Lovely, talented, and always gracious, classic film actress and popular pin-up girl Jane Russell passed away yesterday at the age of 89.
Russell’s start in Hollywood came at the hands of millionaire Howard Hughes, who was enamored by her beautifully voluptuous figure, displayed to such winning effect in her debut film, 1943’s The Outlaw.
Her languid pose on a bale of hay, part of a publicity campaign for The Outlaw, is one of the most enduring images from the days of classic Hollywood. And the ample cleavage displayed in the movie is part of the reason why the release of The Outlaw was delayed by more than two years (it was actually filmed in 1941)–the film had trouble getting approved by the Production Code office for what was deemed highly sexualized content
Though Russell was signed to a seven-year deal by Hughes, she did not make another movie for five years after finishing The Outlaw. Still, the actress became a popular pin-up figure during World War II, and she was a favorite of many Hollywood stars, including Bob Hope (who, according to TCM, once jokingly introduced the notoriously-endowed starlet as “the two and only Jane Russell”). Russell’s arguably best–and funniest–career roles came opposite Hope in 1948’s The Paleface and its sequel, 1952’s Son of Paleface.
But many film fans best remember Russell as Dorothy in the 1953 romantic comedy/musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes opposite Marilyn Monroe. The movie features Monroe’s iconic performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a scene that tends to overshadow Russell’s presence in the film. But Russell is the sly comedic heart of the movie, shooting out zinger after zinger with an unparalleled sense of comic timing:
“The chaperone’s job is to make sure nobody else has any fun. But nobody chaperones the chaperone. That’s why I’m so right for this job.”
Russell would go on to star (sans Monroe) in the loose 1955 “sequel” Gentlemen Marry Brunettes with Jeanne Crain, a film that had very little connection to its predecessor and did not succeed as well as hoped at the box office.
Russell’s career peaked soon after. Following a break from the screen, she appeared in a handful of films in the 1960s and then moved on to conquer Broadway in the musical Company. She also became well-known for a series of television commercials endorsing the “Cross Your Heart” line of bras from Playtex.
Russell had a beautiful voice that was showcased in several of her film roles and in a brief recording career, which included a 1950 duet with Frank Sinatra, “Kisses and Tears.”
Though it was her figure that brought her fame, Jane Russell was ultimately so much more than an impressive bustline. She may have only made two dozen films in her career, but she made a mark in every single one of them, and she will most definitely be missed.