She was young and innocent. They tried to make her glamorous. It ended badly. That was Hollywood in the 1940s.
The former Elizabeth Russell, born in Chicago in 1924, moved with her parents to Los Angeles when she was 14, and found herself making her onscreen debut (in Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour) just five years later. She impressed Paramount and later the Republic Pictures front office with her combination winsome yet sultry good looks, perfect for film noir and westerns.
Her career wasn’t lengthy — covering some 25 movies over an 18-year span — and it was during her Republic Pictures period when her liaision with John Wayne (who worked like a dog at Republic) flourished in the late Forties a year or two before her one and only marriage to a beefcake actor (it lasted five years).
Gail costarred with Wayne in the 1947 western Angel and the Bad Man. It became obvious that Wayne, who was unusually proper with his leading women — and who took each of his three marriages seriously — harbored a very big soft spot for Russell.
That relationship came up in the legal proceedings prefiguring Wayne’s bitter divorce from his spitfire second wife, Esperanza (“Chata”) Baur. She said she nearly shot her husband with the .45 she owned “when he had staggered (home) after a night with Russell, according to author Scott Eyman’s biography, JOHN WAYNE The Life and the Legend (Simon & Schuster, 2014).
Both Russell and Wayne denied the affair. Russell wasn’t a front-rank actress, but she was an interesting one. Let’s see how much you remember about her. As usual, questions today and answers tomorrow.
1) Question: Gail Russell is cited in the infamous scandal book, Hollywood Babylon, linked to Clara Bow and Gene Tierney. Why? a) All three were repeatedly abused by various studio bosses; b) All three were alcoholics; c) All three were beautiful, trend-setting actresses; and d) None of the above.
2) Question: Russell’s lone marriage was to an actor who achieved semi-stardom in westerns in the U.S. and Europe. Who is he? a) Troy Donahue; b) Edd Byrnes; c) Guy Madison; or d) Lee Van Cleef.
3) Question: Russell was directed by none other than Joseph Losey in the 1950 crime drama, The Lawless. The picture was the debut feature for which one of these heart throbs? a) Warren Beatty; b) Frankie Avalon; c) Tab Hunter; or d) Roger Smith.
4) Question: Russell suffered from various mental ailments but one stood out in particular. Was it a) Bipolar disorder; b) Schizophrenia; c) Stage Fright; or d) Chronic depression.
5) Question: John Wayne really did fall in love with Russell. a) True; or b) False.