Last evening I watched a documentary on the life of Rosalind Russell, who was probably best-known to film audiences for her turns in “His Girl Friday” and “Mame”. She was also a highly successful Broadway actress at the beginning and at the end of her career. “Friday”, in particular, is the film of hers that I have always enjoyed most, because of the dizzying pace of comedic dialogue between Russell and Cary Grant that is still matchless today.
Despite her fame, Rosalind Russell never actively sought the spotlight, but chose to keep her private life off the pages of newspapers and magazines. She suffered for years from breast cancer, unbeknownst to anyone but her close friends, undergoing a double mastectomy back in the early 1960’s and at a time where treatment for cancer was nowhere near where it is today. Sadly, a few years later later the cancer metastasized and claimed her life at a comparatively early age.
The documentary featured family, friends, and film critics, and was narrated by Kathleen Turner, who read passages from Russell’s autobiography. Ms. Turner has a husky voice not dissimilar to Ms. Russell’s toward the end of her life, so in this respect it was not a bad casting call. However, whether because Turner was involved (taking a break from advocating infanticide), or whether because the filmmakers simply chose to overlook it, little to no mention was made of Russell’s Catholicism, despite the fact that she grew up in a large, Irish-American Catholic family, attended Catholic school, and even played a Mother Superior once in the comedy “Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows”, well-known to the ladies in my readership who are Haley Mills fans.
In doing some background reading about Rosalind Russell last evening, I came across the following, written after her death by her husband of 35 years, Danish producer Frederick Brisson. I am sharing it with my readers, as it shows not only what a fun woman she was, but also what a good marriage and strong bedrock of faith she possessed. In particular, I was touched by Ms. Russell’s regular prayer, which she herself composed, and which helped her to cope with her suffering during her long illness: “Trust Him, when darkest thoughts assail thee, Trust Him when thy faith is small. Trust Him, when to simply trust Him is the hardest thing of all.”