Jane Russell, The Two and Only
Jane Russell was a vastly underrated actress who became famous in the 1940's and 1950's because of her remarkable curvy figure but who also suffered years of neglect as a serious actress for the very same reason - directors and producers could not see beyond her body to the talent beyond. She was the subject of many jokes from radio and movie comedians. The title of this hub comes from a quip by Bob Hope when he introduced her as "the two and only Jane Russell."
In the few films she made in which she was allowed to actually act, she shone and held her own with such scene stealers as Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope and Robert Mitchum. Her greatest strength was her comic timing and she showed it to the full in her two best known movies, 'The Paleface' in 1948 with Bob Hope and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe.
Off screen she was a completely different person to the larger than life pin up she appeared in front of the camera. She was a born again Christian and a founder of WAIF, the World Adoption International Fund and she campaigned tirelessly and successfully for changes in the US laws on adoption.
Jane Russell Biography
Jane Russell was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell in Bemidji, Minnesota, on June 21, 1921. Her father was an officer in the U.S. army and her mother an ex-touring actress and the family were comfortably off. With four younger brothers Jane grew up as a tomboy but with her mother's acting background the young Jane always had an interest in music and the performing arts.
When her father left the army, the family moved for a short time to Canada and then settled in southern California when he found work there as a business manager. Jane attended Van Nuys High School and began her acting career in school productions. She also took piano lessons as a young girl.
Her father died when Jane was 16 and when she left school she began working as a receptionist in a chiropodists's practice to help the family finances. She also began part time work as a photgraphic model and with her spectacular figure was an immediate success. She earned enough money to begin acting lessons in 1939 when she enrolled in Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Workshop.
It was enough to get her noticed by a talent scout from RKO and he brought her to the attention of the aeronautics tycoon Howard Hughes, head of RKO, who was looking for new talent for his forthcoming Western, 'The Outlaw'. Hughes signed Jane up to a 7 year contract and she was given the female lead in the movie opposite Jack Buetel, another newcomer, who was playing Billy the Kid.
'The Outlaw' was not put on general release until 1946 due to Hughes's fussy perfectionism and to problems with the censorship of Russell's cleavage but, Jane's star continued to rise during this time, as RKO's publicity machine got into top gear.
Jane had to work five days a week for five years doing publicity and the photograph of her plunging neckline in the hay has become an iconic symbol of America of the 1940's.
Her next movie was 'Young Widow' in 1946, five years after 'The Outlaw' and in 1948 she starred with Bob Hope in 'the Paleface' a genuinely funny spoof Western in which Jane, as the cowgirl Calamity Jane, proved herself an admirable wise-cracking foil to Hope, and very much more than just a pretty face.
"A Little Girl From Little Rock"
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Jane went on to surprise her critics and to prove herself a talented actress in a variety of roles throughout her career. Her screen persona was as the beautiful but sassy, experienced dame, and she showed this side of her to the full in one of her most famous roles opposite Marilyn Monroe, in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', in 1953.
One of the fascinations of this marvellous musical comedy is the contrast between the blonde and the brunette, between the coquettish, self-aware sexuality of Monroe, and the self-confident, "take me as you find me" attitude of Russell. The two are ideal complements to each other. The movie was directed by the brilliant Howard Hawks, master of the screwball comedy genre, and he succeeds in bringing out the best of his actors and script.
Jane Russell on DVD
Later Movie Career
Jane had a relatively short movie career, appearing in a total of 29 movies and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' proved to be her career highpoint. None of her subsequent movies matched its quality and appeal. She was lively in the Western 'Montana Belle' in 1952 and she appeared in two popular movies opposite Robert Mitchum, 'His Kind of Woman' in 1951 and 'Macao' in 1952.
She continued making well-received performances in 'The French Line' in 1954, as well as 'Underwater!', 'Foxfire' and 'The Tall Men', which were all released in 1955. Also in 1955 she starred in the musical film 'Gentlemen Marry Brunettes', a supposed sequel to 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', but inferior to it.
After 'The Revolt of Mamie Stover' in 1956 and the disappointing 'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' the following year, Jane retired from full time movie making. She made only sporadic appearances during the 1960's and her last big screen appearance was a cameo role in 'Darker Than Amber' in 1970.
"Ain't There Anyone Here For Love"
Great Hollywood Hubs
Jane was a very spirited and determined woman and she was not afraid to try different career options. In the late 1940's she sang on radio and recorded with the Kay Kyser Orchestra, and in 1950 she recorded a single with Frank Sinatra. In 1957 she toured with a nightclub act to Europe and South America and perfromed at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.
She also made the transition into the new medium of television, appearing from the 1950's on in a number of drama series such as 'Colgate Theatre', 'The Red Skelton Show' and 'The Yellow Rose'.
n the 1970's she was well-known for a series of television commercials for Playtex "Cross-Your-Heart" Bras. She also made her theatrical debut in 1971, aged 50, replacing Elaine Strich in the musical drama 'Company'.
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Jane was married three times. In 1943 she wed her school sweetheart and professional football player, Bob Waterfield and they adopted three children together. They divorced in 1968 after 25 years and in the same year she married actor Roger Barrett whom she had known for only 2 months. He died of a heart attack after just 3 months of marriage. Her third marriage was in 1974 to businessman and retired Air Force Colonel, John Calvin Peoples. The marriage ended with his death from heart failure in 1999. Jane never subsequently remarried.
Jane did not live a typical film star's glamorous lifestyle. She came from a religious family and she remained a devout Christian all her life. She formed the "Hollywood Christian Group," in the 1940's, which met for weekly bible readings. Her lasting legacy is WAIF (World Adoption International Fund) which has placed more than 51,000 chidren with adoptive families.
Jane Russell died aged 89, of a respiratory-related illness, at her home in Santa Maria on February 28, 2011.
Jane on Hollywood's Golden Age.com
- Jane Russell
A concise biography and filmography of Jane.
Jane on Amazon
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