Jane Russell: Sex Symbol and American Icon Tribute
Jane Russell passed away Monday, February 28, 2011, from respiratory difficulties resulting from a bad cold. The previously healthy Russell was 89. She is survived by her three children -- Thomas K. Waterfield, Tracy Foundas and Robert "Buck" Waterfield -- all of whom were adopted while she was married to her first husband, Pro Football Hall of Fame member Bob Waterfield.
Jane Russell first captivated American audiences when she appeared in the controversial Howard Hughes' film, The Outlaw . When Hughes originally released the film in 1943, it had already been completed for two years but was held onto because of the prominent display of Russell's ample cleavage though which by today's standards would be very tame. Even then it was only given a limited release until 1946 when Hughes' had finally re-edited the film to meet the standards that were then on films. As you can see by comparing the above movie poster with the image to the right, cleavage was not the only concern as the gun was removed and replaced by a bullwhip as well.
Though Hughes had Russell under contract and kept her from making other films while waiting for The Outlaw to be released (with the exception of The Young Widow released in 1946), he did have her making numerous personal appearances and was publicizing the movie which led to her popularity as a World War II pin-up girl. It is easy to see with Russell's sultry good look why the American soldiers would turn to her for inspiration in a time of war!
Once The Outlaw was finally released, Jane Russell's popularity simply skyrocketed and she made many successful films for the next decade starting with The Paleface co-starring Bob Hope in 1948. Other popular films included Double Dynamite with Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx, Macao with Robert Mitchum, The Tall Men with Clarke Gable and many more. Of course, perhaps her most famous role was as Dorothy Shaw in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes which also starred Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee. She would later make another film entitled Gentlemen Marry Brunettes .
Ms. Russell took a break from films in 1957 to try again at a career in music which she had flirted with a decade earlier when she performed and recorded with the Kay Kyser Orchestra and which she had rekindled an interest in by forming a gospel quartet in 1954 known as the Hollywood Christian Group. She had some success in music but when she returned to film in 1964 she was unable to recapture her previous popularity and only made a few more films. But she did not spend her time sitting idly by even though she did little more acting.
Jane Russell also was quite politically involved and was a staunch Republican as was not unusual in Hollywood during her time. We must remember this was the Hollywood that produced Ronald Reagan, John Wayne and Charlton Heston instead of Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin and Madonna. Russell also was a vocal opponent of abortion having suffered her own disastrous back alley abortion that made it impossible for her to bear children. She also founded the World Adoption International Fund, an organization that helped organize adoptions and pioneered the process of international adoption across national borders.
Though Jane Russell did not do much acting after her success in the 1950's, she did become popular again as the spokesperson for the Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra during the 1970's. Russell's full figure was the perfect model for the specialized bra and was certainly at least in part responsible for the product's success. She would also occasionally guest star on a television show and made appearances from time to time on programs of a religious nature such as Praise The Lord program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Jane Russell was active up until her unfortunate and unexpected passing this past Monday. She lived a full life with success in many fields and touched many lives both through her life as a celebrity and as an activist reaching out to those in need, particularly the thousands of adopted children who to one degree or another would be thankful to her for the work she has done. She will be missed by family and friends alike.
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