Lillian Russell
Theatrical release poster
Directed byIrving Cummings
Written byWilliam Anthony McGuire
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
StarringAlice Faye
Don Ameche
Henry Fonda
Edward Arnold
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byWalter Thompson
Music byDavid Buttolph (uncredited)
Cyril J. Mockridge (uncredited)
Alfred Newman (uncredited)
20th Century Fox
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 24, 1940 (1940-05-24)
Running time
127 minutes
CountryUnited States

Lillian Russell is a 1940 American biographical film of the life of the singer and actress. The screenplay was by William Anthony McGuire. The film was directed by Irving Cummings and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. It stars Alice Faye in the title role, Don Ameche, Henry Fonda and Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady.

Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Black-and-White.[1]


Helen Leonard (Faye) has a beautiful voice. As she grows up, she trains to become an opera singer. Her instructor, however, informs her that her voice is pleasing, but not suitable for grand opera. Returning home one day, she and her grandmother (Westley) are saved by a handsome young man, newspaperman Alexander Moore (Fonda). Meanwhile, Helen's mother, Cynthia (Peterson), has political aspirations, but only receives a handful of votes for mayor.

While singing one evening, Helen is overheard by vaudeville impresario Tony Pastor (Carrillo), who hires her to sing at his theater. She is given a new name, Lillian Russell, and quickly rises to fame as the toast of New York. As the years pass, Lillian becomes one of the most revered stars in America. She has many suitors, including financier Diamond Jim Brady (Arnold), Jesse Lewisohn (William), and composer Edward Solomon (Ameche). She eventually marries Edward and they move to London, where Gilbert and Sullivan are writing an operetta especially for her.

Alexander Moore returns and makes a contract with Lillian to write stories about her rise to fame. But tragedy soon strikes when Edward dies one evening while composing a song for her. Lillian cancels the interviews and makes an appearance in the show, singing the song her husband composed for her, "Blue Lovebird."

Lillian returns to America and is, by this time, the greatest stage attraction of the century. Alexander comes to see Lillian after a new show and the two are happily reunited.

The plot takes many liberties with the facts, in particular giving her only two husbands instead of four.[2]



Many pre-1900s songs were used for the film, including "Ma Blushin' Rosie", "Come Down Ma Evenin' Star", and "After the Ball". Several new songs were also written for the film, including "Adored One" and most notably, "Blue Lovebird", composed by Gus Kahn and Bronisław Kaper.

See also


  1. ^ "NY Times: Lillian Russell". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Baseline & All Movie Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
  2. ^ Green, Stanley (1999) Hollywood Musicals Year by Year (2nd ed.), pub. Hal Leonard Corporation ISBN 0-634-00765-3 page 96