At the age of 19 Gail Russell made her film debut in the 1943 film Henry Aldrich Gets Glamour. Russell appeared in several more films in the early and mid-1940s, the most notable being The Uninvited (1944) with Ray Milland and Our Hearts Were Young and Gay (1944), in which she co-starred with Diana Lynn. Russell later appeared in the more popular films Calcutta (1947) with Alan Ladd and the two with John Wayne, Angel and the Badman (1947) and Wake of the Red Witch (1948). She continued working after 1947 and married actor Guy Madison in 1949, but by 1950 it was well known that she had become a victim of alcoholism, and so Paramount did not renew her contract. She had started drinking on the set of The Uninvited to ease her paralyzing stage fright and lack of confidence. Alcohol made a shambles of her career, appearance and personal life. In January 1954, in a court in Santa Monica, California, Russell pled guilty to a charge of drunkenness, receiving a $150 fine. The fine was in lieu of a jail sentence, with the provision that she not use intoxicants or attend night spots for two years. In the same court session, she received a continuance on a charge of driving while drunk. Gail Russell divorced Madison in 1954 and, after a five-year absence, returned to work in a co-starring role with Randolph Scott in the western Seven Men from Now (1956), produced by her friend Wayne, and had a substantial role in The Tattered Dress (1957).
On July 5, 1957, Gail Russell was photographed by a Los Angeles Times photographer after she drove her convertible into the front of Jan’s coffee shop at 8424 Beverly Blvd. After failing a sobriety test, Russell was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. She appeared in two more films after that but was not able to control her addiction, and on August 26, 1961, Gail Russell was found dead in her apartment in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, at the age of 36. She died from liver damage attributed to long-term alcohol abuse. She was also found to have been suffering from malnutrition at the time of her death. She was buried in Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in North Hollywood, California.
- September, 21, 1924
- Chicago, Illinois
- August, 26, 1961
- Brentwood, Los Angeles, California
Cause of Death
- liver damage
- Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park
- North Hollywood, California