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Obituary: Jane Russell

Jane Russell
Russell started her working life as a model

Mean, moody and magnificent was the description given to Jane Russell for her Hollywood debut in the 1943 film The Outlaw. She was to become one of Hollywood's most popular stars of the 1940s and 50s.

She brought new meaning to the word cleavage. She was a talented actress, but it was her sex bomb image that made her a star.

She was born in Minnesota, the only daughter of an army lieutenant and a travelling actress. Shouting to be heard amongst her four brothers, young Jane was interested in the stage from an early age.

Working to help her family after her father's death, Jane found her voluptuous figure enabled her to do some modelling on the side. With the encouragement of her mother, she saved enough money to go to drama school.

It was Jane's 38-inch bust line that came to the attention of Howard Hughes, the breast-obsessed millionaire who used his knowledge of aerodynamics to design a special bra for the 19 year old.

Jane Russell in The Outlaw
Mean, moody and magnificent in The Outlaw

Hughes was conducting a nationwide "chest hunt" for a leading female role in The Outlaw. Made in 1941, it wasn't released until two years later and then only on a limited basis.

Censorship finally gave the go-ahead for its general release in 1946. It was a smash at the box office.

The film produced much vulgar publicity for Russell. She had signed a seven year contract with Hughes and most of the films he produced showed Jane in a light that typically exploited her body.

Films like the 1951 His Kind of Woman with Robert Mitchum and Johnny Reno did nothing to showcase her true acting ability.


She survived the typecasting and her talent emerged in a variety of roles. Some of her most memorable parts include the 1948 The Paleface with Bob Hope and the 1953 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe.

In the mid-1950s, she formed Russ-Field Productions with her first husband Bob Waterfield, the star of the Cleveland Rams football team, but this did not substantially improve her box office appeal.

It was in the 1950s that she starred in a string of musicals which added comedy to her sexual allure. In 1971 she featured in the Broadway musical Company.

Poster of Jane Russell
Posters exaggerated Russell's voluptuousness

Later, she appeared in television commercials promoting brassieres, including the 18-hour bra for Playtex.

She married three times. Her second husband actor, Roger Barrett, died less then three months into their marriage from a heart-attack. Her third husband was a real estate agent, John Calvin Peoples.

Jane Russell adopted three children of her own, and this was to herald a huge international effort on her part. During the 1950s she began a mission which resulted in the adoptive placement of nearly 38,000 children through her organisation, WAIF.

For many years, she exploited her acting career to highlight the plight of homeless children, even speaking before Congress. Her enduring charisma held her in good stead throughout her campaigning, and she never lost the erotic, knowing charm that had made her such a star.

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Hollywood star Jane Russell dies
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