Jane Russell: Full-Figured & Faithful

March 27, 2020     Updated January 19, 2022

Jane Russell

Jane Russell Helps the Children, Says No to Howard Hughes' Bra Design, Needs Her Sleep, & Proves That Church Ladies Can Curse Like Sailors.

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I’ve admired Jane Russell for a long time. 

 As a nine-year-old Classic Hollywood fan, Jane was the third star I became enamored of, after Doris Day and Marilyn Monroe.

Jane Russell

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.

Marilyn and Jane in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

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:

Jane Russell
"The Lord is a living doll," Jane was known to say to the press. The phrase is indicative of Jane's faith and loveable way with words.

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.”

Jane in Howard Hughes' The Outlaw (1943). The film catapulted young Jane to stardom.

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.

Howard Hughes, Jane's "boss" of 21 years. There was never a romance between the two, but Jane treasured his friendship, and had nothing but glowing things to say about the elusive millionaire in her autobiography.

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.

Jane Russell
The famous haystack photo from The Outlaw (1943). Jane's appearance was deemed too sexy by the Hays Office, and delayed the film's release by two years. It took a full five years from the end of filming for The Outlaw to be widely released.

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. 

Jane Russell
Jane laughed at this particular line the publicity department dreamed up: "'Mean, Moody and Magnificent!' The Church may have been upset, but I thought it was hysterical!" Jane wrote in her autobiography.

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.

Jane Russell

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:

Jane Russell

“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
Jane with first husband, NFL quarterback Robert Waterfield.

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. 

Jane Russell
Robert Waterfield playing quarterback for the Rams.

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 watches her husband's impressive football skills.

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.”

A makeup and wardrobe test for The Tall Men (1955). Jane devised a schedule for her makeup, hair, and wardrobe team that allowed her to arrive at the studio an hour and a half later than other actresses on the lot.

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:

Jane Russell

“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

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 and Marilyn Monroe rehearse their songs on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

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.

Jane Russell
Jane with the girls from the Hollywood Christian Group. Jane is on the left, Beryl Davis is in the back, Connie Haines in front, and Rhonda Fleming on the right.

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
Jane in 1959 with two Greek orphans. The organization Jane founded, WAIF, placed these children in a happy home in Pasadena, CA.

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.”

Jane with her son Tommy, who she adopted from Ireland. The "red tape" of Tommy's adoption inspired Jane to found WAIF.

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 with her daughter Tracy and son Tommy.

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:

Jane with her youngest son, Buck.

“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.

Jane Russell

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.”

Jane Russell

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

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.

Jane Russell
Young Jane quickly learned to separate her faith from her critics.

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.  

Jane Russell

Celebrate Jane Russell With Me!

And that’s it for my introduction to Jane Russell.

Join me next week for all about Doris Day as we celebrate her April 3rd birthday.  Then it’s back to Jane and one of my favorite Jane Russell movies, The Paleface (1948).

Jane Russell

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Donna Harley

    I just love your blog, Mimi ! 💛

    1. Shannon

      Awww you are so so sweet Donna, thank you! 💗. I’m so happy you are here, thank you for reading!

  2. Mo

    What a great post! You definitely convinced me that I need to read Jane’s book. Amazing to be such a strong lady in such a rough business. Loved learning more about her! Thanks!

    1. Shannon

      Thank you so much for reading Mo! Wasn’t Jane absolutely amazing?! I admire her so much. Definitely give her autobiography a read, such a great book!

  3. Gaynor

    A lovely humble lady Was actress Jane Russell

    1. Shannon

      Absolutely! Jane was a great lady, onscreen and off.

  4. Jenny

    I love Jane!!! This was so well-written, thank you for emphasizing Jane’s faith. It’s often overlooked. Loved reading a non-biased account of her relationship with Howard Hughes. So much crap written about that man today…

    1. Shannon

      Thanks for reading Jenny! Jane was a remarkable woman.

  5. Tadesse

    Thank you for sharing this,it is nice to read the human side of actresses.

    1. Shannon

      Thanks for reading Tadesse! Jane was a remarkable woman.

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