Annie Russell's ability led critics to regret that American plays did not supply female characters whose minds and imaginations far exceeded the commonplace. Her emotionality, delicacy of mood, and fierce intelligence was often not exercised in the leads she performed. The rare occasions when the role suited, such as Ada Ingot in "David Garrick" or "Ambition," she often played opposite an actor of inferior talent.
Born in England and raised in Montreal, she undertook child roles in the English language theaters of that city. She played in a juvenile "H. M. S. Pinafore" company in New York before being engaged in 1881 by the Madison Square Theater Company to play "Esmerelda." This she followed up by playing "Hazel Kirke" in a touring company.
In 1889 her health failed with her recuperation lasting almost five years. In 1894, when she returned to the stage, Palmer had taken over the Madison Square Theatre and secured her Grundy's "The New Women" as a vehicle in which to return before the public. She gave a remarkable performance in a badly fashioned play. Palmer hired Russell as a member of the regular stock company and in the 1890s she played many of those commonplace parts about which critics groused.
Russell finally triumphed in Bret Harte's "Sue" and followed the success with "Dangerfield." In 1898 she enjoyed tremendous success in "Catherine" using it as a vehicle around which to erect her own company. She toured as a star from 1898 to 1905, relaxing in the off-season in a New York townhouse crammed with antiques and paintings. Among the stronger of her offerings during the years of star touring were "A Royal Family" (1901), "The Girl and the Judge" (1901), and "Brother Jacques" (1904). In 1905 she signed with managers Wagenhals and Kemper for five years and appeared in several successes, most notably "The Stronger Sex" (1909).
She retired from the stage, contemplated a comeback in 1932, inspired by Maude Adams's return to the stage, but contented herself teaching theater at Rollins College. David S. Shields/ALS