Jane Russell Becomes a Redhead, Howard Hughes Leaves the Movies, & Jane Starts Her Own Production Company. It’s The Revolt of Mamie Stover.
The Independent Jane Russell & The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
April 24, 2020 Updated April 22, 2022
The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) is not considered a classic, but it’s certainly entertaining. Based on William Bradford Huie’s 1951 novel about a World War II lady of the night, The Revolt of Mamie Stover is gripping, dramatic, and lusciously photographed. It’s Jane Russell at her sultry, sensual best.
I tried to find this film for years. I still remember scouring every video rental shop within a 25-mile radius of our home with my dad in search of The Revolt of Mamie Stover. Thanks to TCM, I finally saw the film a few years ago. And it was well worth the wait. Twilight Time issued a limited Blu-ray release of the film , but it’s increasingly difficult to find. If you can find a copy of The Revolt of Mamie Stover, buy it.
Let’s get to the plot.
It’s 1941, and Mamie Stover is a beautiful lady of the night who’s just been banned from San Francisco for reasons we can only imagine. With a police escort, Mamie boards a freighter for Honolulu, where she hopes to make her dreams of great wealth and fortune come true.
The only other passenger on the freighter is Jim Blair (Richard Egan), a writer who’s immediately drawn to Mamie as inspiration for his current book.
We learn that Mamie is a small town girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Mississippi. Besides her great beauty, Mamie never had much. She’s a likeable girl with a heart of gold, but her impoverished upbringing in a judgmental town led to an obsession with money: Mamie plans to become the wealthiest woman in Honolulu, and she’s going to do it on her own.
Mamie and Jim begin a shipboard romance. Mamie is disappointed when Jim says their relationship must end in Honolulu, for he’s engaged to Annalee Johnson (Joan Leslie), a woman from the social circles Jim is supposed to associate with.
Once they arrive in Honolulu, Mamie almost immediately begins working at The Bungalow, a dance hall (it’s definitely more than a dance hall) on the wrong side of town run by the ruthless Bertha Parchman (Agnes Moorehead). All of Bertha’s…hostesses earn a 30% commission on dances, drinks sold, and…private conversations they have with patrons. It’s a pretty good set up for Mamie, who quickly becomes The Bungalow’s main attraction. And it’s not long before Mamie saves up a nice bit of money.
The drawbacks of working at The Bungalow include Bertha’s stifling rules: hostesses must live at The Bungalow, they can’t have bank accounts (for tax purposes), they can’t have boyfriends, and they can’t be seen on the ritzy side of town or Waikiki Beach. If Bertha’s girls do any of these things, her right hand man Harry will come beat them up…
The Revolt of Mamie Stover
Well, Mamie starts feeling pretty confident as The Bungalow’s biggest star.
And she breaks all the rules:
- She contacts Jim, and they become an item.
- She leaves the Bungalow and goes on dates with Jim to Waikiki Beach and the ritzy hotels in Honolulu.
- She has Jim open a bank account for her.
You know what that means.
Yep, Harry corners Mamie one day, and beats her up.
But Mamie is such a draw at The Bungalow, when Bertha learns of the beating, she surprises everyone by firing Harry and giving Mamie a raise.
The raise from Bertha really complicates things, for after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Jim enlists, and proposes to Mamie just before he leaves for duty. Mamie accepts the proposal, and promises Jim she’ll stop working at The Bungalow.
But as far as Mamie’s concerned, what Jim doesn’t know can’t hurt him.
Despite her promise to Jim, Mamie accepts Bertha’s offer, and continues her job at The Bungalow.
Mamie further rakes in the dough because she’s smart enough—or cold-hearted enough—to buy prime Hawaiian real estate at deeply discounted prices from business owners eager to sell their land after the bombing of Pear Harbor.
Mamie quickly buys up a good chunk of Waikiki, and promptly rents the space out to the government. Mamie’s monthly income from the rentals alone makes her beyond wealthy.
And then she’s got her new 70 percent commission from The Bungalow on top of it.
