3:49PM GMT 01 Mar 2011
In Bob Hope’s forgettable 1952 Western comedy Son of Paleface, Jane Russell shimmies on to the stage of a wild cowpoke’s bar, all fishnet tights, endless legs and hourglass figure, and starts to sing a song called Wing Ding. “She’s got it!” says an awestruck Hope to a sidekick. “Got what?” the sidekick replies. “Don’t know,” says Hope. “But if we could bottle it, we’d make a fortune.”
As a summary of Jane Russell’s relatively brief film career, that’s pretty succinct. Russell, who died yesterday aged 89, was the discovery of Howard Hughes, the wacko aviator and businessman who also produced and directed films.
After having been a sent a photo of the pneumatic Russell in 1940 – she was 19 at the time, Hughes cast her in The Outlaw, a forgettable Western in which she plays the mixed-race mistress of Doc Holliday.
Hughes essentially built the film around Russell – or more precisely, her impressive cleavage – then devised a publicity campaign that got the movie embroiled in a long-running censorship controversy. As a result, The Outlaw was not released until 1946.
Famously (and creepily) Hughes designed a bra for Russell that would display her assets to their best advantage. But unknown to him, she cast it aside for her best-known publicity shot, a poster which showed her reclining in a hayloft, brandishing a gun and showing her curves, under the headline: “Mean, moody, magnificent.”
Under Hughes’ tutelage she played Calamity Jane opposite Hope (in The Paleface, 1948) and co-starred with Frank Sinatra (in Double Dynamite, 1950) and Robert Mitchum (in Macau, 1952).
But her best screen moment was for director Howard Hawks opposite Marilyn Monroe in the screen adaptation of Anita Loos’ story Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), which allowed them both to showcase their comic talents. They played a pair of gold-diggers; the song on which they duetted, Two Little Girls From Little Rock, is a delight.
Still, she started to tire of the film world and retired from full-time acting in 1957. She made occasional guest and cameo appearances on TV and in film, and in the 1970s even appeared in commercials advertising bras. Intriguingly she made it to Broadway, replacing Elaine Stritch in Stephen Sondheim’s spiky musical comedy Company.
Hers is not a long CV, but her name was a byword for smouldering sexuality in an era of American movies still largely stifled by propriety and conformity.
It was not known in her peak that she had had a wild life of her own – teenage affairs, abortions and alcohol problems. In the later years she became identified as a staunch conservative and effectively disowned the excess of her past. Still, she will be remembered as a genuine Hollywood star – one who could sell cinema tickets in her own right and hold her own on stage with formidable male leads.
Jane Russell was born on June 21st, 1921 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Russell
June 21st, 1921
21 +1+9+2+1 = 34 = her “secret” number = Red hot. Smokin’ hot.