On October 25, 1941, Rosalind Russell and Frederick Brisson were married in the Santa Inés mission in Solvang, California. They were married until her death on November 28, 1976. They were that rare Hollywood couple who had a long and happy marriage. And as Rosalind said during their 25th anniversary bash in Las Vegas in 1966,
“Twenty-five years is a very long time, but it is also a very short time when you love someone.”
Here is a video I made dedicated to them and their marriage…
Whenever I need a good movie about aviation, I just pop in West Point of the Air—Oh, hold it. I never need a fix like that. As you can probably tell, this type of film isn’t really my thing, but I enjoy it nevertheless, and Rosalind Russell’s character Mrs. Dare Marshall is a small part of the reason.
The film stars Wallace Beery, Robert Young, and Maureen O’Sullivan. Wallace Beery plays “Big Mike” Stone—I am going to be truthful here and disclose the fact that I am not a fan of this man. I am not saying that I wouldn’t mind throwing a vase at the television every time I see his face, but—yeah, I’m going to say that. However, I am going to remain as impartial as I can and focus on the actual character he plays. He is the father of “Little Mike” Stone, played by Robert Young, who was indeed young—only in his 20s when he filmed this. A childhood friend and sweetheart named Skip is played by Maureen O’Sullivan and she does well in her role, adding just the right amount of sweetness but showing her strength toward the end of the film.
The film opens with Skip and Little Mike as young children, about 5 years old or so. Skip also has a brother named Phil (Russell Hardie) and the three spend a lot of time with each other, playing and learning. Big Mike is also friends with Skip’s and Phil’s father, (Lewis Stone), as both men work in the world of aviation. Also hanging around is Big Mike’s buddy, “Bags” (James Gleason), also called “Marble Head” by Big Mike. It is natural that Phil and Little Mike devote their time to flying airplanes when they grow up because both their fathers have worked on airplanes their entire lives.
As the three children blossom into young men and women, Little Mike and Skip carry on a budding romance and the two young men go to West Point for flying school. They are both in the Army and Little Mike even plays for the Army’s football team. This is a source of pride for his father and he is excited to watch his boy in the football game against the Navy team.
This is when Rosalind Russell makes her first appearance in the film. She plays divorcée Mrs. Dare Marshall and is seated behind Big Mike in the bleachers. She is sitting with a gentleman friend of hers and Big Mike seems greatly bothered by her existence as she keeps on talking during the game and even takes a drink from a flask to warm herself up. When his son makes the winning touchdown, Big Mike is shielded from this great moment as a woman in front of him falls on top of him in her excitement. However, he turns to Dare and tells her she has good taste by betting on the right team. When she discovers Little Mike is his son, she asks if she can meet him. After the game, there is a fun party where Skip and Little Mike dance under the sparkling lights and celebratory confetti. Dare makes her way toward Little Mike, telling him how excited she is to meet him, and immediately invites the whole group to the theater where they are going to watch the newsreel of the game. She figures now Big Mike can see his son make that historic touchdown. However, during the big moment in the theater, a group sitting in front of Big Mike decides to get up and leave the theater. Perfect timing! Although Big Mike has missed the celebratory moment twice, he is still as proud of his son as ever. When they all drop Skip and Phil off on the train, Skip tells Little Mike to be sure and take care of himself, to which Dare replies, “Don’t worry! I’ll look after him!” while taking his arm.
Naturally, Skip is worried about this. And with good reason—soon, Little Mike has two framed photos of women on his mantle: one of Skip and one of Dare.
To get back to the subject of flying, it is important to note that Little Mike loves to fly, but is a bit too cocky about his abilities and does not take any of it seriously. He would much prefer to do fun stunts in the sky than study the proper way in which to handle a plane. When Skip refuses to go out with Little Mike because she knows he has an important 60-hour solo flight the next morning, he is disappointed… but not for long. When he gets back to his quarters, he finds Dare there, waiting for him. Dare only means trouble for him as she persuades him to stay out all night, even though he has an important test in the morning. At 1 am, he is at her house, having a drink, and it is subtly implied that he spends the night there instead of going back to his quarters. This implication is topped with her line, “Well, you don’t have to solo tonight, do you?” as she hands him a drink. He takes the glass from her, a way of accepting her invitation. They drive out the next morning in his car onto the air field, and cause Phil to narrowly miss them and crash nearby. Phil has to have his leg amputated and Little Mike blames himself for having the car there in the first place.
