Who was Rosalind Russell?
Rosalind Russell was an American stage and film actress best known for her comedic and dramatic roles in films such as ‘His Girl Friday’, ‘Auntie Mame’ and ‘Gypsy.’ A popular actress, she won all five Golden Globes for which she was nominated and a Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress four times throughout her career and received a Special Academy Award. Born into a conservative Catholic family, she developed an early interest in acting and went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts after attending Rosemont College and Marymount College. She ventured into acting against the wishes of her parents who had hoped that she would become a teacher. Beautiful and graceful, she began her career as a fashion model and soon ventured into Broadway as a stage actress. After achieving considerable success on the stage she entered films and made her debut in ‘Evelyn Prentice’ which earned her good reviews. Over the years she gained a reputation both as a talented comedian and a dramatic actress. She was often typecast in the role of a sophisticated working lady which limited her chances to develop the image of a sex symbol.
Childhood & Early Life
Catherine Rosalind Russell was born on June 4, 1907, in Waterbury, Connecticut, U.S. as the fourth of the seven children born to James Edward Russell, a trial attorney, and Clara McKnight, a school teacher. Her family was a wealthy one and she enjoyed a comfortable childhood.
As a young girl she was an adventurous tomboy who loved to climb trees and ride horses. She went to Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, and Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. She became drawn to acting during her college years and proceeded to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
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Confident and pretty, Rosalind Russell began her career as a fashion model, much against parental objection. Soon she ventured into Broadway and worked with a stock company for several months. She even attempted a career in the opera which was short-lived.
Eventually she entered films and made her debut in ‘Evelyn Prentice’ in 1934. It was a small role but her performance was much appreciated by the critics. Following this she received many roles and appeared in films such as ‘Forsaking All Others’ (1934), ‘Craig's Wife’ (1936) and ‘Four's a Crowd’ (1938).
In 1939, she played the gossip Sylvia Fowler in the George Cukor directed comedy ‘The Women.’ The film was a major hit, boosting her career and establishing her reputation as a comedian.
Her career flourished throughout the 1940s. In the comedy ‘His Girl Friday’ (1940), she played quick-witted reporter Hildy Johnson, who was also the ex-wife of her newspaper editor Walter Burns portrayed by Cary Grant. She also appeared in movies such as ‘The Feminine Touch’ (1941), ‘Take a Letter Darling’ (1942), ‘Sister Kenny’ (1946), ‘Mourning Becomes Electra’ (1947), and ‘The Velvet Touch’ (1948).
Along with her film career she continued to be active on the stage. One of her most memorable stage performances was the title role in the play ‘Auntie Mame’, in which she played an eccentric aunt whose orphaned nephew comes to live with her. She reprised the role in the 1958 film version of the play which earned her a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination.
She had an extensive career that continued well into the 1960s. In 1962, she appeared in the musical comedy-drama film ‘Gypsy’ in which she played the role of a domineering stage mother Rose Hovick. The later films of her career include ‘Rosie!’ (1967), ‘Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows’ (1968), and ‘Mrs. Pollifax – Spy’ (1971).
One of Rosalind Russell’s best known movies is ‘His Girl Friday’ a screwball comedy in which she played the role of Hildy Johnson, an ambitious reporter. The film was placed at No. 19 on American Film Institute's 100 Years...100 Laughs and has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
She portrayed reporter Ruth Sherwood in the comedy film ‘My Sister Eileen’ in which she shared screen space with Brian Aherne and Janet Blair. Her comedic performance and perfect timings earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress but she lost to Greer Garson in ‘Mrs. Miniver.
She played the title role in ‘Sister Kenny,’ a biographical film about Sister Elizabeth Kenny, an Australian bush nurse who went against the medical establishment to help people in need. The film flopped at the box office but received much praise from the film critics and won Russell the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama.
Awards & Achievements
She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for ‘Sister Kenny’ (1946) and ‘Mourning Becomes Electra’ (1947).
She 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.
In 1958 she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for her role in ‘Auntie Mame.’ She also received the Laurel Award for Top Female Comedy Performance for the same role.
She received a Special Academy Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, in 1972.
Personal Life & Legacy
Actor Cary Grant first introduced Rosalind Russell to her future husband Danish-American producer Frederick Brisson, son of actor Carl Brisson. Russell married Brisson in 1941. The couple had one son and remained married for 35 years until Russell’s death.
She suffered from breast cancer during her later years and died on November 28, 1976.