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Gail Russell

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Gail Russell
Russell c. 1950s
Betty Gale Russell[1]

(1924-09-21)September 21, 1924
DiedAugust 26, 1961(1961-08-26) (aged 36)
Resting placeValhalla Memorial Park Cemetery
Years active1943–1961
(m. 1949; div. 1954)

Gail Russell (born Betty Gale Russell; September 21, 1924 – August 26, 1961) was an American film and television actress.

Early years


Gail Russell was born to George and Gladys (Barnet) Russell in Chicago and then moved to the Los Angeles area when she was a teenager. Her father was initially a musician but later worked for Lockheed Corporation. Before she ventured into acting, Russell had planned to be a commercial artist.[2] Her beauty saw her dubbed "the Hedy Lamarr of Santa Monica."[3]

Career and life


Russell's beauty brought her to the attention of Paramount Pictures in 1942, and she signed a long-term contract with that studio when she was 18.[4]

Russell later said, "suddenly there was this terrific amount of work for myself and no time to myself. It was that way for ten years."[5]

At the age of 19, Russell made her film debut in the 1943 film Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour. She also had a small part in Lady in the Dark (1943) and was meant to play a role in Henry Aldrich Haunts a House when, in March 1943, she was cast in a key role in The Uninvited (1944) with Ray Milland. Joan Mortimer played Russell's role in Henry Aldrich instead.[6]


Gail Russell and her future husband Guy Madison, April 1946

The Uninvited was directed by Lewis Allen and was a big success. Producer Charles Brackett wrote that filming with Russell proved difficult; he said that she would cry on set with her mother, claiming she had a sore throat, but in fact, Russell was crying because Director Lewis Allen had made her wear a hat for a scene which she did not want to wear.[7] Allen said that Ray Milland would take Russell aside and continuously practice her lines with her. Allen also said, "She could only do about five or six lines, and then she'd burst into tears."[8] According to Allen, Russell, who had not drunk alcohol before, began drinking it to calm herself at the suggestion of the head of make-up on set.[8]

According to the National Box Office Digest, it was among the highest-grossing pictures in the United States with rentals of over $500,000.[9] A delighted Paramount announced Russell for Her Heart in Her Throat and True to the Navy with Eddie Bracken.[10]

Allen directed Russell in Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944), in which she co-starred with Diana Lynn. It was another success.[citation needed]

Russell co-starred opposite Alan Ladd in Salty O'Rourke (1945), a horse racing drama.[11]

Her Heart in Her Throat became the third film Russell made with Allen, The Unseen (1945), an unofficial follow up to The Uninvited. True to the Navy became Bring On the Girls; Russell did not appear in that film.[citation needed]

Then she and Lynn were in Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946), a sequel to Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.[12] Paramount announced her as the female lead in The Virginian (1946) but she did not appear in the final movie.[6]

She was reunited with Ladd in Calcutta (1947), shot in 1945 but not released until two years later. She made a cameo as herself in two all-star Paramount films, Duffy's Tavern (1945) and Variety Girl (1947).


With John Wayne in Angel and the Badman (1947)

Russell was borrowed by Andrew Stone for The Bachelor's Daughters (1946) at United Artists.[13]

Republic Pictures borrowed her to be John Wayne's leading lady in a film Wayne was producing, Angel and the Badman (1947).[14] Also at Republic she did Moonrise (1948) for Frank Borzage.

Russell returned to Paramount for Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), directed by John Farrow, who had made Calcutta. She reteamed with Wayne at Republic for Wake of the Red Witch (1948), which was a hit.[15]

She appeared in a Western, El Paso (1949), with John Payne for Pine-Thomas Productions, a production outfit who released through Paramount.

Screenshot of Gail Russell in Wake of the Red Witch (1948)

Russell did Song of India (1949) for Columbia and The Great Dan Patch (1949) for United Artists.

Russell married actor Guy Madison on 1 August 1949.[16] They separated in less than six months[17] but later reunited, then separated in 1953, and divorced in 1954.

