By Jorge Camara
If ever an actor were indelibly associated with a character, Rosalind Russell as Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame would be at the top of that list.
Russell won the Golden Globe for her performance, and the movie was honored as Best Comedy in 1958. Curiously, that was the first of only five times in which the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s statuette for Best Comedy or Musical was awarded to both a comedy and a musical. (Best Musical went to Gigi.)
Mame Dennis, the irrepressible, eccentric and free-spirited New York socialite who teaches her nephew that “life is a banquet and most poor sons-of-bitches are starving to death” (the movie changed “sons-of-bitches” to “suckers” in order not to offend the 1950’s moviegoers’ sensibilities) started her li
fe in a 1955 best-selling book by Patrick Dennis, inspired by the madcap adventures of his real life aunt, Marion Tanner.
Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee adapted the novel into a very successful Broadway play with Russell in the title
role, and for once, Hollywood wisely decided not to replace her when the movie was made two years later, under the direction of Morton DaCosta.
In 1966, the play was turned into a very good Broadway musical “Mame,” with Angela Lansbury, and as it sometimes happens, in 1974 the musical was turned into a not very good movie with Lucille Ball.
Rosalind Russell had a long and successful career of almost 40 years (from 1934 to 1972,) with movies like The Women, His Girl Friday, My Sister Eileen, and Picnic, just to mention a few, but the character of Mame Dennis will always be her crowning achievement.