Rosalind Russell appeared to have a rather idyllic childhood, coming from a large family (she had 6 brothers and sisters), living in a well-to-do house in Waterbury, Connecticut. In her book Life is a Banquet, she talks at length about her parents and her siblings, her father and older sister Clara in particular.
When she was growing up, she inherited a love of horses from her father, who always had horses, even though her mother didn’t seem to like it (“…my mother complained about them—they had to be exercised, they had to be fed and groomed, eau de cheval wasn’t her favorite perfume”). In fact, her father loved horses so much that he drove his children around in a horse and carriage long after everyone else on their street had automobiles, which he said “were not good for you.”
Rosalind’s parents were named James Edward Russell and Clara McKnight (it’s pretty obvious where she got the name “C.A. McKnight” when she wrote the screenplay for Mrs. Pollifax—Spy, not using her real name in the credits). Roz had three sisters and three brothers. She was the fourth child born, being, in her own words, “the ham in the sandwich.” And this does not just mean the middle one, but Rosalind was truly a “ham,” in the theatrical sense of the word. Growing up in a house with so many children, she always wanted to be noticed, so when her father would come home from work, she would jump up and down, crossing her eyes and screaming “Look at me! Look at me!”
It has been said that the best liars make the best actors, and Roz was true to form from the time she was a child. When she was just four years old, she wandered away from home and ended up in the middle of town. When a neighbor asked her, “Rosalind, what are you doing here?” she lied and said, “My name is not Rosalind. I’m from out of town.” As Roz wrote, “I always had a wild imagination.”
Her three sisters were named Clara, Mary Jane, and Josephine; her brothers James, John, and George. But the one sibling she seemed to be closest to (in a sometimes love-hate relationship) was her older sister Clara, whom she nicknamed “The Duchess.” Calling her “The Duchess” has its obvious reasons, and it’s also funny that Rosalind’s maid Hazel nicknamed her boss “The Queen.” What a bunch of royalty we’re dealing with here! Roz was the first dark-eyed child born into the family, taking after her mother in physical attributes, but always seemed to be jealous of The Duchess, who was blonde and blue-eyed. Her sister always called her “darling,” as she did everyone else, and was the inspiration for Roz’s characterization of Auntie Mame. Of course, I always thought Roz was the type to call everyone “dahling,” too, but maybe those were just the character she played (Nahhh….). Even though Roz was constantly on the best-dressed list after becoming an actress in Hollywood, I personally think she may have taken some tips from her fashionable older sister.
To be continued… (I am writing these articles for a 12-page web layout final for school that has to have REAL CONTENT… and so I will continue whenever I can with more childhood stories…)
Up next: an article on Roz and Freddie’s marriage…