1940’s and 50’s sex symbol and actress Jane Russell has died. She was 89. Famous for her curvy form, Russell became a pin-up favorite of G.I.’s during the Second World War and Korea. Her physical attributes were enhanced with some assistance from billionaire Howard Hughes. He designed a seamless brassiere for her, which was used in her revealing and emphasized performance in the 1943 film “The Outlaw.” It was the topic of debate and intense scrutiny by the board of the Hollywood Production Code. Russell was the woman who broke ground for sexuality in films. She is considered to be one of the largest sex symbols of her time.
Born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921, in Bemidji, Minnesota, her parents moved to Los Angeles when she was an infant. Growing up in Van Nuys, she acted in school plays at Van Nuys High School. After graduation, she did some part time modeling. A talent agent sent one of photographer Tom Kelley’s photos of Russell to Howard Hughes. She got the part in “The Outlaw” after Hughes saw her screen test.
Under contract with Hughes for fourteen years, she had little opportunity to flex her acting skills. She was allowed to star as Calamity Jane in the movie “The Paleface” with Bob Hope in 1948. She demonstrated her talent for comedy with her deadpan delivery. The role provided the spark she needed to boost her career.
In 1953, director Howard Hawks featured Russell opposite Marilyn Monroe in the musical/comedy “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” A year later, Russell formed a trio with Beryl Davis and Connie Haines. They sang religious songs for nearly 30 years and donated the proceeds to adoption groups and churches.
Russell grew up as an evangelical Christian; she was married three times and in the process adopted three children. Knowing the difficulty of adopting children overseas, she was successful in lobbying Congress into easing regulations that were in force. Russell founded WAIF (Women’s Adoption International Fund) to help families adopt foreign orphans. Over 50,000 children benefited from her organization.
Jane Russell passed away in her Santa Maria home after respiratory complications. A daughter Tracy, and two sons Thomas and Robert, six grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren survive her.
A service will be held to honor Jane Russell at Pacific Christian Church in Santa Maria, on March 23 at 11:00 a.m. A reception is scheduled to follow at 2:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking the public to make donations to:
Care Net Pregnancy & Resource Center
121 West Battles
Santa Maria, CA 93458
CASA of Santa Barbara County
120 East Jones Street, Ste. 130
Santa Maria, CA 93454
R.I.P. Jane Russell, you were a beautiful and talented human being.