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Forever Mame

The Life of Rosalind Russell

Publication Year: 2006

When it comes to living life to its fullest, Rosalind Russell's character Auntie Mame is still the silver screen's exemplar. And Mame, the role Russell (1907-1976) would always be remembered for, embodies the rich and rewarding life Bernard F. Dick reveals in the first biography of this Golden Age star, Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell. Drawing on personal interviews and information from the archives of Russell and her producer-husband Frederick Brisson, Dick begins with Russell's childhood in Waterbury, Connecticut, and chronicles her early attempts to achieve recognition after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Frustrated by her inability to land a lead in a Broadway show, she headed for Hollywood in 1934 and two years later played her first starring role, the title character in Craig's Wife. Dick discusses all of her films along with her triumphal return to Broadway, first in the musical Wonderful Town and later in Auntie Mame. Forever Mame details Russell's social circle of such stars as Loretta Young, Cary Grant, and Frank Sinatra. It traces an extraordinary career, ending with Russell's courageous battle against the two diseases that eventually caused her death: rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. Russell devoted her last years to campaigning for arthritis research. So successful was she in her efforts to alert lawmakers to this crippling disease that a leading San Francisco research center is named after her. Bernard F. Dick is a professor of communication and English at Fairleigh Dickinson University and is the author of Hal Wallis: Producer to the Stars, Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Picturesand the Birth of Corporate Hollywood , and other books.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

First, I must thank present and former Waterburians—Anne M. Barrie, Mrs. Harry W. Bartlett, Carol Bauby, Rev. Thomas F. Bennett, Lou Gallulo, Hazel M. Keyser, Steve Morris, Peg Ruhlmann, and Doris Trianovick—with whom I corresponded or spoke by phone about Rosalind, her family, and Waterbury at the time she was growing up there. Two Waterburians, Lou and Mary D’Abramo, even went out of...

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pp. 3-6

I started going to the movies shortly after Pearl Harbor, becoming so fascinated by the medium that, for the next three years, I kept an account of what I had seen, writing down on loose-leaf paper the names of the films and the theaters where I saw them. In looking over those still unyellowed pages in December 2004, I discovered that my first Rosalind Russell film was Take a Letter, Darling,...

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Chapter 1: The Gal from Waterbury

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pp. 7-15

Rosalind never told the truth about her age. Her obituary in the New York Times gave 1912 as her year of birth. She would have been pleased. In 1962, when Rosalind chronicled her career in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post, she also admitted to 1912, which would have meant that she received her high school diploma in 1930. Actually, by 1930, Rosalind had graduated from the...

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Chapter 2: Riding the Broadway-Hollywood Local

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pp. 16-33

In fall 1927, a Marymount BA, much less an honorary doctorate, meant nothing to Rosalind, who was only interested in being admitted to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA), then the country’s most prestigious drama school. It was founded as the Lyceum Theatre School of Acting in 1884 by Franklin Haven Sargeant, who, after his death in 1923, was succeeded by the...

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Chapter 3: The Lady and the Lion

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pp. 34-69

Universal’s logo at least had something to do with the studio’s name. At first, the logo was a globe encircled by “Universal Pictures”; in the 1930s, it was a globe encircled by an airplane. MGM, on the other hand, the “Tiffany of Studios,” had a logo with a lion. MGM was the result of the merger of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, and Louis B. Mayer Productions. Of the three, only Goldwyn’s company had a...

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Chapter 4: The Lady and the Mogul

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pp. 70-100

Columbia Pictures originated as the CBC Film Sales Company, the creation of two Cohns, Harry and Jack; and a Brandt, Joe. Once the corporate name became Columbia Pictures in 1924, only one of the founders would emerge as studio head: Harry Cohn, who became both president and head of production. Of all the moguls, Cohn was considered the arch vulgarian. Nicknamed “White Fang,” he had...

