Star of the Month: Jane Russell
March 27, 2020 | by Shannon
Jane Helps the Children, Says No to Howard Hughes’ Bra Design, Needs Her Sleep, and Proves that Church Ladies Can Still be Sassy and Curse Like Sailors!
I have been a fan of this fabulous woman for quite some time, and I am absolutely THRILLED to write about Jane and watch her films this month!
An Immediate Fan
I’ll be completely honest, when I saw my first Jane Russell film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), nine-year-old-me preferred the brunette in the film, Jane Russell, to the blonde, Marilyn Monroe! I was much more drawn to the brassy, sassy, smart, gorgeous Jane than the baby-talking, scheming, and equally gorgeous Marilyn.
Now I did take to the Marilyn persona by the end of the film when she sang “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” and I grew to appreciate everything about Marilyn very quickly, but there was nothing about Jane Russell that was an acquired taste for me: I loved everything about Jane from the moment I first saw her on screen!
A Multifaceted Hollywood Star
Jane is probably best known for her gorgeous hourglass figure and sensual face. Her film roles more often than not capitalized on these assets above all else, but Jane Russell was so much more than a pretty face and sexy figure.
Here are a few things about the multifaceted Jane Russell that may surprise you!
(And quick side note: if you want to know even more about Jane, you must read her autobiography, My Path and My Detours [aff. link]. This book is a page-turner! And as someone who reads several star auto/biographies every month, I can also tell you that there are very few autobiographies where the personality of the star jumps off the page at you the way Jane’s does in her fabulous book! You will not be disappointed with this entertaining read!)
She Was Religious
This is something you have to know about Jane Russell right off the bat! Because of her sexy film persona, Jane’s Christian faith was a shocking discovery for many fans during her Hollywood heyday, and it continues to surprise classic film buffs today.
I must give you a heads up right away that as Jane’s faith was the center of her life, just about everything you’ll read below ties back to it. So whether you’re religious or not, just enjoy Jane’s refreshing, steadfastness in her faith!
There Was No Romance With Howard Hughes
19-year-old Jane Russell was discovered by millionaire Howard Hughes, and after a breathtaking screen test, Jane earned the lead female role in The Outlaw (1943). The film would cement Jane’s status as one of the most desirable women on screen.
Despite his reputation for becoming romantically involved with all of the girls he put under contract (which Jane insists actually wasn’t true!), there was never a romance between Jane Russell and Howard Hughes. Jane always treasured their friendship and called Hughes an ideal boss, but romance was out of the question.
In her autobiography [aff. link], Jane says Howard never put the moves on her at least in part because
“I often hollered at Howard, and I think that in a funny kind of way, I scared him.”
Now that tears down a few Hollywood myths, doesn’t it?!!
It Took Two Years for Her First Film to Be Released
After filming of The Outlaw was completed in February of 1941, it still took an additional two years for the movie to be released! The reason? The Hays Office, Hollywood’s self-appointed morality arbiter, found Jane’s appearance, particularly her cleavage, too sexy. The controversy over theThe Outlaw’s “questionable morality” only served to increased public interest in it, and the film enjoyed a short release in 1943 before being pulled from theaters for violating the Hays Office moral stipulations.
WhenThe Outlaw was finally widely released in April of 1946, despite not being that great of a film, it did exceptionally well at the box office. As Jane points out, Howard Hughes knew “people would die to see something they were told they couldn’t,” and it was this phenomenon that turned Jane Russell into a superstar!
She Was Hilarious. And Cursed Like a Sailor.
If you thought that because Jane was a church lady she was also prim, proper and quaint, think again! Jane Russell is proof that being religious can be cool. And that you can still love Jesus even if you habitually curse up a storm! Jane could, in her own words,
“turn the air blue with my vocabulary.”
I think this fabulous quote from her autobiography [aff. link] perfectly demonstrates the refreshing combination of Jane’s faith, vocabulary, and hilarious way with words:
“Satan is the father of all liars, and, boy, has he tried to hand me a bag full of lies! But, when I listen to that still small voice, I drop that bag and run like hell!”
