An Immediate Jane Russell Fan
When I saw my first Jane Russell film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), nine-year-old-me preferred the brunette in the film to the blonde. Marilyn Monroe was breakth-taking, but I was much more intrigued by the brassy, sassy, smart, gorgeous Jane than the baby-talking Marilyn.
I grew to appreciate everything about Marilyn very quickly. But nothing about Jane Russell was an acquired taste for me: I loved everything about Jane from the moment I saw her on screen.
Jane Russell: A Multifaceted Hollywood Star
Jane is best known for her gorgeous hourglass figure and sensual face. Her film roles often emphasized 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 Jane Russell you didn’t know:
She Was Religious
Jane Russell was a woman of faith. This faith was the center of Jane’s life, even during the peak years of her Hollywood stardom.
Due to her sexy film persona, Jane’s Christian faith was a shocking discovery for many during her Hollywood heyday. This central facet of Jane continues to surprise classic film fans today. Whether or not you’re religious, Jane’s steadfast faith is completely refreshing. As Jane was known to say,
“The Lord is a living doll.”
There Was No Romance With Howard Hughes
19-year-old Jane Russell was discovered by millionaire Howard Hughes. After a breathtaking screen test, Jane earned the female lead in Hughes’ production of The Outlaw (1943). The film cemented Jane’s status as one of the most desirable women onscreen.
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 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.”
Jane’s recollections tear down quite a few Howard Hughes Hollywood myths.
It Took Two Years for Her First Film to Be Released
After filming of The Outlaw was completed in February of 1941, it took an additional two years for the movie to be released.
The reason: the Hays Office, Hollywood’s self-appointed moral arbiter, found Jane’s appearance in the film, particularly her cleavage, too sexy. The controversy over The 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.
When The Outlaw was finally widely released in April 1946, it did exceptionally well at the box office, despite not being that great of a film. As Jane pointed out, Howard Hughes knew that:
“people would die to see something they were told they couldn’t.”
It was this phenomenon that turned Jane Russell into a superstar.
She Was Hilarious. And Cursed Like a Sailor.
Jane Russell was a church lady. But she was anything but prim and proper.
Jane is proof 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.”
With her vocabulary and hilarious way with words, Jane Russell made being religious cool:
“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!”
Jane Russell Married A Football Legend
In 1943, Jane married football legend Robert Waterfield, her high school sweetheart. 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.
Robert Waterfield was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965. As Jane puts it in her autobiography, Robert’s many football accolades and accomplishments were the “Academy Awards” of the sport.
Jane Russell 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.”
For Jane, those precious nine hours of sleep were a necessity. So she devised a schedule for her hair, make-up, and wardrobe crew that gained her an extra hour and a half of sleep each night. While 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 Russell began to lose interest in attending church with her mother and four younger brothers. For several years, Jane fell away from her church.
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.”
For Jane Russell, recovering from a near fatal abortion complication set her on a path of faith she followed the rest of her life.
Jane Russell Could Sing
Jane Russell had a beautiful, jazzy singing voice. Jane’s voice is uniquely deep with a clear, yet slightly husky, tone. Even though Jane sang in quite a few of her films, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Double Dynamite (1951), her talent as a singer is often overlooked.
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. Jane and the girls became some of the first performers to sing spirituals on a pop label, and the record sold 2 million copies.
Here’s a recorded performance of the girls from 1954, with the gorgeous Rhonda Fleming taking Della’s place. Take a moment to listen to these charismatic ladies. They’re phenomenal!
Jane Russell Founded WAIF
Jane and first husband Robert Waterfield were unable to conceive after her abortion, but they desperately wanted children.
Over the course of their marriage, Jane and Robert adopted three children. Jane absolutely loved motherhood, and called her three children—Thomas, Tracy, and Buck—her “reason for living.”
Through her own adoption experiences, particularly following the complications of adopting her oldest son from Ireland, Jane learned first-hand how difficult the adoption process can be. And she wanted to do something to change the system.
This desire to ease the process of finding loving homes for children in need led Jane to found the World Adoption International Fund, or WAIF, the adoption division of the International Social Service. Essentially, WAIF assisted in intercountry adoptions, bringing orphans from around the world into American homes.
Jane Russell Stays Humble
It was Jane Russell’s passionate support that got WAIF up and running: 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’s heart-felt testimony to the US Congress in 1939.)
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.”
Jane Russell Was the Best Playtex Spokeswoman
In the 1970s, Jane Russell became a spokeswoman for Playtex bras, the 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
Howard Hughes designed a unique bra for Jane to wear in her debut film, The Outlaw (1943). This special contraption was meant to emphasize Jane’s assets and not have noticeable straps or seams underneath the off-the shoulder-top Jane wears in the film. 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.
Jane may have said no to Howard’s bra design, but she remained a loyal Hughes employee for twenty-one years, signing three, consecutive seven-year contracts with him.
Jane Russell Could Separate Her Faith From Her Critics
After Howard Hughes’ publicity campaign for The Outlaw (1943), Jane Russell became a world renown sex symbol. Seemingly overnight, Jane came under intense scrutiny and judgment. As a movie star whose career was based on her gorgeous face and figure, the scrutiny and judgement Jane experienced were particularly intense. And she’d live with both the rest of her life.
Some were not so kind to Jane Russell over the years: the Catholic Church threatened excommunication for those who saw The Outlaw (1943). The press certainly didn’t understand what they viewed as the dichotomy of Jane Russell, having a field day with 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.
A Strong Woman
But Jane Russell had an amazing ability to separate her faith from her critics, even if some of her worst critics were also people of faith. As Jane summed 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.”
Through all the negativity thrown her way, Jane continued practicing her faith and trusting that she was being guided in her decisions.
What a strong woman.