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Chapter 5: Losing to Loretta

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pp. 101-117

Since 1934, Rosalind had been averaging around two films a year; in 1941, she made four. Even after her marriage to Frederick Brisson in 1941, she showed no sign of slowing down: two each in 1942 and 1943, but nothing in 1944. In his preface to Banquet, Frederick wrote that Rosalind suffered a nervous breakdown in 1943. More likely, it was 1944. Even after she became a mother...

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Chapter 6: Becoming Rosalind Russell Brisson

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pp. 118-149

When Frederick Brisson began the arduous process of applying for American citizenship, he filed a Declaration of Intent on 16 November 1934, giving his name at birth as Carl Frederick Ejner Pedersen, his place of birth as Copenhagen, Denmark, and his date of birth as 17 March 1913. At the time, he was 5 feet 11 inches and weighed 165 pounds. His weight rarely fluctuated.

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Chapter 7: A Return to the Roots

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pp. 150-167

As the 1950s began, Rosalind wanted desperately to be on Broadway but knew she was not ready. Since she had been away from the theater for sixteen years, there was much she would have to relearn—particularly, the art of reacting not just to a co-star in a conversation or an intimate scene, but to a stage full of actors, if necessary. Unlike a film, in which a group scene would begin...

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Chapter 8: The Last of Boss Lady

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pp. 168-179

If, for some reason, Robert Griffith and Harold Prince had been able to produce The Pajama Game without Frederick, he still would have become a producer—not of a smash Broadway show but of a mediocre movie musical. Frederick realized it would be several years before Rosalind could return to Broadway in a tailor-made vehicle like Wonderful Town, especially since she...

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Chapter 9: Auntie Roz and Mama Rose

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pp. 180-212

In 1973, Frederick told a journalist that Patrick Dennis had sent Rosalind the manuscript of his novel, Auntie Mame, accompanied by a note in which he declared, “You are my one and only Auntie Mame.” In Banquet, Rosalind first wrote that Dennis had sent her the typescript of his novel; seventy-five pages later, she claimed to have read the novel in galleys. In whatever...

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Chapter 10: Mother Mame

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pp. 213-230

Ten years after her film debut, Rosalind—then the screen’s definitive career woman—took on her first mother role. The film was Roughly Speaking (1945), in which her character was a combination mother-entrepreneur, who went from one business to another and managed to raise five children at the same time, all of whom became patriotic Americans. Roughly Speaking prefigured the kind of mothers...

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Chapter 11: Trusting Him

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pp. 231-261

Professionally, the early 1960s augured well for Rosalind. Despite her failure to win the Oscar for Auntie Mame, her name still resonated with moviegoers and exhibitors; A Majority of One and Gypsy both opened at Radio City Music Hall, “the Showcase of the Nation.” To coincide with Gypsy’s release, Rosalind’s alma mater, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, sponsored a dinner dance...

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Major Radio Appearances

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pp. 262

Lux Radio Theatre Stage Door† 20 February 1939 My Favorite Wife*† 9 December 1940 Craig’s Wife*† 12 May 1941 My Sister Eileen*† 5 July 1943 Flight for Freedom*† 20 September 1943 Roughly Speaking* 8 October 1945 What a Woman!*† 14 March 1949 Mildred Pierce*† 6 June 1949...

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Major Television Appearances

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pp. 263

Never Wave at a WAC Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, CBS, 19 October 1951 The Night Goes On General Electric Theatre, CBS, 18 March 1956 Wonderful Town* CBS-TV, 30 November 1958 The Wonderful World of Entertainment* Ford Startime, NBC, 6 October 1959 (Rosalind and Arthur O’Connell reenacted the proposal scene from Picnic, and Rosalind spoofed her “boss lady” movies.)


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pp. 264-266

Source Notes

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pp. 267-274

Select Bibliography

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pp. 275


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pp. 277-288

E-ISBN-13: 9781604731392
E-ISBN-10: 1604731397
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578068906
Print-ISBN-10: 1578068908

Publication Year: 2006