Lillian Russell (1940): Irving Cummings’ Biopic of Musical Singer Starring Alice Faye and Henry Fonda

Irving Cummings directed the musical biopic of the legendary nineteenth century musical comedy star, Lillian Russell, played by Alice Faye at the height of her career.

Discovered in 1880 by bandleader Tony Pastor (Leo Carrillo), Lillian Russell rise quickly to fame and fortune on the Broadway stage. Along the way, she curries the favor of such eligible bachelors as newspaperman Alexander Moore (Henry Fonda), composer Edward Solomon (Don Ameche), and railroad tycoon Diamond Jim Brady (Edward Arnold).

Lillian marries the first two, and has an affair with the third. The story ends with Russell’s retirement in 1912, and her reunion with the true love of her life.

The film boasts the presence of two Broadway comedy giants, Joe Weber and Lew Fields, who had appeared on-stage with the real Lillian Russell.

As a biopic, Lillian Russell is old-fashioned and cornball even by standards of the time.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Interior Decoration (b/w): Richard Day and Joseph C. Wright

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners were Cedric Gibbons and Paul Groesse for Pride and Prejudice.


Running time: 127 minutes.

Directed by Irving Cummings

Written by William Anthony McGuire