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Rosalind Russell (June 4, 1907 – November 28, 1976) was an American actress of stage and screen, perhaps best known for her role as a fast-talking newspaper reporter in the Howard Hawks screwball comedy His Girl Friday, as well as the role of Auntie Mame in film. She won all 5 Golden Globes for which she was nominated, and was tied with Meryl Streep for wins until the 2007 awards 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.

Early years

Rosalind Russell was one of seven siblings born in Waterbury, Connecticutmarker, to Clara and James Edward Russell, an Irish-American Catholic family. She was not named after the character from Shakespeare's As You Like It, but rather after a ship on which her parents had traveled. She attended Roman Catholic schools, namely Marymount College in Tarrytown, New Yorkmarker, before attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York Citymarker. The home in which she grew up, on Willow Street in Waterbury, was purchased in 1934 by Mayor Raymond E. Snyder, Sr. and then turned into a funeral home. It is still an active funeral business today, called "Snyder Funeral Home".


She started her career as a fashion model and was in many Broadwaymarker shows. In the early 1930s, she began to work for MGM, where 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) and The Citadel (1938). 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 a version of The Front Page, she played quick-witted ace reporter Hildy Johnson, who here was also the ex-wife of her newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant).

In the 1940s, she made comedies such as The Feminine Touch (1941) and Take a Letter Darling (1942), dramas like 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: in 1942 for My Sister Eileen; in 1946 for Sister Kenny; in 1947 for Mourning Becomes Electra; and in 1958 for the movie version of Auntie Mame. 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 appeared as the Mystery Guest on What's My Line? on January 4, 1953. During her appearance, like most other Mystery Guests, Russell disguised her voice. Her voice however, was so well disguised that Dorothy Killgallen was convinced that the Mystery Guest was a man. After Russell's identity was guessed, she told the panel that her voice was so hoarse from "overwork in rehearsing" for her upcoming role in Wonderful Town that it made it very easy to disguise her voice in that way.

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

Russell returned to her native Waterbury for the world premiere of her movie The Girl Rush at the State Theater on August 18, 1955.

Probably 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 iconic role. Patrick Dennis dedicated his second Auntie Mame book Around The World With Auntie Mame to "the one and only Rosalind Russell" in 1958.

From the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, she continued to shine with older roles in a large number of movies, giving notable performances in 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. She claimed to have turned it down since she preferred to move on to different roles. In reality, she did not want to burden the public with her growing health problems, which included rheumatoid arthritis.

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

Personal life

She married Danishmarker-American producer Frederick Brisson on October 25, 1941. Their marriage lasted 35 years. They had one child in 1943, a son named Lance. Her father-in-law was the successful Danish actor Carl Brisson.

Russell died after a long battle with breast cancer in 1976 at the age of 69, although initially her age was misreported because she had shaved a few years off her true age. She was survived by her husband and son. She is buried in Holy Cross Catholic Cemeterymarker in Culver City, Californiamarker.

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 breakdown sometime in the early 1940s. Details are scant (perhaps in 1944, the year she made no films), but it indicates that her health problems can be traced back to the 1940s.



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