The constant presence of Mrs. Dare Marshall is a worrisome problem for Big Mike, who is never pleased when she is around. He obviously sees her as a predatory divorcée who will bring his boy to ruin. Rosalind Russell wrote that Robert Taylor started at MGM the same day she did (Life is a Banquet). And in this 1935 film, we can see who was the bigger man (or woman) in town. Russell has a significant role as the “other woman” while Taylor maintains a very small part as a fellow flying student who meets his demise in a plane crash toward the end. However, as many classic film buffs know, Robert Taylor would become a much bigger star than Rosalind Russell was. It was just a matter of when his big break would come.
The end of Mrs. Dare Marshall comes at a crisis point for Little Mike. She is happy to get him away from the world of aviation as he has recently quit the Army and flying for good. However, when Skip comes over and gives Dare a good talking-to about what is really important in Little Mike’s life, it is clear where Little Mike’s heart lies. Dare explains to Little Mike, “You never looked at me like that… almost as if you were hungry. I wonder if I’m going to lose you every time you hear a plane.” He indeed hears a plane outside, noticing it is his father.
When he runs off to try to stop his father from doing something foolish in the air, Dare waves goodbye, looking a little sad, but also resigned to the fact that Little Mike would never be able to quit flying.
The film ends with Little Mike saving his father after Big Mike crashes into the ocean. He drags him from the water and his father looks up at him thankfully. After being previously dishonorably discharged from the Army for talking back to his son who was higher ranked, Big Mike is let back in and receives the honor of pinning a medal to his brave son’s chest. Little Mike is reunited with Skip, they kiss, and they live happily ever after, it is assumed. The movie ends on a funny note when “Bags” kisses his buddy, Big Mike, on the cheek, to which Big Mike quips, “Only men belong in this outfit!”
To conclude, Rosalind Russell was very competent as the “other woman”—a mature divorcée whose life experience and habit of throwing caution to the wind was most likely what attracted Little Mike to her. The rest of the cast also does well, even Wallace Beery who, as I wrote above, I am not a fan of. As long as I try my best to be an impartial observer, I think I can look past the gruff exterior of this man to see something (maybe) of a proud father in his characterization.
“It was so bad, and I was so bad in it, that it gave my maid Hazel ammunition for seasons to come,” writes Rosalind Russell about the 1935 film The Casino Murder Case and her role in it. “’If you don’t behave,’ she’d say, ‘I’m going to tell people about that Casino Murder Case.’” This film was Russell’s first chance at a romantic lead, but it was forced upon her. She didn’t feel ready for leads, but she had to do it.
The film stars Paul Lukas, who has a heavy Hungarian accent, and plays Philo Vance, previously played with great success by William Powell and once by Basil Rathbone. There were many film adaptations of the “murder cases” of Philo Vance, but it is difficult to say why they would cast someone like Paul Lukas in the role in 1935. He did not have the grace and charm that William Powell had, and because the character of Philo Vance was a New York city crime buster, it seems odd they would cast someone from Hungary.
The film revolves around an eccentric, dysfunctional family and the strange things that keep happening to them. We first see the matriarch of the family at an auction, bidding on worthless junk with the aid of her secretary/companion Doris (Rosalind Russell).
Mrs. Llewellyn (Alison Skipworth) is outbid by Philo on an awful statue of Cupid, which he proceeds to break into pieces right outside the auction house. He had earlier received a letter that said in part that Lynn Llewellyn, Mrs. Llewellyn’s son, would experience an “awful tragedy” if he doesn’t act quickly. He is immediately intrigued by Doris and even offers to carry the purchases for her, but she tells him she doesn’t trust him (after seeing him break the Cupid) and leaves. Philo shows up at the Llewellyn house and this is when we first meet the rest of the family. First, there is Virginia (Louise Henry), who is married to Lynn (Donald Cook), but wants to leave the stuffy old house and go back to show business, which the elder Mrs. Llewellyn forbids. Next we have Amelia (Isabel Jewell), who is a sad young woman who feels she’ll never leave the big house, although she is engaged to a doctor who also lives there; she usually has a drink in her hand and drinks her sorrows and troubles away. Also there is Mr. Kinkaid (Arthur Byron), Mrs. Llewellyn’s brother who is completely uninterested in the goings-on most of the time. Besides a few other servants, there is Becky (Louise Fazenda), a funny, snooping maid who seems to have an opinion about everything.
After Philo Vance leaves the house after meeting everyone, Doris is leaving for some errands and he offers to give her a lift.
