She was a devout Christian and a founder. in 1955, of World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), which pioneered the adoption of foreign children by American families and which campaigned for changes in US adoption laws. In 1989, she was presented with the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award.
ChildhoodShe was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell in Bemidji, Minnesota on June 21, 1921, the eldest of five children and the only daughter of Roy Russell, a lieutenant in the U.S. army and Geraldine Russell. After a short stay in Canada, the family moved, first to Minnesota, then settled in southern California. Jane's mother had been an actress and Jane grew up with an interest in music and drama. She took piano lessons as a child and also acted in school productions at Van Nuys High School.
After graduation she went to drama school at Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Workshop, but her father died when Jane was 16 and, with four younger brothers, she had to earn a living. She began her working life as a receptionist in a chiropodist's practice and began photographic modeling to earn extra money. Her life began to change when her photograph was seen by an RKO agent.
'The Outlaw' 1941Within days she was signed to a seven-year contract by RKO head, Howard Hughes and soon after, she left for Arizona to start work on her movie debut as the female lead in Hughes's western 'The Outlaw' in 1941.
Although completed in 1941 the movie was not released for two years due to production code censorship problems over the way her cleavage was displayed, and it was not passed for general release until 1946 by which time Jane had become a nationally known figure and one of the top pinups for US Forces during World War II. Jane didn't make any other films until 1946 when she appeared in 'Young Widow'.
Hollywood StarJane's chief asset as a performer was her ironic sense of humor, much better served in comedic roles such as the heroic cowgirl Calamity Jane who shores up cowardly dentist Bob Hope in 'The Paleface' in 1948 and then its sequel 'Son of Paleface' in 1952. Hope would later memorably introduce Jane as "the two and only Jane Russell".
After the success of 'The Paleface', Jane made several movies in quick succession including two opposite Robert Mitchum, 'His Kind of Woman' in 1951 and 'Macao' in 1952, and 'The Las Vegas Story' also in 1952 with Victor Mature. She had a feisty role in the Western 'Montana Belle' which had been made for RKO in 1948, but which was released only in 1952, when Howard Hughes felt her reputation was sufficiently established.
In 1953 Jane appeared in the most successful film of her career, and the one for which she is best remembered, 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', co-starring Marilyn Monroe. The two stars complemented each other perfectly in a high quality musical romp. It was undoubtedly the highlight of Jane's career and nothing she did later quite matched the verve and panache of this Howard Hawks-directed film.
In 1955 after two uninspiring films, 'Foxfire' with Jeff Chandler and 'The Tall Men' with Clark Gable and Robert Ryan she formed Russ-Field Productions with her first husband, Bob Waterfield and they made several movies including 'Gentlemen Marry Brunettes' in 1955, 'The King and Four Queens' and 'Run for the Sun' the following year and 'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' in 1957, which was as bad as its name suggests. She also starred in 'The Revolt of Mamie Stover' in 1956.
After 1957 she more or less retired, appearing in only four pictures during the whole of the 1960's including the low-budget western 'Johnny Reno' in 1966. Her last film of the decade was 'The Born Losers' in 1967. After a further three years away from the big screen she returned for one last cameo role in 'Darker Than Amber' in 1970. She also branched out into television in the mid 1950's appearing in a number of series such as 'Colgate Theatre' and 'The Yellow Rose'. In the 1970's she featured in television commercials as a spokeswoman for Playtex "Cross-Your-Heart" Bras.
As well as her movie career, Jane also had an early although lesser known musical career, singing on radio and recording with the Kay Kyser Orchestra in 1947, and in 1950 she recorded a single, "Kisses and Tears," with Frank Sinatra. In 1957 she performed a solo nightclub act at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and later toured with it to Europe and South America. In 1971, Jane made her theatrical debut on Broadway, succeeding Elaine Stritch in the starring role of Joanne in the musical drama 'Company'.
PersonalJane married three times, firstly in 1943 to her high school sweetheart, Bob Waterfield, who became a professional footballer. They divorced in 1968. Her second marriage was in 1968 to actor Roger Barrett ending with his death from heart failure three months later and finally to property broker John Calvin Peoples from 1974 until his death from heart failure in 1999.
In contrast to her sweater-girl image, Jane was a devout born-again Christian who at the height of her career, started the "Hollywood Christian Group," meeting weekly at her home for Bible readings. She was an active, civic-minded campaigner and in 1955 she co-founded (with Irene Dunne, Loretta Young, and June Allyson) the World Adoption International fund (WAIF) which has since placed more than 50,000 children with adoptive families. Unable to have children herself as a result of an illegal abortion when she was nineteen, Jane and her first husband, Bob Waterfield, themselves adopted three children.
In 1985 Jane wrote her autobiography, "My Path and Detours." In it she scotched the story that she had worn a cantilever bra designed by Howard Hughes for her appearance in 'the Outlaw'. Hughes had designed a bra for her but she found it too uncomfortable and secretly discarded it.
Jane Russell died at her home in Santa Maria of a respiratory-related illness on February 28, 2011. She was aged 89. She was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.
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