From elegant ingenues to determined, tart-tongued career women to brassy eccentrics, this tall, winsome New England brunette rendered an indelible gallery of characterizations during her nearly four-decade run in Hollywood. Born in Waterbury, Connecticut to a successful New England trial lawyer, Rosalind Russell was well into her teens when she turned her career focus toward the stage; her parents, leery of such ambitions, only approved her entry to the American Academy of Dramatic Art in the belief she intended to teach acting. She began working in regional stock, and made her first Broadway appearance in 1930's "Garrick Gaieties." By 1934, Russell had procured a contract with Universal; unhappy with her treatment there, she managed to get out of the deal and arrange a succesful test with MGM in short order. She made her screen debut with an other-woman role in the Myrna Loy-William Powell vehicle "Evelyn Prentice."
Roz's workload over the next few years would be, by and large, similarly decorative assignments--"Forsaking All Others," "The Night is Young," "The Casino Murder Case," "China Seas," "Reckless," "Rendezvous," "Under Two Flags"--a few of which allowed some hint of her comedic chops. Critical attention began to snowball from her loan-out to Columbia as the materialistic, shrewish "Craig's Wife," and MGM thereafter showcased her in diverse projects like "Night Must Fall," "The Citadel" and "Four's A Crowd." With the decade's end she landed two defining roles; the conniving and catty Sylvia Fowler of "The Women," and the take-no-prisoners reporter Hildy Johnson of "His Girl Friday." Russell thereafter settled into a career groove predominated by screwball farce--"Hired Wife," "No Time for Comedy," "This Thing Called Love," "Design for Scandal," "The Feminine Touch," "Take a Letter, Darling," and "My Sister, Eileen." The latter--adapted fron Ruth McKenney's memoir of Greenwich Village life--landed the performer her first Best Actress Oscar nomination.
Through the remainder of the '40s, her Hollywood slate was still significantly marked by comedies--"Roughly Speaking," "She Wouldn't Say Yes," "Tell It to the Judge," "A Woman of Distinction"--but she also got to show off her dramatic range to good effect, pocketing two more Academy Award nominations for the biopic "Sister Kenny" and the O'Neill adaptation "Mourning Becomes Electra," and otherwise impressing in "Flight for Freedom," "The Guilt of Janet Ames" and "The Velvet Touch." The early '50s found the maturing actress directing her energies back toward the stage, touring with "Bell, Book and Candle" and returning to Broadway for her Tony-winning run in "Wonderful Town," the musicalized adaptation of "My Sister Eileen." She'd then return to film to impress as the bitter spinster schoolteacher in "Picnic," and then back to New York for perhaps her most identified characterization, the irrepressible, free-spirited socialite who brings her orphaned nephew into her unconventional orbit in "Auntie Mame." She'd get another Tony nomination for her efforts, and the play's subsequent screen adaptation resulted in her last Best Actress Oscar nod as well.
Roz would return to film intermittently through the '60s, with several of those career-winter roles echoing the bigger-than-life aspects of Mame: "A Majority of One," "Five Finger Exercise," "Gypsy" (as Mama Rose), "The Trouble with Angels" and its follow-up "Where Angels Go Trouble Follows," "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feeling So Sad," and "Rosie." Declining health lead her to pass on Broadway's musicalized "Mame" in the mid-'60s. Russell's final big-screen turn came in 1971's self-scripted "Mrs. Pollifax-Spy," and her last performance would come in the telefilm "The Crooked Hearts" the following year. The actress' final years were marked by a prolonged struggle with breast cancer, to which she finally succumbed in 1976 at the age of 69.
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