Most women in Old Hollywood had to sit and do what they were told. Rosalind Russell was one of the few exceptions. She never accepted anything she felt uncomfortable with during her career.
She earned her breakout role in His Girlf Friday alongside Cary Grant and made sure they had an equal share of its comedic lines. By the time the film came out, she’d become an inspiration for women forever and gained a friend for life.
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Early Life and Career
Catherine Rosalind Russel was born on June 4, 1907. She was the fourth of seven children. She remembers her childhood as being pleasant and full of family trips. In fact, her middle name came from a cruise ship her parents had gone on.
She was always interested in entertaining. In her own words, “I never minded being a clown. Clowns make people laugh, and that’s something I loved to do.”
Rosalind went to school at Notre Dame Academy and went to Marymount College to become a teacher. She was hooked after acting in plays there and knew she had to switch her focus.
She later graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She went to try her luck in the New York theater scene in 1929, and Universal Studios signed a contract with her in 1934.
Rosalind didn’t enjoy the early days when she would read off-camera with potential male co-stars for Claudette Colbert. She secretly went to MGM instead and convinced Universal to terminate her contract.
She started with secondary roles as a replacement used to limit Myran Loy’s salary demands. Her first major film with MGM was Evely Prentice in 1934. She followed that up with films such as Forsaking All Others, Four’s a Crowd, Craig’s Wife, and The Citadel.
Rosalind disliked being categorized as a “sophisticated lady.” She felt it limited the roles she could play. She asked Frank Lloyd to help her change her image. Playing a wealthy aristocracy in Under Two Flags in 1936 didn’t help.
The role of Sylvia Fowler in The Women in 1939 had a much better effect on her image and showed off her comedy chops. She had to test for it five times. George Cukor told her to play the character as a freak, and it eventually worked.
The Women was only her first break-out performance. It was followed up by an even better role that she’s still remembered for today.
His Girl Friday
The Front Page was a succesful play, but it featured no major female parts. The second main role was gender-swapped for the film version in 1940. It was renamed His Girl Friday.
The role of the woman, Hildy Johnson, was turned down by actresses such as Ginger Rodgers, Jean Arthur, and Irene Dunne. Most feared they would be playing second fiddle to Cary Grant, who was already a major star.
Rosalind knew she was always the 14th choice for the role, but she decided to take the leap. It turned out to be her breakout role, and she was determined to make it her own. She went to her friend who was an ad man to make sure she got as many great comedic moments as Cary.
The two talents often ad-libbed off of each other, using their connection to come up with unique lines and moments. They worked in every kind of comedy, from slapstick to verbal. They even broke the fourth wall by referencing the audience and the fact that the whole story was a movie. This trick wasn’t as common in movies of the 40s as it is today.
His Girl Friday was one of the fastest-talking films of all time at 240 words a minute. It was so fast-paced that there was no time for music between dialogue. Most of the other characters talked slower than the leads, but Rosalind proved she could match Carey and keep up with the film’s rapid pace.
His Girl Friday was unfortunately the only time she and Cary would work together. It was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that won’t ever be matched. Her performance was ranked #28 on Premier Magazine’s 100 Greatest of All Time.
Rosalind would later go on to say that Hildy Johnson was her favorite role. She had fond memories of it and said that Hildy Jonson was her favorite of all the career women she played in the 40s.
Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on the best Old Hollywood character actresses. Keep watching to learn why Rosalind Russel and Cary Grant were closer than you thought and how it affected the rest of her life.
Rosalind Russel was known as “the bachelor girl” for years. SHe kept all of her relationships secret. There were plenty of rumors connecting her to major stars, but she did manage to find true love one day.
Frederick Brisson was a Danish theater agent. He first saw Rosalind when he repeatedly watched her in The Women. He allegedly saw her screen antics and said “I’m either going to kill that woman or I’m going to marry her.”
Frederick stayed over at Cary Grant’s house during filming of His Girl Friday and asked to be introduced to her. Daily pleadings didn’t work, but eventually, they all met up.
Rosalind and Frederick began dating in 1940. She played hard to get until the very end. They were married in 1941, and Cary was the best man.
