Gilded Age True Story: Who George Russell Is Based On & Why That Matters

Warning: SPOILERS for The Gilded Age season 1.

In HBO's Official Podcast for The Gilded Age, Julian Fellowes revealed that the wealthy railroad tycoon George Russell (Morgan Spector) is based on the true story of a real-life person, and that could be significant for the show. Fellowes drew inspiration from a number of historical figures for his latest period drama, which begins in 1882 New York City. George's connection to an infamous real-life robber baron may foreshadow a long road to acceptance into high society for his family, judging from the historical biography of the real person who inspired the character. Indeed, The Gilded Age's true story inspiration could shine a light on what's in store for the wealthy industrialist George Russell.

George has already displayed a fierce approach to getting the attention of others. Even by The Gilded Age episode 2, George is making waves among the upper elite of New York City, and it seems as though the series is only setting him up for future extravagant shows of power. This has already placed him in opposition to the old money families, who look down on him, and this is especially evident with Donna Murphy's Mrs. Astor. The revelation of the historical inspiration for George Russell reveals a lot about how this story might unfold, foreshadowing the future of the Russells in The Gilded Age season 2.

Related: Gilded Age True Story: How The Real Vanderbilt Family Was Different

Who is the character George Russell in The Gilded Age based on? According to showrunners, George was based on the real-life robber baron Jay Gould, who often butted heads with old money families. Mrs. Astor's Four Hundred Club was an exclusive group of people that had been carefully curated by the real-life Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane), who will soon appear in The Gilded Age. Mrs. Astor did not like Jay Gould or his ways and refused to acknowledge him and his family name as their equal. It wasn't until much later that Mrs. Astor finally allowed the Gould family into high society. Right now, it's clear that The Gilded Age's fictional version of Astor is not too keen on George Russell, either, seemingly setting him up for a similar trajectory to the real-life Gould.

The Gilded Age's true story inspiration, Jay Gould, was not only a ruthless robber baron, but was also a devoted family man, despite the powerful, rich Astor family looking down on them. George Russell shares both of these things in common with his real-life counterpart. While she means to keep an eye on the Russells, Mrs. Astor tells her daughter Carrie (Amy Forsyth) that they are certainly not welcome into high society just yet, echoing the real-life Mrs. Astor's sentiments about Jay Gould. Given that the fictional Mrs. Astor was intrigued, though generally unimpressed by George's actions at the charity bazaar, it appears that this means it will not be easy for the Russell family to secure a spot in New York City's high society.

As Fellowes notes in the first episode of the Official Podcast for the show, eventually Mrs. Astor let in Jay Gould's children once he had died. The idea of allowing in someone's kin after they have passed is an interesting one. In The Gilded Age episode 1, the new money Larry Russell (Harry Richardson) says to Marian Brook (Louisa Jacobson), who herself is of old money, "Let the three of us be friends, in spite of everything." While George and Bertha Russell (Carrie Coon) have little chances of being truly accepted by their old money peers, it seems that The Gilded Age is setting up a sort of truce between those of the younger generation. This is supported by the events in The Gilded Age season 1 finale, during which George and Bertha convince the old money crowd to attend their daughter Gladys' (Taissa Farmiga) debutante ball, indicating that Mrs. Astor is giving Bertha entry into New York high society - at least for now.

Fellowes had cemented himself as an excellent period drama storyteller with Downton Abbey, a show set in England during the early twentieth century, developing original and interesting characters while also maintaining historical accuracy. Though based on real history, The Gilded Age has the luxury of having some creative leeway through its storytelling. As The Gilded Age season 1 finale reveals, the old money crowd might be willing to play ball with George and Bertha after all instead of just their children, a luxury which Jay Gould didn't enjoy.

Related: The Gilded Age: Why Gladys Can't Enter Society (But Bridgerton's Daphne Could)

While George Russell's Gilded Age character is based on Jay Gould, George and his family might fare better than the Goulds in The Gilded Age season 2, although the Russells' acceptance into high society is bound to come with its own challenges. That said, production for the second season has already begun, and the cast photos shows George and Bertha appearing gleeful, likely due to the positive events in the season 1 finale. Considering how many of The Gilded Age's cast members are also Broadway stars, it's difficult to say precisely who will return. However, it's safe to say that series leads Morgan Spector, Carrie Coon, Louisa Jacobson, Christine Baranski, Cynthia Nixon, and Denee Benton will all be reprising their roles. In terms of storyline, The Gilded Age season 2 will reveal the results of George and Bertha's membership of high society, as well as whether or not Mr. Raikes (Thomas Cocquerel) and Marian will elope. Fellowes is also likely to include more true story-inspired events and actual people from the late 19th century.

The Gilded Age's true story details are crucial to why the show is such a compelling period drama, although it's likely that Fellowes will veer away from certain events in Jay Gould's life while shaping the future of George Russell in his family, as this will help in making the upcoming story developments less predictable for viewers. The Gilded Age season 2 is going to be shooting until October 2022. Although no official release date has been announced, it's likely that the second season will see the light of day sometime in the summer or spring of 2023.

More: Gilded Age: Why George Russell's New York Railroad Station Won't Happen

The Gilded Age season 1 is available to watch in full on HBO Max.



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