialogue sprint, in His Girl Friday, 1940.
Courtship Of Eddie's Father, The (1963) - I've Seen Too Many Rosalind Russell Pictures Their double-dates reversed at the bowling alley, New York radio host Norm (Jerry Van Dyke) with ingenuous Montanan Dolly (Stella Stevens) and his widower boss Tom (Glenn Ford) with the dignified, fetching professional fashion consultant Rita (Dina Merrill), in The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father, 1963.
Fast And Loose (1939) - Do They Play For Keeps Here? Part of the point in the casino scene has to be Roz Russell’s outfit, as Garda Sloane with her book-dealer amateur-sleuth husband Joel (Robert Montgomery) quipping their way into the joint run by Sidney Blackmer as Nolan, Joan Marsh his conspiring moll, in the MGM semi-programmer Fast And Loose, 1939.
Fast And Loose (1939) - I Swallowed A Jam Session Clever and provocative business, Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery introduced in bed(s) as Joel And Garda Sloane, officially rare-book dealers, as the second of MGM’s three couples cast in the roles, from screenwriter Harry Kurnitz, in Fast And Loose, 1939.
Fast And Loose (1939) - Go On Dear, Detect Something! Roz Russell as Garda Sloane and Robert Montgomery her husband Joel, the clever book-dealer/amateur sleuth now at dinner with daffy mogul Oates (Etienne Girardot), banker Charlton (Reginald Owen), host Torrent (Ralph Morgan) and Anthony Allan, et al, quipping and inviting mystery, in MGM’s Fast And Loose, 1939.
Auntie Mame (1958) - Madam Is Having Affair New York, 1928, Irish maid Norah (Connie Gilchrist) delivers Chicago orphan Patrick (Jan Handzlik), meeting Ito (Yuki Shimoda) along the way, to Rosalind Russell (her first scene, reprising her Broadway performance in the title role) in the original non-musical version of Auntie Mame, 1958.
Auntie Mame (1958) - Books Are Awfully Decorative Rosalind Russell (title character) cons her paid biographer O'Bannion (Robin Hughes) into taking her frump secretary Gooch (Peggy Cass) on a date, so she can receive her nervous nephew Patrick (Roger Smith) and his snooty new girlfriend Gloria (Joanna Barnes), in Auntie Mame, 1958.

Trailer

What a Woman! - (Original Trailer) Rosalind Russell, What a Woman! (1943) as a literary agent who tries to make her star client as adventurous as his most famous character.
Live, Love and Learn - (Original Trailer) A bohemian artist (Robert Montgomery) and a society girl (Rosalind Russell) try to adjust to marriage. Co-starring Robert Benchley and Mickey Rooney.
His Girl Friday -- (Original Trailer) Cary Grant does everything to keep his ex-wife and star reporter Rosalind Russell from re-marriage in Howard Hawks' classic comedy His Girl Friday (1940).
Auntie Mame - (Original Trailer) Rosalind Russell is an eccentric heiress who raises her nephew to be a free spirit in Auntie Mame (1958).
Trouble For Two - (Original Trailer) Before he can marry, a European prince (Robert Montgomery) gets mixed up with a suicide club. Based on short stories by Robert Louis Stevenson.
West Point Of The Air - (Original Trailer) An army sergeant (Wallace Beery) inspires his son to become an ace flyer and join the West Point of the Air (1935).
Evelyn Prentice - (Original Trailer) MGM playing up The Thin Man angle with Myrna Loy and William Powell, in the original trailer for the melodrama Evelyn Prentice, 1934, co-starring Rosalind Russell.
Gypsy - (Original Trailer) A domineering mother (Rosalind Russell) pushes her two daughters to burlesque stardom in Gypsy (1962), with Natalie Wood playing the title role of Gypsy Rose Lee.
Roughly Speaking -- (Original Trailer) Rosalind Russell is a headstrong woman who ends up with two marriages and seven children in the true story of Louise Randall Pierson.
Sister Kenny - (Original Trailer) Rosalind Russell gives an Oscar nominated performance as Sister Kenny (1946), the true story of the Australian nurse who fought to gain acceptance for her polio-treatment methods.
Women, The - (Original Trailer) A happily married woman (Norma Shearer) lets her catty friends talk her into divorce when her husband has an affair with shopgirl Joan Crawford in The Women (1939), directed by George Cukor.
Man-Proof - (Original Trailer) Myrna Loy may be crying in the chapel, but she refuses to give up her man, even after his marriage to Rosalind Russell in Man-Proof (1938).

Promo

Companions

Frederick Brisson
Husband
Producer.

Bibliography