Rosalind had a son named Lance in 1943. They stayed together for 35 years. Rosalin’s friendship with Cary lasted just as long.
Her Other Friends
Rosalind Russel and Cary Grant were closer than you thought, but that’s not her only unexpected connection. Her beauty and determined attitude helped her make friends everywhere she went.
Rosalind loved Coco Chanel’s glamorous lifestyle. In 1954, she got the rights to her life story and spend 15 years developing the musical Coco, starring Katharine Hepburn. It opened on Broadway in 1969.
She also became friends with Frank Sinatra. She and her husband visited him in his island home. She found him a genuine man and loved to listen to his music, and he loved to play pranks on them.
Rosalind even made political connections. She was a staunch Republican and both a supporter and friend of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
One of her closest friendships was unfortunately tragic. She became close to Jean Harlow who died in 1937 at the tender age of 26. Rosalind saw her life as a cautionary tale against chasing fame and the glamorous life at any cost.
Her Later Career and Health Problems
Rosalind made movies from a range of genres in the 40s. They included comedies such as The Feminine Touch in 1941, dramas such as My Sister Kenny in 1946, and a murder mystery called The Velvet Touch in 1948.
Rosalind allegedly had a mental breakdown in 1943. The stress of postpardum depression and seeing her friends and husband go off to war were too much.
When she recovered, she became more active on Broadway. She won a Tony for her role in Wonderful Town in 1953 and reprised it for a TV special in 1958.
She also starred in the stage comedy Auntie Mame and the 1958 film version. It ran for over 600 performances, so it’s no wonder that she felt that it was the role she was most closely identified with. For years, strangers would call out, “hey, Auntie!” Author Patrick Dennis even dedicated the sequel to the novel the play was based on to her.
Rosalind was always one to take control of her career, and she also took control of the awards she won. She refused to let Columbia Pictures put her up for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Picnic in 1955. The general consensus is that she would have won if she’d agreed.
In the 40s, Rosalind and her husband started their own production company. One of their most well-known works was the 1956 film The Unguarded Moment.
Rosalind developed crippling arthritis in 1969. She later received a diagnosis of breast cancer and had to get a double masectomy.
She refused to tell the public about her health issues but was forced to take on fewer roles. She played Mama Rose in Gypsy in 1962 and Mother Superior in The Trouble With Angels in 1966. She focused on charity work and received the Jean Hershold Humanitarian Award in 1973.
Rosalind co-wrote one of her final films, Mrs. Pollifiax-Spy. It was based on a series of novels by Dorothy Gilman, and she billed herself as C.A.m MicKnight in honor of her mother. Her last film appearance was in 1972 in the TV film The Crooked Hearts.
Her Death and Legacy
Rosalind Russell died of breast cancer at the age of 69 on November 28, 1976. Her son, daughter-in-law Patricia Morrow, and a preist were with her at her bedside. She’s buried at the Holy Cross Cemetary.
Cary Grant, of course, appeared at the funeral. He presented a eulogy, saying “I know of no one better qualified to enter paradise.”
Rosalind earned four Best Actress Academy Award nominations throughout her career for My Sister iileen, Sister Kenny, Mourning Becomes Electra, and Auntie Mame. She also earned five Golden Globes and a Golden Plate from the Academy Award.
Two of her most memorable films were selected for preservation in the National Film registry. They include The Women and His Girl Friday.
Rosalind received a star on the Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960 in the 1700 block on Vine Street. She was even inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
Although she rarely spoke about them publicly, she has inspired medical research into the conditions she suffered from. The Rosalind Russel Medical Research Center for Arthritis was founded in San Fransico in 1978. It has a portrait of her and describes her work during her Congressional appointment to the National Commmission on Arthritis.
Her autobiography was released a year after her death. It was called Life is a Banquet, a title inspired by Aunite Mame. A documentary about her life was created and titled Life Is a Banquet: The Life of Rosalind Russell. It was narrated by Kathleen Turner and shown at film festivals and certain PBS stations in 2009.
Have you ever seen His Girl Friday? Let us know in the comments below.