Jim Finds Out
It’s inevitable that Jim will find out that Mamie still works at The Bungalow, and he eventually does when one of his buddies brags about his newest pin-up photo, which of course is Mamie in her latest Bungalow publicity shot.
When Jim gets a week-long furlough for an injury, he returns to Honolulu, and completely surprises Mamie by showing up at The Bungalow. Mamie tries to explain herself, and she has some valid points—she did remain faithful to Jim, she just didn’t follow through with her promise to quit The Bungalow. Jim listens, but concludes that though he and Mamie are in love, they are just too dissimilar at the core to be together.
And they break up.
The film rather abruptly ends with a heart broken Mamie on the freighter once more, returning home after giving her fortune away. She’s lost her love and her material wealth, but perhaps she’s gained something greater.
It’s a melancholy, but somehow hopeful ending.
Although I can’t help but think that if Mamie’s not going to get her guy, she might as well keep her money…
Howard Hughes Leaves the Picture Business
In 1955, Howard Hughes sold his studio, RKO, to the General Tire and Rubber Company for $25 million. Hughes was getting out of the movie business.
But there was one thing Howard didn’t include in the package when he sold the studio.
And that was Jane Russell’s contract.
If you remember from my introduction article on Jane, Howard Hughes signed Jane to a seven year contract with him personally—not RKO—when he discovered her in 1941, and cast her in The Outlaw (1943).
The ever-loyal Jane, despite offers from other agencies and studios, signed a second seven-year contract with Hughes in 1948. When this contract came to a close at about the same time Howard sold RKO in 1955, once again, Jane was courted by other studios and agencies.
A Contract She Couldn't Refuse
But then Howard Hughes made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. In Jane’s words, Howard proposed:
“…a contract so unique I didn’t even understand it.”
The unique contract Hughes designed for Jane was the first of its kind: Jane would make six films for Howard over a five-year period on loan out to other studios, and payment would be distributed to her over a twenty-year period. Jane would also have the freedom to do any additional work she wanted—club or stage performances, records, television, she could even form her own production company if she desired.
The deal was so good, as Jane says,
“I was speechless!…It [the contract] was for $1 million; the year was 1955. Afterward, MCA helped Jimmy Stewart and many stars set up the same format, but mine was the first of its kind. I felt very proud of Howard for out-thinking everyone again. He lived up to my ideal picture of our relationship, even though he wasn’t in the picture business anymore.”
With her increased freedom under Howard Hughes’ generous contract, Jane and her husband, Robert Waterfield, started their own production company, Russ-Field. Robert was executive producer, Jane was vice-president, and they got to work producing films. For tax purposes, Jane could only star in half of the films Russ-Field made, so she truly would be, for the first time, completely involved in the behind-the-scenes decision making.
Though The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) was one of Jane’s six loan out films for Howard Hughes, not a Russ-Field production, the experiences and the relationships Jane formed during filming greatly influenced her desire to have more of a say in what went on behind the camera.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover: From Book to Film
William Bradford Huie later made a name for himself as the Civil Rights Movement journalist who successfully gained confessions from the acquitted killers of Emmett Till. But Huie wrote The Revolt of Mamie Stover in 1951.
Surprisingly, Mamie Stover is not an explicit novel: it’s the book’s subject material—the life and times of a lady of the night—that was so risqué for the 1950s.
To add even more intrigue to Huie’s book, The Revolt of Mamie Stover was reportedly based off of the real life of Jean O’Hara, a Chicago girl-turned prostitute, who, banned from San Francisco for her work, gained fame and fortune after leaving the mainland to become the grand madam of Honolulu.
During her time in Honolulu, O’Hara bought prime island real estate after the attack on Pearl Harbor, just like Huie’s Mamie Stover. O’Hara gained further notoriety for inventing prostitution’s more efficient “bull pen system,” and for attempting to murder a friend’s husband, and later, for attempting to murder her own husband.
These aspects of Jean O’Hara’s life, perhaps understandably, didn’t make it into Huie’s book or the film.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover and A Problematic Script
In her autobiography [aff. link], Jane Russell shares that The Revolt of Mamie Stover was one film she:
“…was delighted the Hays office was in control [of]—I wouldn’t have done it if it had been today.”