Ummmm THAT’S AWESOME!!! Whether you’re religious or not, you have to appreciate the humor and personality behind Jane’s words!
She Married A Football Legend
In 1943, Jane married Robert Waterfield, her high school sweetheart. Waterfield’s football career is impressive, and while Jane’s Hollywood career took off in the early 1940s, Robert became a star football player. He played quarter back for the Cleveland/Los Angeles Rams in the NFL from 1945-1952. Waterfield was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1945, and was selected to be the first-team All-Pro quarterback in 1945, 1946, and 1949.
Waterfield was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. As Jane appropriately puts it in her autobiography, Robert’s many football accolades and accomplishments were the “Academy Awards” of the sport.
Pretty awesome! Talk about a power couple, right??!
She Needed Her Sleep!
Jane Russell needed her sleep more than most! As Jane shares in her autobiography,
“If I’m very tired, I will blow sky high. Those who know me will testify they’d rather meet a bear with a sore tail than me without nine hours’ sleep. ‘Bed is your friend. That’s where the Lord heals you,’ my mother always told us. And all the Russells are sleepers.”
Jane needed those precious nine hours so much, she even devised a schedule for her hair, make-up, and wardrobe crew that gained her an extra hour and a half of sleep each night! So while the other actresses had to be on the RKO lot at 6:30 each morning, Jane could arrive at 8:00 am and still make it to the set promptly by 9:00 am!
Now THAT’S a smart woman!
Her Abortion Restored Her Faith
After the death of her father in 1937, sixteen-year-old Jane began to lose interest in attending church with her mother and four younger brothers. It wasn’t until 1942, after a poorly executed abortion, that Jane once again became interested in religion.
The abortion complications led to hospitalization and an infection Jane worried would take her life. It was during those long, painful days of recovery that Jane’s faith was restored. She viewed her recovery as a gift from God:
“No one, but no one, could ever tell me again that there wasn’t a god and that I didn’t need Him.”
Religious or not, I think we all have our own powerful, life-changing experiences. And for Jane Russell, recovering from a near fatal abortion complication set her on a path of faith she would follow for the rest of her life.
Jane Russell had a beautiful, jazzy singing voice. I absolutely love her deep, clear, yet slightly husky, tone. Even though Jane sang in quite a few of her films, such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Double Dynamite (1951)—in which she sang with Frank Sinatra no less!—Jane’s talent as a singer is not the first thing most film fans think of when they hear her name.
Jane combined her singing talents and her faith when she and buddies Beryl Davis, Della Russell, and Connie Haines recorded “Do Lord” for Coral Records in 1954. The song hit number 27 on the Billboard singles chart in May of 1954. The gals became some of the first performers to sing spirituals on a pop label, and the record sold 2 million copies!
When I read about “Do Lord” in Jane’s autobiography [aff. link], I knew I had to track down a recording of it! Even better, I found a recorded performance of the girls from 1954, with the gorgeous Rhonda Fleming taking Della’s place, and they are phenomenal! I highly recommend taking a moment to watch and listen to these charismatic ladies in the clip below!
She Founded WAIF
Jane and first husband Robert Waterfield were unable to conceive after her abortion, and eventually adopted a total of three children. Jane loved motherhood, and even dedicated her autobiography to her three children—Thomas, Tracy, and Buck—calling them her “reason for living.”
Through her own adoption experiences, particularly after the complications she experienced adopting her oldest son from Ireland, Jane learned how difficult the adoption process can be, despite the fact that there are so many children waiting to be loved and so many families waiting to love them.
That is what led Jane to found the World Adoption International Fund, also known as WAIF, the adoption division of the International Social Service. Essentially, WAIF assisted in intercountry adoptions, bringing orphans from around the world into American homes.
