Saturday, May 13, 2006

Moonrise Postscript: Gail Russell


When Jane Fonda was preparing to play a washed-up alcoholic in The Morning After, the actress maudit she researched was Gail Russell. Many performers claim to be shy, but Russell really was, and afflicted with stage fright so acute she often would throw up before takes. As early as her first starring role, in 1944's The Uninvited, she started to smother her fear with drinking. The 1950s began with one drunk-driving conviction and ended with another; in between the parts got fewer and smaller. She died in 1961 of an alcohol-induced heart attack, age 36. It was a long, sorry decline from her run of good movies in the 1940s, including Angel and the Badman, the Witness forerunner with her lifelong friend John Wayne; the adorable Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, as a young American breezing through Europe; and Moonrise. In that last Russell shows all the things that could have earned her enduring fame. She was beautiful, of course, with near-perfect bone structure and eyes that photographed pure silver in black-and-white. On film she seemed not seductive, but delicate, full of tender mercies. Russell makes you believe this improbably gorgeous schoolteacher could love Dane Clark, with his twitchy fears, sketchy past and frequent disappearances. In Moonrise, as in Angel and the Badman, she's the rock that saves a good man from a bad end. In real life, Russell could have used someone like that herself.

11 comments:

girish said...

Oh how sad. I had no idea she died so young.

boisdejasmin said...

I had no idea either. I always thought that she was incredibly beautiful, and looking at the still you posted above makes me even more sad.

Campaspe said...

G & V: I had heard vaguely that Russell came to a bad end, but only after seeing Moonrise did I actually do any research. It really is a shame what happened to her.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I hope you consider seeing Seven Men from Now, with Russell as the lone woman, with Randolph Scott and Lee Marvin. It was her first movie in five years, and she was cast in part as an act of friendship by producer John Wayne.

Campaspe said...

Yes, I'd like to. The fan site I linked to said her appearance had changed quite a bit, though I haven't been able to see a good still. Wayne was such a strange person, rather like Sinatra in that he could be vindictive or touchingly loyal, depending on the person.

Flickhead said...

Seven Men from Now is a must. Especially for Marvin's chat about men who are "short on spine."

Bill said...

ven Men from Now is available on DVD and is wonderful. The DVD comes with a feature on Budd Boetticher as well.

Interesting ... I'm currently reading Ava Gardner: "Love is Nothing" a biography by Lee Server and her drinking seems to have started in a similar way - shyness and low self-esteem.

paradise said...

wow, i knew she died young but didn't know why, nor about her issues. i haven't seen any of her films yet and now i'm very interested.

Campaspe said...

OK, so when I get back to NY and re-open a Netflix account, Seven Men is a must.

Bill & Paradise: It's interesting, but quite sad, how many performers start to rely on booze (or other things) not for the pure sake of getting sloshes, but to calm their stage jitters.

Campaspe said...

Flickhead - Mr. Campaspe will probably watch Seven Men. Ever noticed how easy it is to get a man to watch Lee Marvin?

Matthew Conroy said...

Gail Russell is the most beautiful celebrity that I have ever seen. My heart breaks for her and her sadness. Even though your movie appearances partly led to your demise they have brought great joy to me and many others. Thank you Gail.