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Nostalgia August 2016

Silver Screen, Golden Years

Rosalind Russell's Flooded Movie Premiere

By Jacqueline T. Lynch

In her autobiography, she recalls, "Before the rains came, I rode in a parade in a white satin dress that was all beaded, with a matching little thing that sat on my head, being Princess Grace all over the joint."

Rosalind Russell experienced a very special, but precarious, celebration when her comedy “The Girl Rush” (1955) premiered in her hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut. What began as exciting and poignant festivities as the newsreel narration put it, "hometown girl makes good" ended in a frightening disaster when an unforeseen flood nearly obliterated Waterbury that night. She wrote in her autobiography, Life is a Banquet, "Nineteen fifty-five was my year for attracting natural disasters."

Rosalind Russell, remembered for her portrayal of Auntie Mame and so many films of Hollywood's Golden Age, grew up in Waterbury, where the city museum today displays a bronze bust of the actress in its collection to show off the local girl who made good.

The movie premiere was scheduled for August 18, 1955. "Roz" was due to arrive by train along with her co-stars from the film, Fernando Lamas, Eddie Albert, and Gloria DeHaven.

Bernard F. Dick's biography, Forever Mame - The Life of Rosalind Russell, notes that Roz arrived the day before, visited with siblings and her elderly mother, and prepared to take on the public mantle of hometown hero.  Part of the festivities included renaming a local movie theater The State Theater to become The Rosalind Russell State Theater.

The stars were taken from the railroad station to the Elton Hotel, the swank spot in town, in the company of a flock of Paramount newsreel men, the publicity department, and some 10,000 townspeople straggling on the sidewalks to watch the parade.

In her autobiography, she recalls, "Before the rains came, I rode in a parade in a white satin dress that was all beaded, with a matching little thing that sat on my head, being Princess Grace all over the joint."

Limos converged downtown, and powerful spotlights swept the cloud-covered night sky. Nothing like it had ever been seen in this factory town. Nothing ever would again.

By morning, the Rosalind Russell State Theater, like much of the downtown, would be under several feet of water.

That cloud-covered sky had been raining pretty steadily all day during the celebrations on the 18th. By late that evening, smaller brooks in the Naugatuck River valley jumped their banks. The mighty Naugatuck itself, which powered so much industry in Waterbury, would morph in the wee hours to a monstrous thing that scraped factories, stores, and homes to rubble before morning, and leave some 30 people dead in Waterbury and over 90 people dead or missing and presumed dead in the towns of the Naugatuck Valley.

Astonishing was the suddenness of the flood. To be sure, Hurricane Diane had spent a couple of weeks sliding up the Eastern seaboard, but it made a sharp right turn out to sea before ever entering New England. It had been preceded, however, by Hurricane Connie, and the two dropped more rain than the already sodden ground could take, and what had begun as a gloomy day became a fearful night of torrential downpour, causing destruction no one could have predicted.

"Roz" fortuitously left right after the premiere, rented a car with her maid and a driver, and they made their way to New Haven just as the bridges were being washed out in Waterbury.

From her autobiography: "I directed the driver – Go up this hill, go down that lane, I know this town' – because I realized if we could get to New Haven, we could get from there to New York. There was no hope of driving along the Naugatuck Valley toward Bridgeport; the Naugatuck River had overflowed."

Her intention was to make it to the next publicity chore, the “Ed Sullivan Show” in New York City on the 21st, for an appearance with co-star Gloria DeHaven to promote “The Girl Rush.”

Miss DeHaven, according to author Mr. Dick, however, got stuck in Waterbury until train service resumed.

Recovery took weeks, months, even years for some people. Some businesses, and some people, never did recover.

According to the Cinema Treasures website, the State Theater, at various times, had been called the Broadway, the Bijou, or the Rialto. It was torn down a couple decades ago. Currently, it is a parking lot.

This remarkable event was the last time Rosalind Russell ever visited Waterbury. Truly, the dual theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy were worn on this night.


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century, available online at Amazon, CreateSpace, and the author. Website:

Meet Jacqueline