Rosalind Russell (1907-1976)

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Rosalind Russell
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Rosalind Russell was an American movie and stage actress and singer. She was a tall, stylish beauty with expressive eyes, best known for her versatility in witty and sophisticated roles such as the fast-talking newspaper reporter in the screwball comedy 'His Girl Friday' in 1940. She is also fondly remembered for her portrayal of Mame Dennis in the film 'Auntie Mame' in 1958.

She won 5 Golden Globes, a record at the time, and in 1953 won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Ruth in the show 'Wonderful Town' on Broadway . She was also nominated four times for the Academy Best Actress Award and in 1972 she received a Special Academy Award, The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.


Rosalind Russell was born on June 4, 1907, the fourth of seven children, in Waterbury, Connecticut. She was named after the S.S. Rosalind, on which her parents had voyaged. Her father, a lawyer, was from an Irish Catholic family and Rosalind went to the Catholic Marymount College in New York, and the Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pennsylvania before going on to train at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

After doing work as a fashion model she started her stage career in her early twenties, against the wishes of her parents who originally thought she had been training to become a teacher. She appeared in stock company productions at Saranac Lake, New York and Hartford, Connecticut before moving to Boston where she worked for a year in a theater group run by actor and director Edward E. Clive.

She made her Broadway debut in 'Garrick Gaieties' which ran for about two weeks in October 1930, and played some other minor roles in Broadway plays before she was offered a movie contract with Universal Studios. At the time Universal was regarded as a second-rate studio and Rosalind was unhappy during her time there. When she received a better offer from the pre-eminent studio, MGM, she left Universal and signed with the bigger studio. It was a good move for her.

Hollywood Actress

She made her screen debut with a small but important role as part of the love triangle in 'Evelyn Prentice' in 1934, co-starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. For the rest of the decade she worked hard, appearing in numerous movies including many comedies, such as 'Forsaking All Others' in 1934 and 'Four's a Crowd' in 1938 and, although fine in serious drama, she was clearly built for comedy, with her wide, expressive eyes and constantly mobile body, her performances frequently threatening to go over the top but skillfully reigned in at the last moment.

She appeared in dramas also, including 'Craig's Wife' in 1936 and 'The Citadel' in 1938 but she was rarely the first choice for anything, and was used by MGM as a first reserve in case Myrna Loy's salary demands got out of hand.

The Women 1939

In 1939 came one of her most celebrated roles when she was cast as the catty Sylvia Fowler, the bitchiest of 'The Women', directed by George Cukor, an all female comedy in which she manages to steal scenes from such illustrious names as Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Paulette Goddard, sometimes simultaneously. The movie was a major critical and box-office success which considerably boosted her career and further established her reputation as a fine comic actress.

His Girl Friday 1940

In 1940 came another celebrated comic role, that of Hildy Johnson in Howard Hawks's classic screwball comedy, 'His Girl Friday'. Although many other Hollywood actresses were offered the part before Rosalind, it is hard to imagine another actress attempting the character with such authority and abandon. She gives one of her finest performances as the ace reporter who is at her happiest trading wisecracks with the boys in the pressroom.

The 1940's was a prolific decade for Rosalind as she continued to appear in successful comedy movies such as 'The Feminine Touch' in 1941, 'Take a Letter Darling' in 1942 and 'Tell It to the Judge' in 1949, and she received three of her four Academy Award for Best Actress nominations during this period. The first was for 'My Sister Eileen' in 1942, an offbeat comedy featuring her as the older, plainer sister of perky blonde, Janet Blair. Then in 1946 for 'Sister Kenny' as an Australian nurse and another ambitious and successful dramatic role in 1947 for 'Mourning Becomes Electra'.

In the 1950's Rosalind returned to the Broadway stage and found success in an unexpected new genre, the musical comedy, when she reprised her earlier movie role from 'My Sister Eileen' in the renamed 'Wonderful Town' in 1953, for which she received a Tony Award. The theater continued to be the mainstay of her career at this time with occasional TV appearances and movies, notably her portrayal of a teacher in 'Picnic' in 1955.

Auntie Mame

Rosalind's most famous role of all, in both theater and movies, came in the title role of the long-running stage hit 'Auntie Mame' and the subsequent 1958 movie version, in which she played an unconventional aunt whose orphan nephew comes to stay. The movie earned her a Golden Globe award and her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Rosalind continued to make movies during the 1960's, giving notable performances in 'A Majority of One' in 1961, 'Five Finger Exercise' in 1962, 'Gypsy' in 1962, and 'The Trouble with Angels' in 1966.


Rosalind married once, in October, 1941, to Danish-American producer Frederick Brisson. She was introduced to him by Cary Grant when they were filming 'His Girl Friday' and Grant was Best Man at the wedding. They had one son together and their marriage lasted 35 years, ending with her death in 1976.

Russell suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and she devoted her last years to campaigning for arthritis research. In 1972 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her charity work.

Rosalind Russell died in 1976 from breast cancer. She was 69. She is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California.

Rosalind Russell Academy Awards

No Wins:

Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... My Sister Eileen (1942)
Best Actress ... Sister Kenny (1946)
Best Actress ... Mourning Becomes Electra (1947)
Best Actress ... Auntie Mame (1958)

Won Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1973)

Rosalind Russell Filmography

Evelyn Prentice
Strange Conspiracy

Forsaking All Others
The Night Is Young
The Casino Murder Case
West Point of the Air
China Seas
It Had to Happen
Under Two Flags
Trouble for Two
Craig's Wife
Night Must Fall
Live, Love and Learn
Four's a Crowd
The Citadel
Fast and Loose
The Women
His Girl Friday
Hired Wife
No Time for Comedy
Married But Single
They Met in Bombay
The Feminine Touch
Design for Scandal
Green-Eyed Woman
My Sister Eileen
Flight for Freedom
The Beautiful Cheat
Roughly Speaking
She Wouldn't Say Yes
Sister Kenny
The Guilt of Janet Ames
Mourning Becomes Electra
The Velvet Touch
Tell It to the Judge