5 Minute BiographiesActressesBorn in JuneBorn in the 20th CenturyDied in FebruaryDied in the 20th CenturyEntertainmentMoviesPodcast

Jane Russell

“Publicity can be terrible. But only if you don’t have any.” – Jane Russell.

Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell, known to everyone simply as Jane Russell was born on 21 June 1921 in Bemidji, Minnesota, USA to parents Roy William Russell, who was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and Geraldine Jacobi who was an actress in a road troupe. She had four younger brothers called Thomas, Kenneth, Jamie and Wallace.

Although her mother arranged for Russell to take piano lessons, she also became interested in drama whilst attending Van Nuys High School. She figured she would probably pursue a career in design but following the death of her father during the 1940s, after she graduated, she took a job as a receptionist and supplemented income from this with occasional modelling work. Her mother wanted more for her though and so she encouraged her to study drama, which she did at Max Reinhardt’s Theatrical Workshop.

Jane Russell’s acting and modelling talents came together after signing a 7-year contract with Howard Hughes in 1940 and appearing in a film about Billy the Kid called The Outlaw which was completed in 1941. However, The Outlaw wasn’t released until 1943 and even then, in only a limited way due to censorship problems resulting from how Russell’s impressive figure had been portrayed on screen. It wasn’t until 1946 that a general release for the film was finally secured.

Whilst waiting for the general release of The Outlaw, Russell was kept busy promoting it, which led to her becoming one of Hollywood’s most recognisable sex symbols given her obvious good looks and sex appeal, which also made her a popular pin-up with servicemen during the Second World War, something that Russell always said she was comfortable with.

All of her sex appeal and popularity though wasn’t enough to stop her next film, Young Widow, from being a box office failure when it was released in 1946.

Even though she had started a career in the movies, Jane Russell also continued to have an interest in music and in 1947 she recorded two singles with the Kay Kyser Orchestra. She also recorded an album which contained mostly sentimental love songs for Columbia Records but she later denounced it stating that it was boring to listen to. In 1950 she also recorded a single called Kisses and Tears with Frank Sinatra.

In 1948, Jane Russell starred in The Paleface as Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope and this time she had a hit on her hands with the film earning $4.5 million for Paramount who Russell was on loan to.

During the 1950s and following Howard Hughes’ purchase of RKO, she starred in several successful films, like 1951s musical comedy Double Dynamite and the film noir His Kind of Woman in the same year opposite the likes of Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and Vincent Price.

Although starring in more than 20 films during her career including 1953s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, during the filming of which she tried to persuade Marilyn Monroe to turn to religion, Jane Russell also returned to music even during the process of completing films she was contracted to make. She formed a gospel quartet with Connie Haines, Beryl Davis and Della Russell, who was no relation to Jane, called the Hollywood Christian Group, which was also the name of her bible study group. The group had full orchestral backing and a single they released in 1954 called Do Lord reached number 27 in the charts.

Jane also had some success with a solo act, performing at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and she also released a self-titled album in 1959.

Music wasn’t her only sideline either, as she also ventured into television appearing in episodes of The Red Skelton Hour and Death Valley Days.

In the later 1950s and into the 1960s her career started to decline and she remarked in 1999 that she quit movies because she was getting too old, stating that, “You couldn’t go on acting in those years if you were an actress over 30”. That said, she made second billing in two Westerns, Johnny Reno and Waco, both released in 1966 and had smaller parts in The Born Losers in 1967 and Darker Than Amber in 1970.

In 1971 Jane Russell turned to musical theatre and made her Broadway debut as Joanne in the musical drama ‘Company’, a part she played for almost six months. At around the same time, she appeared in television commercials for Playtex, the inventors of the ‘cross-your-heart bras’ and the ’18-Hour-Bra’.

As far as her personal life is concerned, Jane Russell was unable to have children of her own due to a botched abortion which was carried out when she was a teenager. She did, however, adopt three children and was passionate about finding homes for orphans, and founded the international adoption program Waif in 1955. She was married three times, first to American Football Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Waterfield in 1943. That marriage lasted for 25 years but only two months after their divorce in 1968 she married the actor Roger Barrett but only two months later he died of a heart attack. She married her third husband, John Calvin Peoples in January 1974 and they remained married until his death in 1999.

Russell herself died at her home in Santa Maria, California of a respiratory-related illness on 28 February 2011 at the age of 89.

Show More

Related Articles

Back to top button

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.