She made some more Pine-Thomas films: Captain China (1950) with Payne, and The Lawless (1951) with Macdonald Carey directed by Joseph Losey.[18]

By 1950 it was well known that she had become a victim of alcoholism. According to Yvonne de Carlo, actress Helen Walker took Russell "under her wing and introduced her to the tranquilizing benefits of vodka" when they were Paramount contractees together.[19] Russell was already drinking on set by her third film, 1944's The Uninvited, to ease her paralyzing stage fright and lack of confidence.[20] Paramount did not renew her contract.

She made Air Cadet (1951) for Universal.

Gail Russell and John Hoyt (center) in The Great Dan Patch (1949)

In 1953 John Wayne's then-wife claimed during her divorce proceedings that Wayne and Russell had spent the night together. Wayne and Russell denied this.[21]

In November 1953 she was held in jail overnight after being arrested for drunk driving.[22] The following month she and Madison separated permanently.

In January 1954, in a court in Santa Monica, California, Russell pleaded guilty to a charge of drunkenness, receiving a $150 fine (equivalent to $1,700 in 2023). The fine was in lieu of a jail sentence, with the provision that she not use intoxicants or attend night spots for two years. In the same court session, she received a continuance on a charge of driving while drunk.[23]

She sued Madison for divorce in May 1954.[24] The divorce was finalized in October 1954. During the court proceedings Madison claimed that Russell would never do any housework and would not allow visitors or servants in the house.[25]

In October 1954 she was admitted to a hospital in a coma after an attack of hepatitis.[26]

In February 1955 she hit another car containing a couple and their baby while driving. She was fined $50.[27] The couple later sued her for $30,000 (equivalent to $341,000 in 2023) and settled out of court.[28]



Russell returned to work in a co-starring role with Randolph Scott in the western Seven Men from Now (1956), produced by her friend Wayne and directed by Budd Boetticher. The film and Russell's performance were lauded and she seemed poised to make a comeback.[5]

Russell was expected to follow Seven Men from Now with Madame Courage, again with Boetticher as director, but the film was never made.[29]

Instead Russell appeared in an episode of Studio 57 and had a substantial role in The Tattered Dress (1957).[30][31]

In April 1957 she was found unconscious on the floor at her home.[32]

On July 5, 1957, she was photographed by a Los Angeles Times photographer after she drove her convertible into the front of Jan's Coffee Shop at 8424 Beverly Boulevard, injuring a janitor. After failing a sobriety test, Russell was arrested and charged with driving under the influence.[33] The janitor sued her for $75,000.[34] She failed to appear at a court appearance and was discovered at home passed out due to drinking.[35] She was fined $420, given a 30-day suspended sentence and put on three years' probation.[36]

She appeared in No Place to Land (1958) for Republic.

She had roles in episodes of The Rebel and Manhunt. "I guess there are still a lot of doubts about me", she said in April 1960. "And this is one of the reasons why I want to get back to the business to prove to people I can do a picture. I'm stronger now. The future looks pretty good."[37]

In November 1960 she was announced for a film with Mark Stevens and George Raft called Cause of Death[38] but it appears to have not been made. She was top billed in her last film, the low-budget The Silent Call (1961).



Russell moved to a small house where she lived alone. She would periodically try to stop drinking then start again. On one occasion, Russell was hospitalized. On August 26, 1961, she was found dead at her residence in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, at the age of 36.[39] She was found by two neighbors who were concerned they had not seen her for several days. An empty vodka bottle was by Russell's side, and the house was full of empty bottles.[30][40]

Russell died from liver damage attributed to "acute and chronic alcoholism" with aspiration of stomach contents as an additional cause.[41] She was also found to have been suffering from malnutrition at the time of her death.[42]