Without Jane Russell’s passionate support, WAIF would never have gotten off the ground: among other things, Jane was instrumental in getting the Orphan Adoption Amendment of the Special Migration Act of 1953 passed. With this amendment, children were permitted to come into the US above the yearly quota if they were to be adopted. (Shades of Joe E. Brown here right?!!! Remember Joe’s heart-felt testimony to the US Congress in 1939 for a similar situation?)
Jane took no credit for the WAIF chapters that sprung up around the US, or the countless orphaned children WAIF successfully brought from all over the world and paired with American families:
“I’ve often been asked if I’m not proud of what I’ve done in WAIF. The answer is no—grateful and amazed is more like it. The Lord gave me the idea and asked me to obey. I simply put one foot in front of the other and started knocking on doors.”
Classic Jane Russell to give such a humble response!
She Was the Playtex Spokeswoman
In the 1970s, Jane Russell became a spokeswoman for Playtex bras, bras “for us full-figured gals,” as Jane says in her commercials. Her Playtex ads kept Jane financially secure long after she retired from filmmaking.
Playtex’s “18-Hour-Bra” is still one of the best selling Playtex products, thanks no doubt to their fabulous spokeswoman!
Howard Hughes Designed A Bra For Her
Hughes designed a unique bra for Jane to wear in her debut film, The Outlaw (1943). The special contraption was meant to emphasize Jane’s assets and not have noticeable straps or seams underneath Jane’s off-the shoulder-top. According to Jane,
“Howard decided it wouldn’t be any harder to design a bra than it would be to design an airplane. He tried. When I went into the dressing room with my wardrobe girl and tried it on, I found it uncomfortable and ridiculous. Obviously he wanted today’s seamless bra, which didn’t exist then. It was a good idea—as usual, he was way ahead of his time—but…I never wore his bra, and believe me, he could design planes, but a Mr. Playtex he wasn’t.”
Sounds like quite the bra!
Howard was a much better boss than he was bra designer, and Jane, a loyal employee of his for twenty-one years, signed three, consecutive seven-year contracts with Hughes.
She Could Separate Her Faith From Her Critics
After Howard Hughes’ publicity campaign for The Outlaw (1943), Jane Russell quickly became world renown for her sex appeal. It seemed as if overnight, Jane came under intense scrutiny and judgment, something which, as a movie star known for her gorgeous face and figure, she’d deal with for the rest of her life.
Some were not so kind to Jane over the years: the Catholic Church threatened excommunication for those who saw The Outlaw (1943), and the press often had a field day using such puns as “Bosoms and Bibles” when referring to Jane and her faith throughout her career.
Even some of those “friends” Jane went to bible study or church with could be cruel, gossiping that there was no way Jane could be a true Christian when she was so incredibly sexy on screen.
But Jane had an amazing ability to separate her faith from her critics, even if some of her worst critics were also people of faith. I love how Jane sums up the trouble people often had in reconciling her Christianity with her film persona:
“People were confused with me singing spirituals and reading the Bible. They had the image of the Hughes publicity and his arguments with the censors firmly planted in their minds, and not really knowing me at all, couldn’t put the two pictures together. I just merrily went on my way doing what I liked and let the confusion lie where Jesus flung it.”
Well said Jane, well said! I can almost hear Jane saying this quintessentially Jane Russell mantra!
It takes a really strong woman to not let the cruelty of others get under her skin. And Jane Russell was certainly a strong woman! I so admire Jane’s ability to ignore what “the haters” said about her. Through it all, Jane continued practicing her faith and trusting in her belief that she was being guided in her decisions.
Celebrate Jane Russell With Me!
And that wraps it up for my intro post to our April Star of the Month, Jane Russell!
Be sure to head on over to TCM for a complete schedule of the Jane films that will play throughout April.
Next week it’s all about Doris Day as we celebrate her April 3rd birthday, and then it’s back to Jane and one of my favorite Jane Russell movies, The Paleface (1948), that paired her with the loveable Bob Hope!
Are you a Jane Russell fan?