Jane is of course referring to the film’s tricky subject matter, and the difficult task of presenting Mamie’s story with depth, but without getting explicit.
The task was so tricky in fact, that the Mamie Stover script went through six months of revisions before filming began in November 1955.
William Bradford Huie himself worked on the first draft, and softened the screenplay to make it unclear just how far Mamie went with her customers. Though Jane was grateful the Hays Office kept the morality of the film in check, she worried that scriptwriter Sydney Boehm took too much of the actual storyline out in his final treatment, making Mamie a one-dimensional character by glamorizing the hard life she led:
“Fox watered down the story so much that it was slush. The scriptwriter thought that being a whore was a lovely occupation and gave my character no stress at all.”
Darryl Zanuck, the outgoing head of 20thCentury Fox, thought the script would make “an interesting, offbeat picture,” but echoed Jane’s sentiments that the characters in Boehm’s screenplay were too “surface.”
Both Jane and director Raoul Walsh wanted to put, as Jane says, “some guts” into the picture:
“Raoul was very unhappy. He wanted at least, to show some of the rough times that a lady of the night had.”
But incoming studio head Buddy Adler wouldn’t budge from the Boehm script, which was completed in November 1955.
Jane Makes The Revolt of Mamie Stover Work
It’s true that Mamie’s life as a woman living on the edge of respectability is glamorized in the film: Mamie’s career brings her gorgeous clothes, immense wealth, dates at fancy hotels, and the man of her dreams. Other than the beating she gets from Harry—which still results in a net positive for Mamie because she earns a huge raise—we really don’t get to see the underbelly and hard times of “a lady of the night” in the film.
In her book [aff. link], Jane says that Adler’s refusal to change the script gave her some ambivalence towards the film. But Jane herself admits that ultimately, she was able to take the lackluster script and make Mamie a believable character:
“I did manage to make Mamie someone believable who was from the wrong side of the tracks.”
This is completely true. But Jane still sells herself short.
Despite the “surface” script, Mamie Stover comes across as a nuanced, three-dimensional character, thanks to Jane Russell. It’s a real testament to Jane’s skill in the role that, despite the script limitations, she subtly shows us Mamie’s heartache and soul. The vulnerability Jane brings to Mamie’s eyes and voice in her scenes with Jim/Richard Egan, in contrast to Jane’s shift to cold hardness when her Mamie discusses money with Bertha/Agnes Moorehead, or bargains with the Honolulu business owners she buys discounted land from, all bring nuanced layers to the Mamie Stover character.
Well done Jane.
Jane Rocks the Red in The Revolt of Mamie Stover
Jane and Buddy Adler had one more tiff during filming, one that really made Jane grateful for the say she had on the films she produced herself.
And it was all about hair.
In Huie’s book, Mamie Stover is a platinum blonde. And Jane was famous for her raven-haired beauty. Jane actually didn’t have a problem with going platinum: Jane had a flare for fashion, and knew that “very dark or very white hair” best complemented her skin. But Buddy Adler didn’t want Jane to have dark or platinum hair in the film.
He wanted her to be a flaming redhead.
Jane felt strongly that red hair would not suit her, and was further surprised at Adler’s hair demand when she found out that he wanted the redheaded Agnes Moorehead, who played Bertha in the film, to go platinum.
It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to have both actresses change their hair to colors that were not even true to Huie’s book. But when Jane called Adler and suggested that Agnes remain a redhead and Jane go platinum,
“He sounded annoyed that I’d gotten him so early in the morning and told me to forget it. ‘Just do as you’re told,’ he said.”
Adler’s refusal to even discuss the situation with Jane made her want to be “on the decision-making side” of filmmaking, something she would have the chance to do with Russ-Field productions.
Jane’s frustrations with Adler aside, the filming of The Revolt of Mamie Stover was a happy experience. The film was shot on location in Hawaii, with beautiful costumes designed by the great Billy Travilla. And Jane had a ball working with two of her favorite friends from the Hollywood crowd, director Raoul Walsh, and Richard Egan.
