About this Famous Person
American actress and singer
Source : Tim DOWLING
Russell was born Helen Louise Leonard in Clinton, Iowa. Her father was newspaper publisher Charles E. Leonard, and her mother was the feminist Cynthia Leonard, the first woman to run for mayor of New York City. Her family moved to Chicago by 1865, where she attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart (from age 7 to 15) and the Park Institute. Her father became a partner in the printing firm of Knight & Leonard, and her mother became active in the women's rights movement. Russell, called "Nellie" as a child, excelled at school theatricals. In her teens, she studied music privately and sang in choirs. In December 1877, she performed in an amateur production of Time Tries All at Chickering Hall in Chicago.
When Russell was eighteen, her parents separated, and she and her mother moved to New York City. She soon became engaged to Walter Sinn, but broke off the engagement when she immediately found some success in the chorus of the Brooklyn Park Theatre. She studied singing under Leopold Damrosch. In November 1879, she made her first appearance on Broadway at Tony Pastor's Casino Theater, billed as "an English Ballad Singer." Pastor, known as the father of vaudeville, was responsible for introducing many well-known performers.