Year Title Role Notes
1943 Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour Virginia Lowry Alternative title: Henry Gets Glamour
1944 Lady in the Dark Barbara (at 17)
1944 The Uninvited Stella Meredith
1944 Our Hearts Were Young and Gay Cornelia Otis Skinner
1945 Salty O'Rourke Barbara Brooks
1945 The Unseen Elizabeth Howard
1946 Our Hearts Were Growing Up Cornelia Otis Skinner
1946 The Bachelor's Daughters Eileen Alternative title: Bachelor Girls
1947 Angel and the Badman Penelope Worth Alternative title: Angel and the Outlaw
1947 Calcutta Virginia Moore
1948 Moonrise Gilly Johnson
1948 Night Has a Thousand Eyes Jean Courtland
1948 Wake of the Red Witch Angelique Desaix
1949 Song of India Princess Tara
1949 El Paso Susan Jeffers
1949 The Great Dan Patch Cissy Lathrop Alternative title: Ride a Reckless Mile
1950 Captain China Kim Mitchell
1950 The Lawless Sunny Garcia Alternative title: The Dividing Line
1951 Air Cadet Janet Page Alternative title: Jet Men of the Air
1956 Studio 57 Episode: "Time, Tide and a Woman"
1956 Seven Men from Now Annie Greer
1957 The Tattered Dress Carol Morrow
1958 No Place to Land Lynn Dillon Alternative title: Man Mad
1960 The Rebel Cassandra Episode: "Noblesse Oblige"
1960 Manhunt Mrs. Clarke Episode: "Matinee Mobster"
1961 The Silent Call Flore Brancato

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1946 This Is Hollywood The Bachelor's Daughters[43]


