INFORMATION FROM IMDb
Date of birth
21 September 1924
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Date of death
26 August 1961
Los Angeles, California, USA. (heart attack)
Guy Madison (1949 - 1954) (divorced)
Jane Fonda studied up on Russell's life in order to play an alcoholic, once promising actress in "The Morning After" (1986)
Her brother, George Russell, who was five years older than Gail, became a musician.
A talented artist, she starting sketching at the age of 5 and later grew into a respectable oil painter.
Gail attended Van Nuys High School and was in some of the same classes as actress Jane Russell.
Suffered paralyzing stage fright during the filming of "The Uninvited" and suffered a nervous breakdown following its completion. In the role of Stella, the song "Stella by Starlight," which came from the film, is forever associated with Gail.
Her blue-eyed, dark beauty was frequently compared to Hedy Lamarr throughout much of her career.
"I was possessed with an agonizing kind of self-consciousness where I felt my insides tightening into a knot, where my face and hands grew clammy, where I couldn't open my mouth, where I felt impelled to turn and run if I had to meet new people. When my parents had guests, I would run, get under the piano and hide there."
"Everything happened so fast. I was a sad character. I was sad because of myself. I didn't have any self-confidence. I didn't believe I had any talent. I didn't know how to have fun. I was afraid. I don't exactly know of what - of life, I guess.
Gail Russell was born in Chicago, Illinois on September 21, 1924. She remained in the Windy City, going to school until her parents moved to California when she was 14. She was an above average student in school and upon graduation from Santa Monica High School was signed by Paramount Studios. Because of her rare beauty, Gail was to be groomed to be one of Paramount's top stars. She was very shy with virtually no acting experience to speak of, but her beauty was so apparent that the studio figured they could work with her on the acting by way of an acting coach that Paramount employed. Gail's first film came when she was 19 years old when she had a small role as Virginia Lowry in HENRY ALDRICH GETS GLAMOUR in 1943. It was her only role that year, but it was a start. Hopefully others would soon follow. The following year she appeared in another motion picture, albeit another insignificant role in THE UNINVITED with Ray Milland. (It was also the first time Gail used alcohol to steady her nerves on the set. This would come back to haunt her). It was a horror story very well done for its day. The film was a profitable one for the studio. The third time was the charm as Gail co-starred with Diana Lynn in OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY (1944) that same year. The film was based on popular book of the time and the film was even more popular. In 1945, Gail appeared in SALTY O'ROUKE, a story about crooked gamblers involved in horse racing. Although she wasn't a standout in the film, Gail worked well as part of the supporting cast. Later that year, Gail appeared in THE UNSEEN, a story about a haunted house starring Joel McCrea. Gail played Elizabeth Howard, a governess of the house in question. The film turned a profit, but was not the hit that executives hoped for. In 1946, Gail was again teamed with Diana Lynn for a sequel to OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY, in OUR HEARTS WERE GROWING UP. The plot centered around two young college girls getting involved with bootleggers. Unfortunately, the film was not anywhere the caliber of the first film. It failed at the box-office. With CALCUTTA in 1947, Gail bounced back in a more popular film which starred Alan Ladd. Most critics felt that Gail was miscast in this epic drama. That same year Gail was cast with John Wayne and Harry Carey, Sr. in ANGEL AND THE BADMAN. The western was a popular one with the public and Gail shined in the role of Penelope Worth. Still later, Gail appeared in Paramount's all-star musical called VARIETY GIRL. The critics roasted the film, while the public turned out in droves to ensure its success at the box-office. After the releases of SONG OF INDIA, EL PASO, and CAPTAIN CHINA in 1949, Gail married Guy Madison, one of the up and coming actors in Hollywood. After THE LAWLESS in 1950, Paramount decided against renewing her contract because Gail's drinking problems. She had been convicted of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The studio didn't want its name mired with someone who couldn't control their drinking. The film roles were coming in slowly now. After AIR CADET in 1951, her only film that year, she disappeared from movie sets for the next five years while she attempted to get control of her life. She divorced Madison in 1954. In 1956, Gail returned to the silver screen in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. It was a Western with Gail being cast in the minor role of Annie Greer. In 1957, Gail was fourth billed in THE TATTERED DRESS, a film which also starred Jeanne Crain and Jeff Chandler. She, obviously, felt better about getting a better role, but the following year she had a reduced part in NO PLACE TO LAND. By now the demons of alcohol had her in its grasp. She was again absent from the screen until 1961's THE SILENT CALL. It was her last film. On August 26, 1961, Gail was found dead in her small studio apartment in Los Angeles, California. Death was attributed to an alcohol induced heart attack. She was only 36 years old. Had it not been for the alcohol, Gail's career could have been one of the most stable in Hollywood. She owed herself that much.
