Jane Russell was born 100 years ago this month, on June 21st, 1921. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley, and attended Van Nuys High with Jim Dougherty. At 19, she was ‘discovered’ by Howard Hughes who cast her in The Outlaw, a film now remembered for its off-camera drama and as a high watermark in the battle against censorship.
Offscreen, however, Jane was far from the sex bomb her publicity suggested. She married her high-school sweetheart, football star Robert Waterfield, and adopted three children. Later she would found WAIF, an organisation that helped thousands of displaced children worldwide. She was also a devout Christian.
After the notoriety of The Outlaw, Jane established herself as an actress, sparring with Bob Hope in The Paleface, dabbling in film noir with Robert Mitchum, and later setting up an independent production company. When the film roles dried up, she became a cabaret artist and later, a spokeswoman for Playtex bras.
Jane’s life was not without its challenges, however. Her first marriage was stormy, and her adored second husband died just months after their wedding. She battled depression and alcoholism before finding happiness in her third marriage. One of classic Hollywood’s great survivors, Jane remained outspoken and good-humoured until her death in 2011.
If you’ve read Jane’s autobiography, you may already be familiar with her story, but Christina Rice’s new biography completes the picture with careful research, and a compelling, sometimes critical but always affectionate look at a unique movie icon.
Illustrated throughout, the book includes a full chapter on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which Jane believed was her best movie, illuminating her onscreen chemistry and supportive friendship with Marilyn, who would recall that Jane was ‘quite wonderful to me.’
For more info on Christina Rice’s book, Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend, visit her website here.