Nationality: American. Born: Ernestine Geraldine Russell in Bemidji, Minnesota, 21 June 1921; grew up in California. Education: Was graduated from Van Nuys High School. Family: Married 1) the athlete Bob Waterfield, 1943 (divorced 1968), three adopted children: Thomas, Tracy, Robert; 2) Roger Barrett, 1968 (died 1968); 3) John Calvin Peoples, 1974. Career: Receptionist, then model; studied acting at Max Reinhardt's Theatre Workshop and Maria Ouspenskaya's school; 1939-late 1950s—under contract to Howard Hughes; 1943—enormous publicity with release of her debut film The Outlaw ; also worked on stage and in nightclubs; 1971—in the stage musical
The Outlaw (Hughes) (as Rio)
Young Widow (Marin) (as Joan Kenwood)
The Paleface (McLeod) (as Calamity Jane)
His Kind of Woman (Farrow) (as Lenore Brent); Double Dynamite (Cummings) (as Mildred Goodhug)
Macao (von Sternberg) (as Julie Benson); Road to Bali (Walker) (as herself); The Las Vegas Story (Stevenson) (as Linda Rollins); Son of Paleface (Tashlin) (as Mike); Montana Belle (Dawn) (as Belle Starr)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks) (as Dorothy)
The French Line (Lloyd Bacon) (as Mary Carson); Underwater! (John Sturges) (as Theresa)
Foxfire (Pevney) (as Amanda Lawrence); Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (Sale) (as Bonnie/Mimi Jones); The Tall Men (Walsh) (as Nella Turner)
Hot Blood (Nicholas Ray) (as Annie Caldash); The Revolt of Mamie Stover (Walsh) (title role)
The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (Taurog) (as Laurel Stevens)
Fate Is the Hunter (Ralph Nelson) (as herself)
Johnny Reno (Springsteen) (as Nona Williams); Waco (Springsteen) (as Jill Stone)
The Born Losers (Laughlin) (as Mrs. Shorn)
Darker than Amber (Clouse) (as Alabama Tiger)
Jane Russell: My Path & My Detours: An Autobiography , New York, 1985.
Interview with John Kobal, in Films and Filming (London), July 1984.
"Russell," interview with G. Peary, in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1992.
Parish, James Robert, The RKO Gals , New Rochelle, New York, 1974.
Hagen, Ray, "Jane Russell," in Films in Review (New York), March 1963.
Dangaard, C., "Jane Russell l'autre destin d'un symbole sexuel," in Cine-Tele-Revue , 23 July 1987.
Kendall, R., "Jane Russell Speaks Out," in Hollywood Studio , no. 10, 1988.
Rubenstein, Hal, "Jane Russell," in Interview (New York), August 1988.
Kuerten, J., "Busenwunder und Boesewicht, in Medium , no. 2, 1991.
Peary, G., "Russell," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1992.
Stars (Mariembourg, Belgium), Autumn 1993.
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Most stars develop an image, but Jane Russell was an image before she was properly a movie star. Even today, she is likely best remembered as the busty, cleavaged sex symbol of The Outlaw 's huge publicity campaign than as, for example, Dorothy in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes . The image (together with the accompanying slogan, "Mean, moody, magnificent") was much parodied, but hardly required it: it was a parody already. Of what? Female sexual provocation, of course, in a culture that has not been reluctant to endorse the equation sexuality = woman = evil. But even worse: an active, aggressive, desiring female sexuality. "How would you like to tussle with Russell?" was always meant, presumably, to be a question that daunted viewers as much as aroused them. How—within a male-dominated culture that takes the phallus as its symbol of power, a culture in which male potency is thus continuously threatened and which is characterized accordingly by male sexual anxiety in its many forms—can active female sexuality be represented except as parody? (There are, in fact, two other options: it can be set up in order to be punished and subdued, or it can be quite straightforwardly vilified.) Jane Russell was always something of a joke because what the image stood for could not be seriously contemplated.
Russell's role in The Outlaw is in fact remarkably innocuous: the film is so obsessed with male homosexuality that it marginalizes her completely. Movie reviewers routinely dismissed her performance, but they did note the contribution her breasts made to the production. Indeed, director Howard Hughes conducted a nationwide "talent" search for the perfect actress to play Rio; and he selected Russell based almost solely upon her amply endowed physique. Accordingly, it was clearly not the role but the image that made her a kind of star. But what kind? What could be done with her? It seems inevitable that, after one or two false starts, she would be shifted into comedy; inevitable even, that she would find a special if temporary niche partnering Bob Hope, most of whose humor is rooted in sexual ineffectuality, so that the comic-parodic side of the Russell persona becomes even more pronounced.
One might also have predicted—given a certain auteurist hindsight—that if Russell were to have a moment of real glory it would be in collaboration with Howard Hawks; one wonders how different her career might have been had Hawks directed her in The Outlaw as was originally intended (he directed only a couple of scenes at the beginning of the film, before Russell was introduced). Hawks's delight in assertive women, and his insistence that the role of Dorothy be developed especially for her, enabled Russell, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes , to play comedy in which female sexual attractiveness becomes the positive norm in a ridiculous world of male incompetence and inanity. Although Marilyn Monroe was unequivocally the star of Gentlemen , Russell rises to this considerable challenge to deliver a clever performance as her wisecracking, sexually experienced, and less materially motivated friend. And, in one of the film's most memorable numbers, "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?," Russell is enchanting as a woman who is quite comfortable in the company of scores of barely clad athletic men. Little wonder that the film's final scene, the double wedding, ends with the camera moving in to frame Russell and Monroe as they smile at each other rather than at their husbands.
—Robin Wood, updated by Cynthia Felando