  1. ^ "Betty Gale Russell – Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates". FamilySearch. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  2. ^ Johnson, Erskine (April 24, 1944). "Around Hollywood". Pampa Daily News. p. 2. Retrieved September 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  3. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Dec 31, 1944). "Gail Russell Will Give All to Career Before Camera: Setbacks Fail to Halt Gifted Glamour Girl Gail Russell Goes All Out for Career Before Camera". Los Angeles Times. p. B1.
  4. ^ "Actress Gail Russell Loses Battle of the Bottle; Found Dead in Flat". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison. August 28, 1961. p. 4. Retrieved January 14, 2016 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  5. ^ a b Russell, Gail (Jan 29, 1956). "Faith Saved Me!: Ex-Chicagoan Gail Russell Was a Rising Hollywood Star When Trouble Came; Now She Knows What It Takes to Come Back". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. d22.
  6. ^ a b Schallert, Edwin (Apr 15, 1944). "'Virginian' Femme Lead Goes to Gail Russell: Columbia Slates 'Men of the Deep; Bruce Bennett Mentioned as Star". Los Angeles Times. p. 5.
  7. ^ Brackett, Charles (2014). It's the Pictures That Got Small": Charles Brackett on Billy Wilder and Hollywood's Golden Age. Columbia University Press. p.219 ISBN 9780231538220
  8. ^ a b Weaver, Tom (September 1997). "Welcoming the Uninvited". Fangoria. No. 166. p.15
  9. ^ "All Features Released in 1944". National Box Office Digest Annual. Los Angeles, California. 1945 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Sep 3, 1943). "DRAMA AND FILM: 'Pistol Packin' Mama' Rights Bring $250,000 Gail Russell's Screen Slate Includes 'True to the Navy' With Eddie Bracken". Los Angeles Times. p. 15.
  11. ^ "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Alan Ladd and Gail Russell to Co-Star -- Graetz Acquires 'Undercover,' English Film". THE NEW YORK TIMES. Feb 8, 1944. p. 12.
  12. ^ "SCREEN NEWS: Donlevy to Co-Star With Gail Russell, Diana Lynn". THE NEW YORK TIMES. Dec 8, 1944. p. 26.
  13. ^ "3 TOP ROLES CAST FOR STONE'S FILM: Gail Russell, Claire Trevor and Ann Dvorak Will Appear in 'The Bachelor's Daughter' Of Local Origin". THE NEW YORK TIMES. 25 Jan 1946. p. 22.
  14. ^ Schallert, Edwin (11 Apr 1946). "Gail Russell Borrowed for 'Angel' Portrayal". Los Angeles Times. p. A2.
  15. ^ Schallert, Edwin (30 Jan 1949). "GAIL RUSSELL 'REDISCOVERED' AFTER ROLE TROUBLE RUMORS: 'Fate' Picks Roles for Gail Russell". Los Angeles Times. p. D1.
  16. ^ "Gail Russell Married". The New York Times. 2 Aug 1949. p. 16.
  17. ^ "Gail Russell Separated". The Washington Post. 13 Jan 1950. p. 4.
  18. ^ "Gail Russell and Carey to Co-Star in Movie". Chicago Daily Tribune. Mar 5, 1950. p. F3.
  19. ^ De Carlo, Yvonne; Warren, Doug (1987). Yvonne : an autobiography. St Martins Press. p. 72. ISBN 9780312002176.
  20. ^ Porter, Darwin (2005). Howard Hughes: Hell's Angel. Blood Moon Productions, Ltd. pp. 618. ISBN 0-9748118-1-5.
  21. ^ "GAIL RUSSELL, FILM ACTRESS, IS FOUND DEAD: Empty Bottles Litter Her Apartment". Chicago Daily Tribune. Aug 28, 1961. p. b2.
  22. ^ "GAIL RUSSELL SPENDS NIGHT IN JAIL: Gail Russell Held on Drunk Driving Charge". Los Angeles Times. Nov 25, 1953. p. 1.
  23. ^ "Gail Russell Fined as Drunk, Weeps as Barfly Act Banned". Long Beach Independent. January 19, 1954. p. 16. Retrieved September 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  24. ^ "Gail Russell Sues Guy Madison for Divorce". Los Angeles Times. May 28, 1954. p. 23.
  25. ^ "DID ALL HOUSEWORK, HE SAYS: Actor Guy Madison and Gail Russell Divorced". Los Angeles Times. Oct 7, 1954. p. 4.
  26. ^ "Gail Russell's Trial Delayed". Los Angeles Times. Dec 8, 1954. p. 25.
  27. ^ "Gail Russell Fined $50". New York Times. Apr 23, 1955. p. 22.
  28. ^ "Gail Russell Settles $30,000 Damage Suit". Los Angeles Times. Nov 28, 1956. p. A12.
  29. ^ Schallert, Edwin (Oct 26, 1955). "Drama: Gail Russell to Star as Pioneer Nurse; Brian Donlevy Shifts to Film". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.
  30. ^ a b "Actress Gail Russell Found Dead at Home: Ex-Star's Death Laid to Natural Causes; Empty Liquor Bottle Found at Her Side GAIL RUSSELL". Los Angeles Times. Aug 28, 1961. p. B1.
  31. ^ Louella Parsons (Sep 23, 1955). "Gail Russell, Restored To Health, Plans Film". The Washington Post and Times-Herald. p. 46.
  32. ^ "Police Find Gail Russell Unconscious in Home". Los Angeles Times. Aug 21, 1957. p. 12.
  33. ^ Coates, Paul V.; Harnisch, Larry (2007-07-05). "Gail Russell: In memoriam". latimesblogs.latimes.com. Retrieved 2009-04-06.
  34. ^ "Gail Russell Faces Court". Los Angeles Times. July 9, 1957. p. 5.
  35. ^ "Gail Russell's Condition Good". Los Angeles Times. Aug 22, 1957. p. B30.
  36. ^ "Gail Russell Fined on Coast". New York Times. Mar 15, 1958. p. 12.
  37. ^ "Gail Russell Feels Fit for a Comeback". The Washington Post and Times-Herald. Apr 10, 1960. p. H5.
  38. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (Nov 15, 1960). "Harrison, Portman Up for 'Sherlock': Stevens Directs Gail Russell; Production in Spurt at 20th". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.
  39. ^ "Gail Russell--in memoriam". LA Times. 5 July 2007. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  40. ^ "Actress Gail Russell, 36, Found Dead at Her Home". The Washington Post and Times-Herald. Aug 28, 1961. p. B2.
  41. ^ Davis, Ronald L (2001). Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-8061-3329-4. Retrieved July 26, 2010.
  42. ^ Brettell, Andrew; King, Noel; Kennedy, Damien; Imwold, Denise (2005). Cut!: Hollywood Murders, Accidents, and Other Tragedies. Leonard, Warren Hsu; von Rohr, Heather. Barrons Educational Series. p. 251. ISBN 0-7641-5858-9.
  43. ^ "New Star". Harrisburg Telegraph. November 16, 1946. p. 17. Retrieved September 14, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon