Jane Russell, the curvaceous actress who starred in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Outlaw, has passed away yesterday of respiratory failure at her home in Santa Maria, Calif. She was 89.
It was Russell’s voluptuous figure that attracted the attentions of Howard Hughes, who cast her in 1943’s The Outlaw as a woman who comes between Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid, played by Walter Huston and Jack Buetel. It was Russell’s first film. During production, Hughes decided that director Howard Hawks was not capturing Russell’s figure adequetely, so he turned his engineering skills to designing a special underwire bra to add more lift to her bosom. The Hollywood Production Code office was none to happy with the emphasis on Russell’s cleavage in the film and ordered a reluctant Hughes to cut about 40 feet, or about 30 seconds, from the film. Hughes would later orchestrate a public outcry against his own film as a means of publicity but it would backfire on him, getting the film pulled after one week of release and confining it to a shelf for three years. When it finally was re-released in 1946, it was a box office hit. Russell would later claim that she never wore the bra that Hughes designed and that he never noticed.
However, all the notoriety surrounding the picture kept Russell from landing a second film role until 1947’s Young Widow for RKO. But her career didn’t really take off until she was able to showoff her comic sensibilities when she starred opposite comic Bob Hope, who had once quipped “Culture is the ability to describe Jane Russell without moving your hands,” in the comedy Paleface (1948) and its sequel Son Of Paleface (1952). Her biggest hit was playing gal pal to Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 musical comedy Gentleman Prefer Blondes. Monroe worked for Hughes’ RKO Studios again for the 1954 movie The French Line. Released during the height of the first 3D craze, it was advertised with the tag line – “J. R. in 3D! Need we say more?”
At the end of the 1950s, Russell left film to take a second stab at a musical career, but returned to moviemaking for 1964’s Fate Is The Hunter. She would only appear in four more films, the last being 1970’s Darker Than Amber.