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VivLeighFan

Honoring Gail Russell on her birthday

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Gail Russell (September 21, 1924-August 27, 1961)

 

Her name may not ring any bells but her face certainly might. She appeared in several westerns, notably the ones in which she starred opposite John Wayne, and her haunting beauty even rivaled those of Elizabeth Taylor and Hedy Lamarr, the actress her school mates often compared her to. However, acting was never really Gail's calling. It was actually painting that she was passionate about and dreamed of becoming a pro. But if that's so, why did she become an actress? Well, my theory is that talent scouts were awed by Gail's beauty and immediately asked her to audition, even though she had no acting experience whatsover. And her family encouraged her to accept the offer, maybe hoping that acting would relieve her shyness. Not wanting to disappoint her parents, Gail gave in.

 

On the outside, it looked like she was doing well in her new career. The role she is arguably the most known for was Stella Meredith, the young woman learning more about her past, in the 1944 film The Uninvited. She befriended John Wayne, married Guy Madison, and even got to meet her idol, Ginger Rogers. But, sadly, this was not the case. Acting only intensified Gail's shyness which led her to a path of alcoholism. In addition, her marriage to Guy Madison ended after only 5 years and rumors circulated of an affair between her and a very much married, John Wayne, even though both denied them.

 

Ultimately, the stress and humiliation became too much for our poor heroine. Gail Russell died of alcoholism in a lonely Hollywood apartment at only 36 years old. Some said that before she died, Gail would call a radio station anymously and request Stella by Starlight, the song forever associated with her, to be played. Whether this is true or not, it can still bring a tear to one's eye. I often look back at Gail's story and wonder what it would be like if things were different. If Gail pursued painting like she wanted to. She would probably be happier but then again, her friendship with John Wayne would seize to exist. I would like Gail Russell to be remembered not for how she died, but for how she lived.

 

 

Movies Gail appeared in that I recommend:

The Uninvited (1944)

Angel and the Badman (1947)

Wake of the Red Witch (1948)

Moonrise (1948)

The Lawless (1950)

The Tattered Dress (1957)

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Very sad story. She was beautiful (and troubled) I, too, think she would've been happier as a painter. She was too shy for the acting business. I've liked her in what little I've seen her in.  She never got a big starmaking role. I guess The Uninvited is probably her best known role.

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It's a funny coincidence that today is Gail Russell's birthday, because I was just thinking about her on my way to work this morning.  As we get into the fall, I was thinking that it'll soon be time to watch some Halloween movies, and The Uninvited, starring Gail along with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, has become one of my favorites since it was released on disc by Criterion four years ago.  

 

While I like Ray and Ruth as siblings who buy a lovely British country house with a strange atmosphere, it's really Gail who has the greatest impact.  The story revolves around her sweet but troubled Stella, who's struggling to understand why she's haunted by the memory of her dead mother even as she's drawn to the old family house near where her mother died.

 

Until I first viewed that movie four years ago, I had no idea that the beautiful song "Stella By Starlight" was from a movie.  Ray Milland plays a composer who's inspired to write that song as he falls in love with the younger Stella, and the renditions of the song in the move (sans lyrics) have just the right haunting quality.

 

I enthusiastically second the recommendation of this movie.  Even if, like me, you're not a big fan of stories with supernatural elements, this story is told with such subtlety and humor that those elements seem essential and almost realistic -- anything but phony special effects.

 

The Criterion disc includes an interesting documentary that describes Gail's sadly troubled life.  It's such a shame that a talented person like Gail couldn't eventually overcome her troubles, as her Stella was able to do.

 

I'm really looking forward to watching The Uninvited again in a few weeks.  It's one place where Gail Russell not only still lives, but finds happiness in the end.

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I've only seen Gail Russell in two films  - The Uninvited and The Angel and the Badman - but I remember her very clearly in both. There's something inexplicably memorable about her. Maybe it's the slight aura of sadness that accompanies her beauty. 

Actually, her looks remind me not so much of Elizabeth Taylor or Hedy Lamarr, but rather, Loretta Young, with her long dark hair and enormous eyes, and Cathy O'Donnell, who had the same sweetly sad look about her.

 

Gail Russell was perfect in The Uninvited (which is probably my favourite ghost story movie). There's something so endearing and vulnerable about her - no wonder Ray Milland's character fell in love with her and wrote a song about her.

