Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jane Russell

Ms Russell

From "The Outlaw"


Favorite WWII Pin Up (I don't know why)


"Yeah, I'm looking at you."

With Clark Gable

On the beach

With Marilyn

"The girl with the summer-hot lips... and the winter-cold heart"

I was very saddened to learn of the death Monday of Jane Russell, one of our countries more interesting actresses in the 1940's and 50s. She was a few months shy of her 90th birthday when she passed away from a respiratory related illness in her home, up north in Santa Maria, California. She died a born again Christian, and staunch Republican, pro-life conservative, so she and I would not have agreed on many issues, but I'm not writing this to debate her misguided political and social beliefs, rather I'm doing this to celebrate her life, her career, and the fact that she most likely helped us win World War II.
She was born while still very young in Bemidji, Minnesota in 1921. Bemidji means "lake that traverses another body of water" in Ojibwe, which of course is an indigenous language of the Algonquian family of languages. I assume Bemidji is near a lake. But here's something you probably didn't know, when she was born her name was Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell. She lost two of those names when she became a big movie star. Her father, William, was an officer in the army. Her mom, Geraldine, a former actress. Jane was the eldest of five kids, and the only girl (female).
Bill and Geraldine spent a lot of time in Canada when they first got married, moving back to the states when Jane was born to make sure she was an American citizen. As a matter of fact Jane's heritage is three quarters Canadian, and one quarter German.
Hey, guess what? The family soon found their way down here to L.A., Burbank specifically, in the San Fernando Valley, where I grew up. I've lived in Burbank as well. It gets hot there sometimes.
Geraldine arranged for Jane to take piano lessons. My mom arranged for me to take accordion lessons, which is actually very similar to the piano, except you can carry it around, and it sounds different. So Jane and I had a great deal in common despite our inherent political and philosophical beliefs. Here's another similarity, we were both interested in drama and appeared in high school theatrical productions, she at Van Nuys High School, and me at nearby Monroe (about three miles away as the crow flies). Isn't it wonderful!
Jane wished to be a designer of some kind, perhaps submarines. However she began working as receptionist for a dentist after her father died and she graduated high school. Being very pretty for a girl, she also found work modeling, and continued studying drama, following in her mother's footsteps.
Despite the tragic events that led to the death of Kristi Johnson ( ), sometimes, very rarely, what some call miracles do happen.
A casting agent for the aviation pioneer and burgeoning film producer, Howard Hughes, was looking for a voluptuous young female type person to play Billy the Kid's love interest in his upcoming production of "The Outlaw." Jane with measurements that averaged 38D-25-36 throughout her career certainly fit the bill. She got the part after one audition, and Howard signed her to a seven year contract in 1940. Hughes took an avid interest in his new star (but never romantically, despite his reputation for getting involved with young starlets. Jane was engaged at the time with her high school sweetheart, Bob Waterfield, who she would marry in 1943) and fired his director, Howard Hawks (although he is credited as co-director), taking over that chore himself. He used his engineering skills to design a special bra for Jane that emphasized her ample cleavage. Jane latter confessed that she never wore it, using her own bra while hiding the straps under her blouse (see the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pictures above).
For the time (1943) the footage of Jane was rather controversial, and Hughes had a great deal of trouble with censors. The film itself didn't do all that well at the box office, but it was Jane's breakthrough role, largely due to the costuming, turning her into a sex symbol, and Hollywood icon.
This is what Gil Kaufman of MTV said of her yesterday: "You can thank Jane Russell for "Sucker Punch" [I'm thinking he's referring to the upcoming movie starring Emily Browning], every Roger Corman jigglefest, the Catwoman outfit Halle Berry was poured into and just about any other body-baring costume that a Hollywood actress has shimmied in over the past 70 years. The buxom pinup beauty who helped push the envelope in onscreen sensuality."
The quote at the top of this post is from Ms. Russell herself, an estimate I believe, of what she thought of her public image.
Jane chose not to make another picture for three years, until 1946. But that fourth picture above, with her holding the revolver, was very popular with our servicemen fighting overseas during World War II, and has been credited, by some, as being one of the main reasons we won so quickly after invading France in 1944 (our boys wanted to get back home ASAP)... I don't think it's a stretch to suggest that her breasts singlehandedly saved millions of lives.
Jane attempted a musical career, singing in orchestras and making records. And she continued her work in motion pictures, staring with Bob Hope in 1948s "Paleface," and 1952s "Son of Paleface." Here's a clip with cowboy Roy Rogers:
She appeared with Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Here's a clip from that:
She appeared with Robert Mitchum twice, in "His Kind of Woman," and "Macao." Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx in "Double Dynamite" (I'm not exactly sure what the title is referring to), Victor Mature, Vincent Price, and Hoagy Carmichael in "The Las Vegas Story," and Clark gable and Robert Ryan in "The Tall Men."
In the late 50s she formed a production company with her husband and made three films. After making "The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown," in 1957, she did not appear in a movie for seven years.
She became very involved with Christianity and formed The Hollywood Christian Group, a weekly Bible study at her home which was arranged for Christians in the film industry. She also toured as a solo musical performer in Las Vegas, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe.
Her next movie appearance came in "Fate Is The Hunter," in 1964, in which she was seen as herself performing for the USO in a flashback sequence. She made only four more movies after that, playing character parts in the final two.
In 1999, she remarked, "Why did I quit movies? Because I was getting too old! You couldn't go on acting in those years if you were an actress over thirty."
1970s "Darker than Amber," a detective mystery starring Rod Taylor, was the last film Jane acted in.
Also in the 1970s, she started appearing in T.V. commercials as a spokesperson for Playtex. "'Cross-Your-Heart Bras' for us full-figured gals," she would say, featuring the "18-Hour Bra." I remember these vividly, and still wonder what happens exactly after 18 hours. I NEED TO KNOW!
Jane was married three times. Unable to have children herself due to her own abortions she received starting when she was 18, she adopted three children.
Describing her shock at finding herself pregnant at eighteen: "The only solution was to find a quack and get an abortion. I had a botched abortion and it was terrible. Afterwards my own doctor said, 'What butcher did this to you?' I had to be taken to hospital. I was so ill I nearly died. I've never known pain like it."
She later became a pro-life supporter: "People should never, ever have an abortion. Don't talk to me about it being a woman's right to choose what she does with her own body. The choice is between life and death."
Our opinions evolve over time and experience.
She was involved throughout her later years in Christian and republican causes.
Jane's hand and foot prints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater (where only Chinese people can go) and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2009 she was voted one of the 40 most Iconic Movie Goddesses of all time by Glamour magazine, U.K. edition (my apologies to Bree Olson).
Here's a tribute:
Jane died at home, surrounded by her children. Like all of us her life was filled with pain, happiness, successes and sorrow. She was beautiful until the end and she will be remembered and missed.
Goodbye lovely lady.
A public funeral will be held on March 12, at Pacific Christian Church, Santa Maria.

1 comment:

  1. Many have graced the silver screen, but only the special have graced our thoughts, fantasies and culture ... albeit pop culture, jigglefests notwithstanding. Truly a beautiful woman and person.