Filled Under: Jane Russell
“Sometimes the photographers would pose me in a low necked nightgown and tell me to bend down and pick up pails. They were not shooting the pails.” – Jane Russell
Jane Russell was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921 in Bemidji, Minnesota. Russell’s father was a Lieutenant in the US Army and her mother was a former actress in a road troupe. After her father was mustered from the army her parents moved to Canada. When Jane Russell was due to be born, her mother moved back to Minnesota temporarily to ensure that she would be born in the United States and be a U.S. citizen. Later the family moved to The San Fernando Valley of California. After high school Russell worked as a receptionist, did some modeling, and studied drama and acting with Max Reinhardt’s Theatrical Workshop. Discovered by Howard Hughes in 1940, she signed a seven year contract and made her screen debute in 1943 in “The Outlaw”. The film was actually finished in 1941, but wasn’t released until 1943, (then only a limited release) because of not being able to pass the censorship of the production code due to the ample cleavage Howard Hughes had Russell expose in the film. It wasn’t until 1946 that the film was fully released and was instantly a smash hit. During that time Hughes had Russell on a constant publicity tour to promote the movie and herself. The photo of her in a low cut blouse sitting in a hay stack became a popular pin-up poster for servicemen during WWII. She went on to make several more movies, starring with acting greats such as Bob Hope in “The Paleface” (1948), twice with Robert Mitchum in “His Kind Of Woman” (1951) and “Macao” (1952), Frank Sinatra and Grouco Marx in “Double Dynamite” (1951), Victor Mature and Vincent Price in “The Las Vegas Story” (1952), and Clark Gable in “The Tall Men” (1955).
Jane Russell’s most famous role was probably in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1955) with Marilyn Monroe. Russell went on to only make a handful of films the next few years and despite her early success never reached “A” status as an actor. Most of this is blamed on movie makers like Howard Hughes who were more interested in showing off her ample figure in movies than letting her acting and comedic talent shine through.
Jane Russell was married three times. Her first marriage was to Bob Waterfield in 1943, a successful American football player, with whom she formed a production company. They remained married for twenty-five years until they divorced in 1968. A brief marriage to actor Roger Barrett ended with his early death in the same year as her divorce from Waterfield. Real estate broker John Calvin Peoples, her last husband whom she married in 1974, died in 1999. Unable to have children of her own, Jane Russell and her first husband Bob Waterfield adopted three children. In 1955 she founded World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), an organization to place children with adoptive families and which pioneered adoptions from foreign countries by Americans. Through the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), Russell has placed 51,000 children with adoptive families.
Even though Jane Russell was known as a sexy starlet and pin-up model, she was an avid Christian. At the height of her career Russell started the “Hollywood Christian Group” a weekly bible study held in her home for christians in the film industry, which was attended by some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
Jane Russell died Feb.28, 2011 at her home in Santa Maria, California from a respiratory related illness. She is survived by her three adopted children, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
For her film achievements, Jane Russell’s hand and foot prints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6850 Hollywood Boulevard.
June 21, 1921 – Feb 28, 2011
Jane Russell, the sultry actress and legendary pin-up girl of the 1940’s and 50’s, passed away yesterday, Feb. 28, 2011, at her home in Santa Maria, California. She was with family and friends when she died. According to CNN, Jane Russell’s daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield said that Russell was a “pillar of health” but caught a bad cold and died of respiratory difficulties. She was 89 yrs old.