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Rosalind Russell Reflects on Faith in the Face of Hopelessness

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Rosalind Russell Reflects on Faith in the Face of Hopelessness

By Movieguide® Staff

Actress Rosalind Russell, known for roles in AUNTIE MAME and HIS GIRL FRIDAY, recalled a powerful story of faith during World War II.

Russell and her husband, Freddie Brisson, shared a mutual friend in Hans Christian Adamson. Adamson, according to Russell, was one of the most intelligent people they knew, but he was also an agnostic.

“Hans and my husband were close friends in spite of the 20 years difference in their ages,” Russell recalled in an article from 1954. “They were both officers in the Air Force. Hans Adamson was one of the best-read men I have ever known, which is why Freddie and I took so seriously his views on religion. Hans was also an agnostic.

“Not anti-religious; he was interested in religion, but there were things he could not accept with his rational mind. Back at his home, on the East Coast, he used to attend church occasionally with his wife, Helen, who was an Episcopalian,” she added. “But we had the feeling it was more out of respect for her than for her beliefs.

“Hans often said he envied people who could believe without understanding. ‘But that’s as far as I can go,’ he would tell us during our long talks about religion,” she continued. “‘I try to understand your churches and your little medals and things. But I cannot. So I cannot believe.'”

The trio was eating dinner together in 1942 when Russell remembered how Adamson offered her husband, a medal of St. Joseph of Copertino.

Russell wrote:

“Freddie,” Hans said, and it seemed that his voice pitched a note higher than usual, “Freddie, I stopped at the PX and got you one of those new flying medals. St. Joseph of Copertino. I think he flew or something. You’re going to do a lot of flying, and I want you to have this.”

With that, the second strange turn occurred. My hand shot out. I grabbed Hans’ sleeve. I spoke very impulsively.

“No. Keep that yourself.”

“Why?” Hans asked. “I don’t want any medals. I got it for Freddie. He’s a Catholic and he believes in these things.”

I realized I had spoken sharply, and I tried to soften it down. “What I mean is, you keep it for now, Hans. You just keep it for now.”

We all kind of looked at each other, and I tried to change the subject. The dinner party was ruined. But in my mind, I sensed a premonition that actually I had done the right thing… that Hans was trying to tell us something with that medal.

Three months later, Russell said she received a call from Adamson before a mission across the pacific ocean. Russell said she sensed that Adamson was anxious and inquired if he still had the medal.

She recalled:

“Hans, do you have that medal that you tried to give Freddie some time ago?”

Hans was silent for a moment, as if he didn’t want to answer.

“Yes,” he finally admitted, “I’ve got it in my pocket with my change.”

“Well. Now, mind you I don’t think anything is going to happen. But if it does, if something should go wrong, you take that medal out and put it in your hand and hold on to it.”

There was a prolonged silence. I thought I had offended Hans. When he did answer, it was with the single word:

“Yes…”

After he hung up, I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Soon Russell would understand why she felt the need to support her friend. Adamson’s mission included Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and six others whose plane went down in the middle of the ocean.

“It was perhaps the most famous airplane crash in history. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, Hans, and six others, on a secret mission, went down in the Pacific,” Russell said. “You know the story. Twenty-one days were to pass before their rubber rafts were finally spotted. Twenty-one days of torture for us too… waiting…”

Russell confessed that she did not believe that Adamson and the crew could survive at sea longer than a week.

“The chances of surviving the crash for more than a few moments seemed slim to me. A week spent on a flimsy life raft under a tropical sun, with no protection, would surely kill any survivors,” she said. “But my husband thought Hans was still alive. Freddie had that simple kind of trust I have seen so often, especially in men.”

However, after 22 days, a recuse team found Adamson and his fellow crew members.

“Then, just before Christmas, I got a call at the studio. It was from my husband, at the Air Base. The hospital plane was coming into San Francisco. Hans had sent a message that he wanted me to be there, that he had something that he wanted to tell me,” Russell recalled.

“I was told to get on the plane. Freddie and I climbed a ladder and were inside. I had never seen anything like it: so warlike and barren and canvasy. Hans was in bed. He looked worse than Rickenbacker,” she added. “I was so upset seeing him and remembering the old Hans, that I tried to keep the conversation on trivial things: welcome home, how good it was to see him alive. I had to say that, rather than how well he looked, because of course he looked anything but well.”

Russell and her husband then noticed another injury, a bandage around Adamson’s hand.

“Freddie looked at Hans and said: ‘I don’t remember hearing about your hand.’ The hand was bandaged. ‘It’s hurt a bit,’ Hans answered. And with that he slowly removed the bandage,” she said. “There, cupped in his hand, was the medal. From holding it in the same position for weeks, his hand muscles had frozen so that he could not straighten his fingers. The medal had worked its way into his flesh. Hans looked up at me. ‘I didn’t even let them take it away in the hospital.'”

“The plane was silent while with his other hand Hans pried the medal loose. Then, softly, he spoke again,” she concluded. ‘It’s all right, Roz. I understand at last… May I give Freddie the medal now?'”