Jane and Raoul Walsh on The Revolt of Mamie Stover
The friendship between Jane and Raoul Walsh started with the previous year’s The Tall Men (1955). Despite Walsh’s reputation for toughness, he and Jane hit it off right away:
“I’d heard what a tough director he was to work with and found him instead to be a marshmallow with my kind of humor. Raoul had had an accident years before and wore a patch over his right eye. He rolled his own cigarettes, and would snap, ‘Take it before they forget it,’ after a single rehearsal. Who wouldn’t love him?”
Walsh and Clark Gable, Jane’s co-star in The Tall Men, took to calling Jane “Grandma” on set. The nickname stuck, and Walsh continued to refer to Jane as “Grandma” on Mamie Stover. Grandma Russell and Walsh, both dissatisfied with the Mamie Stover script, grew even closer during filming as they worked extra hours together to make the movie work.
Walsh’s friendship with Jane was such that he promised her at the start of Mamie Stover filming that she would be home in time to spend Christmas in California with her family. Walsh stayed true to his promise, even when a huge storm hit the island and delayed filming. Walsh moved himself, his wife, Jane, and Richard Egan to a hotel close to the airport, and got them all on one of the few flights to the mainland so Jane would get her promised family Christmas.
Jane was so impressed with Walsh after Mamie Stover that she trusted him to direct The King and Four Queens (1956), a Russ-Field production that didn’t star Jane.
Jane & Richard Egan: Honorary Siblings
Jane met Richard Egan while making 1955’s Underwater! Thanks to Jane’s recommendation, Egan was cast in the film, and it was one of his first leading roles.
Jane and Richard enjoyed a friendship very much like that of a teasing brother and sister, and it all started during production of Underwater! when Jane suggested that Richard have sun kissed streaks put in his hair—light on the tips but dark at the roots—to make his role as a scuba diver in the film more believable. But despite Jane’s instructions to hairdresser Larry Germaine, Richard ended up with a completely platinum head of hair:
“Larry proceeded to bleach [Richard] ego blonde to the roots. Richard howled. When they put the toner on he screamed, and I mean screamed! His eyes were bulging out of his head and he flew out of that chair and lunged at me. I ran like hell…The madder he got, the more I had to laugh. It was dynamite!”
From the hair debacle on, Richard and Jane were like brother and sister.
Jane & Richard Confuse the Clergy
Richard’s and Jane’s sibling taunts filled the set of The Revolt of Mamie Stover with lots of laughs and pranks. But some observers just didn’t understand the nature of their zaney relationship.
On the flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles that Raoul Walsh managed to get his stars on, Richard teased Jane that she was crazy to risk her life flying in record-breaking stormy weather just to be home with her family on Christmas. Jane teased right back that Richard wouldn’t understand the pull to spend holidays at home until he was also married with kids.
This went on for a few minutes, with Jane dropping some choice expletives here and there. And then, as Jane recounts in her autobiography [aff. link], a clergyman on the plane, thinking her and Richard were an arguing married couple,
“…tapped me and handed me a card. It…said, ‘If there’s anything I can do to help, please feel free to ask.’ I thought, ‘Oh Lord, they think we’re serious. How could they ever understand?’”
Though The Revolt of Mamie Stover is a drama with very little in the script to show the light, humorous side of the real life relationship between Jane and Richard, the ease of their friendship off screen undoubtedly contributed to the naturalness of their scenes together in the film.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover: A Cult Classic?
Despite the critics, who were generally unkind to the film, The Revolt of Mamie Stover did well at the box office, earning $2 million after its May 11, 1956 premiere. The film continues to enjoy a large international fan base.
The Revolt of Mamie Stover truly is, in Darryl Zanuck’s words, “an interesting, offbeat picture.”
And that’s it for The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) and our month with Jane Russell.
Join me next week as I introduce our next Star of the Month, the screen’s cultured gangster, Edward G. Robinson.