As they cheerfully drive down the road, Doris informs him that she knows he isn’t taking her to the library like she asked. He tells her it’s true, that he wants to take her back to his apartment to meet the district attorney about some trouble involving the Llewellyn family. One important thing to note about this scene is the wacky and wonderful way Rosalind opens her eyes wide, looks at him out of the corner of her eye, or rolls her eyes in reaction to something he has said. It is clear that even at this early point in her career, she was destined for comedy. She was already a master of funny facial expressions.
In a later scene, Doris accompanies Philo to the casino, and Lynn asks her to please go back to the house to quiet things between Virginia and his mother, as they were usually bickering. When she goes back to the house, it is looming with creepy shadows and while she gets Philo on the phone, something extraordinary happens. Virginia has been poisoned there at the house, and at the same time, so has her husband back at the casino. Although Lynn survives the murder attempt, Virginia does not. Later, Mrs. Llewellyn is found dead by a gunshot wound with a note by her side, admitting that she killed her daughter-in-law, Virginia. It is at this point that I glimpse a bit of bad acting on Rosalind’s part. She stands at the top of the stairs, puts her hand dramatically to her head, and screams out hysterically before fainting.
Although that is technically a dramatic part of the story, I laugh because it is ridiculous the way she does it. But it is likely Rosalind would not defend herself on this point because she thought she was rather bad in the movie.
Rosalind Russell provides a rather youthful female partner for Paul Lukas, who, at almost 44 years old, was 16 years older than her. Truthfully, I do not see the two as a plausible couple and do not see the chemistry radiating off of them in any of the (few) romantic scenes. And on another truthful note, it is revealed that the murder attempts on the Llewellyn family had something to do with something called “heavy water” and it appears Mr. Kinkaid is behind it. If heavy water, which has a larger than normal amount of the hydrogen isotope “deuterium”, is consumed in large quantities, it can result in death. Mostly, this film’s story is rather boring. Without the charm and charisma of a William Powell-type actor, the main character comes off bland, and the chemistry between the two romantic leads is almost nonexistent, which doesn’t help matters. I do not highly recommend this film. I would rather recommend one of the earlier film adaptations of the Philo Vance cases, especially the William Powell versions. However, if you are as big a fan of Rosalind Russell as I am and you must see it, then definitely do so!
The Night is Young, released in 1935, is a combined comedy/musical/romance. It stars Ramon Novarro and Evelyn Laye with a supporting cast that includes the always wonderful Una Merkel, funny Charles Butterworth, and the sometimes bumbling Edward Everett Horton. Once again, Rosalind Russell has a small part in this film.
In this case, she is a Hungarian countess. Of course, she does not sound Hungarian, but rather British instead. However, that’s usually how they did it in Hollywood back then. She is a fun character to watch, even if her part is small and she disappears halfway through the film. We first see her in the first scene of the film. She is watching a ballet in which Evelyn Laye’s character (Lisl Gluck) dances. Also there is the Archduke Gustl Gustave (Ramon Novarro). Russell’s character, named Countess Zarika Rafay (What a name, huh?) notices Gustl in an upper box and blows him a kiss. He smiles back at her and it is obvious they are romantically entangled. However, it is soon learned that Gustl’s uncle, Emperor Franz Josef (Henry Stephenson), despises the family that the countess comes from, and would never approve of a marriage between her and his nephew. Gustl pretends he is in love with one of the ballet dancers and picks out Lisl from the stage. She is commanded to come to the archduke’s place of residence to cover for him.
He continues to see the countess in secret while Lisl stays at his house. The countess is a fiery little thing with a violent temper. The Baron Szereny (often called “Doodlesack” by both Gustl and Lisl) warns the countess that the emperor won’t like her carrying on with his nephew. Angry at him, she is about to throw a small statuette at his head when Gustl enters. When she finds out that the Archduke is afraid to be seen with her, she throws a temper tantrum, thinking he wants to keep her on a “back street,” and remarks, “I’m just something to throw aside like an old… like an old… like, uh, whatever it is you throw aside!” When the countess is seen again, it’s to go after the Archduke as he has taken Lisl to the carnival after having fun singing with her at his home. When she sees them together on the Ferris wheel, the Archduke is suddenly very afraid and does not want to get off.
He knows of the countess’s nasty temper and feels safer on the Ferris wheel. When Lisl notices the countess, he tells her the countess is “Mrs. Doodlesack.” The countess becomes very angry and takes off, but not without leaving the Baron with a black eye.
