June 21, 1921 – February 28, 2011
Jane Russell was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921 in Bemidji, Minnesota to an Army lieutenant father and former stage actress mother. The family moved to California when her father retired from the service.
She graduated Van Nuys High School, in the San Fernando Valley north of Hollywood (where her classmate was Jim Dougherty – Marilyn’s first hubby).
Jane did some modeling and attended Reinhardt’s Acting School (later, the Old Spaghetti Factory site). Kudos to Jane for scoring the modeling gig. She was beautiful. Mostly. I’m sorry, but girlfriend had an enormous head. I’ve seen some awful pictures of her. Just awful.
She was cast by Howard Hughes for his directorial debut: The Outlaw. (The story goes that Hughes discovered her as his dentists’ receptionist).
Hughes co-developed a wire-support bra to show all of Jane’s assets for the promo poster. (She later said she never wore that bra in the film – just for the poster).
The original promo poster for The Outlaw revealed too much of Russell’s cleavage to please the Production Code Administration, which kept the film out of theaters for years. Completed in 1941, The Outlaw received a limited release in 1943 and did not receive national release until 1950.
“They held up The Outlaw (1943) for five years, and Howard Hughes had me doing publicity for it every day, five days a week for five years”.
She later slipped into sexy comedic roles in The Paleface and Gentleman Prefer Blondes . I think Jane should have thanked the heaven’s above to have been in that movie with Marilyn. Truthfully, if it weren’t for that film, we probably wouldn’t be talking about her today. Apparently while filming, she nurtured her shy co-star Marilyn Monroe. Jane’s solo production number “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love?” with muscle men would go down (most of them literally) as a camp classic.
Jane later told fans that Fox choreographer Jack Cole had helped transform her and MM into song-and-dance troupers with many after-hours rehearsal sessions. “We were a couple of klutzes!”, she revealed. They received the (in my opinion) the highest honor in Hollywood. Screw the Oscars, Jane and Marilyn put their foot and hand prints in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. That. Is. IT. It gets no better.
Jane later told interviewers that unlike herself (raised with four brothers), Marilyn was overly sensitive and easily wounded by the occasional hurtful comment made by men on the set. “I grew up with boys, so boys don’t bother me. I knew all about them. I don’t think Marilyn did.”
Jane’s first 25-year-marriage to Robert Waterfield ended in divorce when she learned he had an affair with her female secretary. Early in their courtship, Jane had aborted Robert’s child when she was 18 and almost died from the botched surgery. This left her unable to conceive and they later adopted 3 children. Her second marriage to actor Roger Barrett ended just 3 months after their 1968 wedding when he died of a heart attack. Her third marriage to realtor John Peoples lasted 25 years until his death in 1999. Alone at age 79, Jane turned to drinking heavily, was hospitalized and agreed to go to rehab. She became active in her Assembly of God church and continued her charity work (her 1950s organization WAIF had once helped thousands of overseas orphaned children find homes).
Jane stopped acting not long after she appeared with Tom “Bill Jack” Laughlin in the film: The Born Losers (1967). Laughlin was ignoring his appendicitis symptoms as not to blow his chance to get his scene with Russell in the can (to find a distributor). Jane (hired for a one day shoot) told him to get to hospital and she agreed to come back and work for free to wrap up his indie film.
She became a Playtex cross-your-heart bra commercial spokeswoman in the 70s and did a stint on Broadway replacing Elaine Stritch in Company.
Jane was modest about her legend status and reportedly asked friends “why do (these fans) want my autograph? I’m an old lady!” (who worked with Marilyn) In her golden years, she suffered with macular degeneration in her eyes and wore hearing aids in both ears.
In the early 80s, I wrote Jane a fan letter. This was back when fan letters were true fan letters and eBay didn’t exist yet. Just because she had a big head, doesn’t mean I didn’t like her. Jane was happy to oblige, and requested that you donate to her charity. This is classy. I know, says me. But this is WAY before it became cool to affiliate yourself with a charity.
You know, speaking of…
One of the things that pisses me off are the celebrities that get all gung ho about raising money for the trendy cause of the moment. Remember the earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010? And the big telethon with George Clooney and Matt Damon that was organized? A month later Chile gets hit. Crickets.
Anyway, here is Jane’s letter of request for donations – after she sent the autograph.
So… Jane trades on her tits, gets an abortion, gets divorced, gets 2 DUI’s, works in an industry rife with the gays, courted gay audiences… so in the natural progression of things… she became a staunch Pro-Life advocate and conservative Christian.
Get this: She was also a “mother figure to David Guest – Liza’s ex hubby. A story I heard: At David & Liza’s circus wedding, Jane reportedly applied lipstick durng their vows, and upon their creepy newlywed kiss, Jane plopped her lipstick in her purse, nudged the guest next to her and said ” And that’s showbiz!” LOVE and hope it’s true.
In her final years she attended autograph shows and rocked her local Radisson Hotel lounge with her cabaret act.
She talked of Old Hollywood and sang a parody song of “Big John” about her career called “Big Jane. Big Bad Jane.” She went back to her jet black hair look at the end of her life.
Jane Russell, age 89, died on Monday, February 28, 2011 of respiratory illness at her Santa Maria CA home surrounded by many of her grown children, eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
A memorial was held Saturday, March 12 at the Pacific Christian Church in Santa Maria, CA.
I don’t think Jane’s particular charity exists any longer, or I just couldn’t find it. If you wanted to make a donation in Jane’s memory, I’m sure they would be happy to accept one at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
By Mark Langlois and Scott Michaels.