I am going to go a little off topic and focus on the gorgeous Jane Russell for this blog entry. As a former film student, hours upon hours spent watching icons such as Russell inspired my passion for this era as I am sure they have for many women. Femininity is such a beautiful and under appreciated part of nature which is captured so wonderfully by Hollywood’s female icons such as Rusell during this period.
One of the last living icons of Hollywood’s Golden era, Jane Russell sadly passed away yesterday. Personally, she was one of my absolute favourites as although I love the glamour and styling of many starlets from this period, Russell was much more than just a pretty face. Opinionated, intelligent and fearless she appeared to live a fulfilled life with priorities in the right place. Obviously she had her demons, as do we all, but she fought these and persevered on – she certainly did not let Hollywood eat her up like it did with so many of her peers.
She was notorious for her curvaceous figure and Howard Hughes famously used his aeronautical engineering background to design a bra which displayed her assets prominently. Hollywood legend claimed that due to this bra her first role in Hughes’ movies ‘The Outlaw’ caused such a stir that the film release was postponed for five years. However Russell has since stated that “Yes, Howard Hughes invented a bra for me. Or, he tried to. And one of the seamless ones like they have now. He was way ahead of his time. But I never wore it in ‘The Outlaw’. And he never knew. He wasn’t going to take my clothes off to check if I had it on. I just told him I did.” The promotional shots for this movie caused such scandal however this controversy made Jane Russell a household name and the film a success.
Russell is perhaps best known for her role alongside Marilyn Monroe in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, a canonical piece of Hollywood history, and the off-shoot ‘Gentlemen Marry Brunettes’. ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ is a truly fabulous spectacular which looks even more amazing on the big screen (it featured at the 2007 Edinburgh International Film Festival in a retrospective of writer Anita Loos) and Russell certainly holds her own next to Hollywood’s leading lady, Monroe.
Not entirely comfortable with being labelled as a sex symbol, from the 1960s onwards Russell tried to veer away from this featuring in only four more movies. She turned to music instead and concentrated on her solo singing career which later saw her make her Broadway debut in the early 1970s.
In her personal life, Russell was a devout Christian and Republican and was often outspoken in defence of her religious and political views. A rarity in notoriously liberal Hollywood. In the 1950s, she founded the World Adoption International Fund and helped American families adopt children from throughout the world. A cause that was close to her as she herself adopted three children after being left unable to conceive following an illegal backstreet abortion in her teens. Putting a positive spin on her grief she said that “sometimes I think that if I hadn’t gone through my abortion, perhaps there wouldn’t have been loving homes for those children.”
Russell’s beautiful figure was perhaps a blessing and a curse for her career. It was the scandal surrounding ‘The Outlaw’ which shot her to fame initially however in-keeping with Hollywood in the 40s and 50s, she had signed to Hughes for a seven year contract. Hughes continued to focus on her figure and looks in the movies he made with Russell and she was rarely able to demonstrate her genuine acting talent. There are glimpses throughout her career which demonstrate this talent, in particular her comic ability which is perfectly showcased in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.
There is so much more which can be said and discussed about Russell, such as her suspicions surrounding Monroe’s death, her troubles with alcohol, her work outside of the film industry and I am sure these all will be spoken of in the wake of her death. For now though, get yourself a glass of wine and a box of chocolates, curl up in front of your favourite Jane Russell movie and enjoy what she did best.