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Forever Mame

Forever Mame: The Life of Rosalind Russell

Bernard F. Dick
Copyright Date: 2006
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    Forever Mame
    Book Description:

    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 inCraig's Wife.

    Dick discusses all of her films along with her triumphal return to Broadway, first in the musicalWonderful Townand later inAuntie Mame.Forever Mamedetails 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 ofHal Wallis: Producer to the Stars,Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Picturesand the Birth of Corporate Hollywood, and other books.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-139-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Preface
    (pp. 3-6)
  5. CHAPTER 1 The Gal from Waterbury
    (pp. 7-15)

    Rosalind never told the truth about her age. Her obituary in theNew York Timesgave 1912 as her year of birth. She would have been pleased. In 1962, when Rosalind chronicled her career in the pages of theSaturday 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 American Academy of Dramatic Arts, done at least one season of summer stock, and was performing with a Boston repertory company.

    She never altered month and day, however; that was always 4...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Riding the Broadway-Hollywood Local
    (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 formidable Charles Jehlinger. Jehlinger, a member of AADA’s first graduating class, joined the AADA faculty twelve years later, ending his long career there as dean. It was Jehlinger for whom Rosalind auditioned on 23 September 1927.


  7. CHAPTER 3 The Lady and the Lion
    (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 distinctive trademark, a lion with a celluloid nimbus bearing the Latin phraseArs Gratia Artis(art for art’s sake). Art was the furthest thing from...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Lady and the Mogul
    (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 been at various times a pool hall hustler, trolley car conductor, song plugger, and traveling exhibitor; playwright Garson Kanin used him as the model for the millionaire junk dealer, Harry Brock, in his comedy,Born...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Losing to Loretta
    (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 toBanquet, Frederick wrote that Rosalind suffered a nervous breakdown in 1943. More likely, it was 1944. Even after she became a mother in May 1943, Rosalind was still active. That September, she was in front of the microphone, reprising her Tonie Carter in Lux Radio Theatre’s version ofFlight for Freedom. A month later,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Becoming Rosalind Russell Brisson
    (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. “Ejner,” which was sometimes “Einer,” eventually became the more familiar “Einar” (warrior chief). Frederick reserved his full name for official documents, but most of the time he was Frederick Brisson—the surname being the one...

  11. CHAPTER 7 A Return to the Roots
    (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 with an establishing shot, followed by close-ups, shot–reverse shots, and perhaps a two- or a three-shot, the same scene on stage was continuous, requiring reactions that were...

  12. CHAPTER 8 The Last of Boss Lady
    (pp. 168-179)

    If, for some reason, Robert Griffith and Harold Prince had been able to produceThe Pajama Gamewithout 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 likeWonderful Town, especially since she had agreed to appear in Joshua Logan’s film version ofPicnic. Another stage musical was out of the question in 1954, but a movie musical was not. Since Rosalind was not the female lead inPicnic, she could fit...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Auntie Roz and Mama Rose
    (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.”

    InBanquet, 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 form Rosalind readAuntie Mame, she was first struck by the resemblance between the free-spirited Mame and her sister, Clara, “the Duchess”; then, she suddenly realized that Mame was more like herself than her sister, and,...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Mother Mame
    (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 wasRoughly 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 Speakingprefigured the kind of mothers Rosalind would later portray: women whose childrenweretheir careers. Actually, Rosalind was at her most maternal in two films that had nothing to do with motherhood:Sister Kenny, in which she treated the polio patients as...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Trusting Him
    (pp. 231-261)

    Professionally, the early 1960s augured well for Rosalind. Despite her failure to win the Oscar forAuntie Mame, her name still resonated with moviegoers and exhibitors;A Majority of OneandGypsyboth opened at Radio City Music Hall, “the Showcase of the Nation.” To coincide withGypsy’s release, Rosalind’s alma mater, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, sponsored a dinner dance in her honor at the Americana—then one of New York’s newest hotels and now a memory—on Sunday evening, 18 November 1962. Senator Jacob K. Javits presented Rosalind with the Academy’s seventh annual achievement award: a Steuben...

    (pp. 262-262)
    (pp. 263-263)
    (pp. 264-266)
    (pp. 267-274)
    (pp. 275-276)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 277-288)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 289-289)