An angelically beautiful leading lady with a demure and melancholy screen persona which reflected a deeper sadness in her real life. Russell attended high school in Santa Monica, California, where she was spotted by a Paramount talent scout and signed to a contract immediately upon graduation. She was given considerable coaching and subsequently appeared in important roles in a number of prestigious Paramount films. However, she suffered from an intense and almost crippling stage fright which she began to combat with alcohol. Conflicts with the law, particularly drunk driving, damaged her reputation and her star began to dim. Befriended by John Wayne, with whom she was later accused (apparently unjustly) of conducting an adulterous affair, she played a few roles in films he produced. But her drinking began to affect not only her work but her appearance and her personal life. Married in 1949 to actor Guy Madison, she was divorced by him in 1954. In 1961, at the age of 36, she died alone in her apartment of acute alcoholism, surrounded by empty liquor bottles. She will be remembered, however, as an incredible doe-eyed beauty who presented a screen image of great innocence and vulnerability.
IMDb mini-biography by Jim Beaver
from Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia:
An ethereal beauty whose personal demons kept her from attaining the screen success once predicted for her, Gail Russell was spotted by Paramount talent scouts shortly after graduating from high school. Finding the prospect of screen stardom appealing, the introverted girl submitted to the arduous process of grooming and training, and made her film debut in Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour (1943), proving that, as was suspected, the camera "loved" her. Russell's supporting role as the fragile object of spectral persecution in The Uninvited (1944) elicited rave reviews; a 1945 follow-up, The Unseen failed to duplicate the previous film's success, but earned additional kudos for Russell. Nonetheless, she suffered dreadfully from stage fright and other insecurities, and became progressively more difficult to handle.
Russell was seen to good advantage in Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944, and its 1946 sequel, Our Hearts Were Growing Up teamed with fellow contractee Diana Lynn), Salty O'Rourke, Duffy's Tavern (both 1945), The Bachelor's Daughters (1946), and Variety Girl (1947) before jumping to Republic, where she gave her best-remembered performance as the strong-willed Quaker girl who reforms outlaw John Wayne in Angel and the Badman (1947). She then costarred with Dane Clark in Moonrise (1948), a muddled psychological melodrama directed by Frank Borzage, and was reteamed with Wayne (whose interest in her reportedly extended beyond the soundstage) in Wake of the Red Witch later that year. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (also 1948), another supernatural thriller, gave Russell a plum role-but it was her last. Films like Song of India, El Paso, The Great Dan Patch, Captain China (all 1949), The Lawless (1950), and Air Cadet (1951) kept her in the public eye, but accomplished little else. She was offscreen for five years, during which time her marriage to actor Guy Madison collapsed, before costarring opposite Randolph Scott in an above-average Western, Seven Men From Now (1956), directed by Budd Boetticher. The Tattered Dress (1957) and No Place to Land (1958) saw Russell reduced to secondary roles, and although she wasn't yet 40 years old, she looked much olderand sadder. In 1961 she top-lined The Silent Call which was a bomb. Russell's dead body was found later that year in her apartment, surrounded by liquor bottles.
Copyright © 1994 Leonard Maltin, used by arrangement with Signet, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc.
1. The Silent Call (1961) .... Flore Brancato
2. "The Rebel"
- Noblesse Oblige (1960) TV Episode .... Cassandra
3. No Place to Land (1958) .... Lynn Dillon
... aka Man Mad (UK)
4. "Colgate Theatre"
- MacGreedy's Woman (1958) TV Episode
5. The Tattered Dress (1957) .... Carol Morrow
6. Seven Men from Now (1956) .... Annie Greer
7. "Studio 57"
... aka Heinz Studio 57 (USA: alternative title)
- Time, Tide and a Woman (1956) TV Episode
8. Air Cadet (1951) .... Janet Page
... aka Jet Men of the Air (UK)
9. The Lawless (1950) .... Sunny Garcia
... aka The Dividing Line (UK)
10. Captain China (1950) .... Kim Mitchell
11. The Great Dan Patch (1949) .... Cissy Lathrop
... aka Ride a Reckless Mile (USA: reissue title)
12. El Paso (1949) .... Susan Jeffers
13. Song of India (1949) .... Princess Tara
14. Wake of the Red Witch (1948) .... Angelique Desaix
15. Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) .... Jean Courtland
16. Moonrise (1948) .... Gilly Johnson
17. Calcutta (1947) .... Virginia Moore
18. Angel and the Badman (1947) .... Penelope Worth
... aka The Angel and the Outlaw
19. The Bachelor's Daughters (1946) .... Eileen
... aka Bachelor Girls (UK)
20. Our Hearts Were Growing Up (1946) .... Cornelia Otis Skinner
21. The Unseen (1945) .... Elizabeth Howard
22. Salty O'Rourke (1945) .... Barbara Brooks
23. Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944) .... Cornelia Otis Skinner
24. The Uninvited (1944) .... Stella Meredith
25. Lady in the Dark (1944) .... Barbara (at 17)
26. Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour (1943) .... Virginia Lowry
... aka Henry Gets Glamour (UK)
Herself - filmography
1. Variety Girl (1947) .... Herself
2. Duffy's Tavern (1945) .... Herself
1. Budd Boetticher: A Man Can Do That (2005) (TV) .... Herself