Today's Women's History Month feature is Rosalind Russell! After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1929, Russell had high hopes of becoming an actress. She heard that a Broadway producer on Long Island, Ed Casey, was casting for a summer theater in the Adirondacks. Casey had cured in Saranac Lake and believed the cosmopolitan town in the fresh air to be the perfect place for – as the program cover advertised – “A Bit of Broadway in the Mountains.” Russell opened the phone book and called Casey at home. Without a shred of acting experience, Russell got him to meet her. She charmed Mr. Casey, signing a contract on the spot for $150 a week.
And so in June of 1929, Russell, age 22, stepped off the train at the Union Depot in Saranac Lake. Casey’s partner, Dick Bartell, met her at the station and was dismayed to realize that Casey had hired for $150 a week the same inexperienced actress that he had spotted at her drama school and said he could get for $30 a week.
That summer, Russell earned every penny of her high salary, acting in 26 plays in 13 weeks. The theater was a tent behind the buildings on Main Street (where the Dorsey Street Lot is now), and the stage was made of birch bark. It was no easy enterprise. Owners Casey and Bartel acted in every performance, and local Saranac Lakers pitched in to help the theater.
Russell came back briefly the next summer of 1930 to open the tent theater for the summer, but then she moved on to join the Copley Players in Boston. Already, her career was taking off. In the 1930s she began working for MGM, making comedies such as Four’s a Crowd and dramas like The Citadel. In 1953, she returned to Broadway for the huge Tony Award-winning hit, Wonderful Town. She is well remembered for her title role in the long-running Broadway production of Auntie Mame.
Pictured here is Russell in 1956, and a program from the inaugural summer of her acting career from our collection. To learn more about Russell's time in Saranac Lake, and her career on and off the Broadway stage, visit our wiki!
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