 

Here she is, looking lovely and sad and dark-haired:

 

4d67f3e4bbe2ffb3bd3e0d0ed0670234.jpg

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I saw her recently on YouTube in a 1949 harness-racing drama called The Great Dan Patch, which has never aired on TCM. She's easily the best thing about the movie. She's also haunting in The Wake of the Red Witch, which last aired on TCM nine years ago. And I love her in The Uninvited, in which she so beautifully plays a perfect innocent who's "touched" and a bit otherworldly because of her connections to the spirit world. She's great in Moonrise, too. Looking over her imdb resume, I believe those are the only four films of hers I've seen.

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Gail Russell.

 

A sad eyed beauty with a shy smile you want to hold in your arms to protect. Guy Madison held her, John Wayne (presumably) held her, too, but it wasn't enough. She was, in retrospect, like a fragile fawn trying to make a living in a brutal town like Hollywood and turning to alcohol for solace. Some people are clearly not meant for the pressures of a life of fame, and it would appear that insecure Gail was one of them.

 

But she's haunting for those who have seen her in The Uninvited (she's the heart of the film) as well as Angel and the Badman, in which her Quaker character's goodness and gentility makes a bad man reform.

 

The story of a lonely woman, alcohol by her side, anonymously calling a radio station on a frequent basis to request them to play Stella By Starlight from the film that had once given her Hollywood fame remains heart breaking, if true.

 

GAILRUSSELL1.jpg

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Fun facts about Gail:

 

1. Clair de Lune, by the French composer Claude Debussy, was one of Gail's favorite melodies growing up.

 

2. "The Hedy Lamarr of Santa Monica" was the nickname her high school classmates gave her while attending University High School in West Los Angeles

 

3. When she was a little girl, Gail would hide underneath the piano when visitors came to her childhood home in Chicago, Illinois.

 

4. Her hobbies included archery, fishing, knitting, and of course, painting.

 

5. A biography about Gail had been published and is available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes and Nobles. It's called Fallen Star and was written by a longtime fan by the name of Steven Ochoa, who has evidently done a lot research on Gail's life.

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Gail Russell.

 

A sad eyed beauty with a shy smile you want to hold in your arms to protect. Guy Madison held her, John Wayne (presumably) held her, too, but it wasn't enough. She was, in retrospect, like a fragile fawn trying to make a living in a brutal town like Hollywood and turning to alcohol for solace. Some people are clearly not meant for the pressures of a life of fame, and it would appear that insecure Gail was one of them.

 

But she's haunting for those who have seen her in The Uninvited (she's the heart of the film) as well as Angel and the Badman, in which her Quaker character's goodness and gentility makes a bad man reform.

 

The story of a lonely woman, alcohol by her side, anonymously calling a radio station on a frequent basis to request them to play Stella By Starlight from the film that had once given her Hollywood fame remains heart breaking, if true.

 

GAILRUSSELL1.jpg:)

doan forget Wake of the Red Witch also with wayne.

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Her incredible blue eyes came through even in black and white.  I think the preoccupation with her wretched end is morbid.  Entertaining to be sure, but plenty of people manage to drive themselves to an untimely death without the pressures of a film career.  So I don't dwell on that, just treasure the work we have of her and feel grateful for it.  As for her movies, The Uninvited (1944), of course.  And Angel and the Badman (1947), an underappreciated western that has fine direction and performances, and some of the best back-and-forth between a man and woman on screen.  Also a favorite of mine with her is Seven Men From Now (1957).  She doesn't have a great role, but she does a good job with what she has, and, gosh, those eyes go right through you.

 

The best cover of "Stella by Starlight:"

 

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Slayton, thanks for mentioning Seven Men from Now, another favorite of mine. It's great that The Uninvited now has received the Criterion treatment. That will bring Gail Russell even more fans.

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I've only seen Gail Russell in two films  - The Uninvited and The Angel and the Badman - but I remember her very clearly in both. There's something inexplicably memorable about her. Maybe it's the slight aura of sadness that accompanies her beauty. 

Actually, her looks remind me not so much of Elizabeth Taylor or Hedy Lamarr, but rather, Loretta Young, with her long dark hair and enormous eyes, and Cathy O'Donnell, who had the same sweetly sad look about her.

 

Gail Russell was perfect in The Uninvited (which is probably my favourite ghost story movie). There's something so endearing and vulnerable about her - no wonder Ray Milland's character fell in love with her and wrote a song about her.

 

Here she is, looking lovely and sad and dark-haired:

 

4d67f3e4bbe2ffb3bd3e0d0ed0670234.jpg

 

 

 

Yes, I can see the similarity to Loretta Young......

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of all the actresses to ever grace the hollywood screen, gail russell is the one who died so much before her time.

 

her beauty is haunting.

84c8a43d5aed48c1f5c8122dcb770f55.jpg

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