To actor-singer Jane Russell, who rivalled Marilyn Monroe in sex appeal.
The statuesque 19-year-old Jane Russell was working as a receptionist when the 5ft 7inch beauty was spotted by billionaire Howard Hughes. He was also into movies and offered a contract with RKO Studios. He launched Jane Russell as the new sex symbol in the 1943 film, ‘Outlaw' which made waves. Hughes thrived on controversy and hired several press agents for the job to project Jane Russell.
Russell soon had a career in films and music, and despite the sex symbol image, she came to be identified with adoption of orphans, pro-life movement, Church work and Christian and Republican Party ideals. Jane Russell died this past week at age 90.
Born Ernestine Jane Geraldine, the girl was encouraged to take music and acting lessons by her mother, herself a small time actor. From there, Jane graduated to piano lessons and theatre before she was spotted by Hughes.
‘Outlaw' was the story of Billy the Kid. Though the world forgot the actor who played the hero, the sultry heroine Jane Russell was a hit.
Hughes' mystery girl
For months, she was a mystery figure but the movie scene was flooded with stories about a special bra, an ‘engineering marvel', designed personally by Hughes for his heroine to expose her figure to maximum advantage.
The conservative American Censors objected and the Church frowned, but Hughes deliberately delayed the release of the film to further kindle public interest. When ‘Outlaw' was finally released, it was a super hit and Russell was suddenly the most popular pin-up girl in the country and adored by one and all, the armed forces included. Did the magic bra make any impact? In her memoirs published years later, Russell revealed that she had not worn the magic bra at all in the crucial scenes but wore one of her own, with straps pulled down.
She was on the cover of all national magazines, warmly welcomed at parties and her figure commented upon by the hosts. The inimitable Bob Hope once welcomed Jane Russell with the words, ‘The two and only Jane Russell.' But the ‘sex symbol' image did not hamper her talent; she worked in nearly 20 films during the 1950s and had a flair for comedy.
Her success story
Co-starring Marilyn Monroe in the comedy ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', Jane stood her ground against the blonde bombshell and the film became a huge success.
Other notable films in which Russell starred were ‘Young Widow', ‘Pale Face' and ‘Son of Pale Face' (the last two with Bob Hope). Her co-stars included Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Jeff Chandler and Clark Gable. Most of Russell's films enjoyed average successes at the box office. Perhaps, it was this fact which led to her musical career. She sang at night clubs, cut popular records and appeared in stage musicals. She enjoyed a seven-year break from the movies to concentrate on her musical career and at the end of her show business tenure, switched over to TV commercials and theatre.
Jane Russell married thrice (two of her husbands died) and her personal life was free from scandal. What a contrast to Marilyn Monroe! She did not have children but adopted several and also helped actively in the adoption programmes, taking care of legal angles.
A staunch Republican, Russell supported several church causes and the pro-life programmes. Despite fewer number of box office hits, she was one among the 40 Iconic Movie Goddesses of Hollywood, was featured in a CBS mini-life series and along with Monroe, had her hand and foot prints immortalised at Hollywood Grauman's Chinese theatre.