A witty and stylish lead actress of stage and screen, Russell tended to play successful career women who were skilled in repartee. She trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then began her stage career in her early '20s. She debuted onscreen in 1934 and immediately had a very busy film career. At first appearing in routine films, in the '40s she began to specialize in light, sophisticated comedies, for which she had a unique talent. In the '50s her career briefly declined and she went to Broadway, where she starred in three successful productions. One of these was Auntie Mame, later made into a film in which she reprised her stage role (1958). She went on to appear in a handful of films before she was struck by crippling arthritis. Known for her charity work, in 1972 she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a special Oscar. Russell received four Academy Award nominations during her career. She was married to producer Frederick Brisson. She authored an autobiography, Life is a Banquet.