Jane Russell, 1921–2011
The voluptuous star who bothered the censors
Jane Russell was a movie star long before much of the American public saw her first movie. Billionaire industrialist and film producer Howard Hughes discovered her in 1940 when she was 19. Captivated by her voluptuous curves, he cast her in a Western, The Outlaw—and even designed a seamless bra for her to wear on-screen to show off her breasts. (Finding the bra “ridiculous,” she wore her own during filming.) But the movie poster, showing a sultry, gun-toting Russell in a shoulder-baring blouse, was too provocative for U.S. movie standards of the time. Hughes pulled The Outlaw from release while he negotiated with censors, who didn’t clear it until 1949. Russell, meanwhile, publicized the movie anyway, attracting large crowds and becoming a favorite pinup of American GIs.
Born in Bemidji, Minn., Russell was a gifted comedienne whose looks threatened to overshadow her talent, said The Wall Street Journal. A favorite co-star of Bob Hope (who often introduced her as “the two and only Jane Russell”), she appeared with him in The Paleface, The Road to Bali, and Son of Paleface. She also starred opposite Marilyn Monroe in the film adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Russell married her high school sweetheart, Bob Waterfield, a star quarterback in college and professional football, said the Los Angeles Times. A botched abortion during her high school years had left her unable to have children. After encountering numerous obstacles to adoption, the couple founded the World Adoption International Fund in the 1950s to help other couples in the same plight. They later divorced, and Russell was widowed in turn by two subsequent husbands. A staunch conservative and foe of abortion, she described herself in 2003 as “a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist.” She died a day after watching the Academy Awards.