The middle of seven children, she was named, not for the heroine of “As You Like It” but for the S.S. Rosalind on which her parents had sailed, at the suggestion of her father, a successful lawyer.
After receiving a Catholic school education, she went to the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, having convinced her mother that she intended to teach acting. In 1934, with some stock company work and a little Broadway experience, she was tested and signed by Universal. Simultaneously, MGM tested her and made her a better offer. When she plead ignorance of Hollywood (while wearing her worst-fitting clothes), Universal released her and she signed with MGM for seven years.
For some time she was used in secondary roles and as a replacement threat to limit Myrna Loy’s salary demands. Knowing she was right for comedy, she tested five times for the role of Sylvia Fowler in The Women (1939). George Cukor told her to “play her as a freak”. She did and got the part. Her “boss lady” roles began with the part of reporter Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday (1940), through whose male lead, Cary Grant, she met her future husband, Grant’s house-guest at the time.
In her forties, she returned to the stage, touring “Bell, Book and Candle” in 1951 and winning a Tony Award for “Wonderful Town” in 1953. Columbia, worried the public would think she had the female lead in Picnic (1955), billed her “co-starring Rosalind Russell as Rosemary.” She refused to be placed in the Best Supporting Actress category when Columbia Pictures wanted to promote her for an Academy Award nomination for her role in Picnic (1955). Many felt she would have won had she cooperated. “Auntie Mame” kept her on Broadway for two years followed by the movie version.
Oscar nominations: My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946), Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and Auntie Mame (1958). In 1972, she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for contributions to charity.
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