Two other important characters in this film are Fanni Kerner (Una Merkel) and Willy Fitch (Charles Butterworth). This is a most delightful comedy team and are most certainly the comic relief. Una Merkel is wonderfully witty as always and Charles Butterworth is hilarious as her boyfriend who seems to care more about his mule named Mitzi than her.
He even sings a song about his mule when they go for a carriage ride. At first, Miss Una is excited to listen to this song because she thinks it will be about her, and when she hears the name “Mitzi,” the faces she makes in reaction are priceless. Evelyn Laye is also lovely in the film, entertaining the audience with her beautiful operatic singing voice and Ramon Novarro is as cute and charming as ever.
Some fun songs they sing in the film are “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” “There’s a Riot in Havana,” “Lift Your Glass,” and the title song, “The Night is Young.” This is a fun film and I recommend it not just for a short, entertaining appearance by angry Roz, but for the other characters as well.
Forsaking All Others is a 1934 comedy that is absolutely star studded. It stars Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable, with the great character actors Billie Burke and Charles Butterworth in smaller roles. Our one and only Rosalind Russell has an even smaller part, and although her character is sprinkled here and there throughout the movie, her role is fairly tiny.
The upside of it is that her character, Eleanor, has some of the funniest lines in the film. In fact, all of her lines are comical. She is almost never serious and she entertains us.
This film is about three friends who grew up together—Dillon Todd (Robert Montgomery), Mary Clay (Joan Crawford), and Jeff Williams (Clark Gable). Dillon and Mary are about to get married as Jeff blows into town to tell Mary of his love for her. Fortunately, he finds out about their impending marriage before embarrassing himself. As the men are about to leave for the bachelor dinner, Eleanor (Rosalind Russell in case you got lost in all of the characters’ names) says she wants to go to the dinner and Shemp (Charles Butterworth) says to her, “Can you do a fan dance?” to which she replies, “Do one? I wrote the fan dance.” Roz’s role is one of comic relief—she’ll appear in the scene, say a funny line, and essentially disappear from the scene.
As the story unfolds, we discover that Dill will not be a faithful husband as an old flame of his, Connie Barnes (played by a very young Frances Drake), comes calling on him and before you know it, he has run off and married her, leaving Mary at the altar the next day.
Again, as Paula (Billie Burke) and Eleanor help Mary get ready for her walk down the aisle, Eleanor spews out this confusing line, something fast and funny that Roz would eventually become famous for: “She worries more about something to worry about than she worries about an actual worry.” Just as anyone else would respond, Mary says to her, “Can you say that again?” It is obvious that Eleanor is thought of as the friend who doesn’t think she’ll ever get married, and at one point in the scene, she says, “I’d rather be married in alcohol.” When Paula is shocked at this, she says, “Don’t worry, Paula, I’ll be so old they’ll have to pickle me in something!”
The rest of the movie centers around the three main stars mostly, with Charles Butterworth there for support as a close friend of Jeff’s (Clark Gable). Needless to say, the marriage between Dill and Connie doesn’t work out (yeah, I was expecting that) and he tries to make it work with Mary again. Stupidly, she falls for him again, but in the end, she realizes that Jeff is the one who will love her honestly and faithfully, and she goes after him as he leaves the States on a boat.
Some of the best scenes involve Robert Montgomery, such as when he gets drenched in the rain and when he comes to a cabin with Mary, he is forced to wear a silly-looking nightgown with frills. He then tries to make a fire because they are freezing but he doesn’t know anything about making one. He eventually sets the nightgown and himself on fire. Although this isn’t funny in theory (imagine if you were him!), Bob’s reaction to it is priceless and you can’t help but laugh. So the next day he has bandages on his hands from the burns and is nursing a cold. Another funny scene is at a party that Dill and Connie give for some friends and we see (briefly) Eleanor and Shemp dancing in the living room. The way they dance past all their friends, completely deadpan looks on their faces, is too funny.
While it is a pity that Rosalind Russell’s role was so small, we have to remember that this is very early in her career. Also, it was her very first chance to deliver comedy lines and she does so well, anyone can tell she would be a brilliant comedienne later in her career. Here are some other priceless quotes from Eleanor:
Eleanor: I wish I were a man.
Shemp: Were or had?
Eleanor: Oh, I’m so tired of being a bridesmaid. I’d like to get married so I could wear a decent hat.
Shemp: That’s the best reason for getting married I’ve ever heard.
Eleanor: [After Jeff has starting pounding on the door to get inside] Wait a minute, big boy! Don’t break it down. We’re in church! Who do you think you are, a fireman?
Eleanor: I was just wondering if they use lilies for weddings or funerals.