b. 4 June 1907, Waterbury, Connecticut, USA, d. 28 November 1976, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA. Russell's education included a spell at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. On the stage from the late 20s, she was in the Broadway revue The Garrick Gaieties (1930) and the play Company's Coming (1931). Among her 30s films were musicals The Night Is Young (1935, starring Evelyn Laye and Ramon Navarro with a score by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II), and Reckless (1935, loosely based upon Libby Holman's life). In the 40s Russell starred in My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946) and Mourning Becomes Electra (1947), and was nominated for Best Actress Oscars in all three films. She also appeared in His Girl Friday (1940), A Woman Of Distinction (1950), The Girl Rush (1955), and Picnic (1955). Her post-1950 stage work included Wonderful Town (1953), with songs by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The show was based upon Russell's 1942 film, My Sister Eileen, itself based upon the play Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov had derived from stories by Ruth McKinney. Russell in particular received high praise and the show had a successful run of 559 performances.
On Broadway in 1956 she was in the very successful Auntie Mame; when she reprised this role in the 1958 film version, she gained her fourth Oscar nomination. In 1962 she was in Gypsy, a full-fledged musical, performing Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim songs "Rose's Turn", "Some People", "Everything's Coming Up Roses", "Mr Goldstone, I Love You", "Toreadorable", "Small World", "You'll Never Get Away From Me", the latter pair with Karl Malden, and "Together Wherever We Go", with Natalie Wood. The latter song was cut from the film's theatrical release but returned on later video versions. Vocal dubbing was by Lisa Kirk for most of Russell's vocals and Marni Nixon for Wood. Other 60s films in which Russell took leading roles included Five-Finger Exercise (1962), Rosie! (1967) and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968). Her last screen roles were in Mrs. Pollifax - Spy (1971) and The Crooked Hearts, a 1972 television film. In 1972 she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a special Oscar recognizing the recipient's charitable works.