She was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell in Bemidji, Minnesota, the only daughter of Roy William Russell (January 5, 1890-July 18, 1937) and Geraldine Jacobi (January 2, 1891-December 26, 1986). Her four younger brothers are Thomas Ferris Russell (born April 16, 1924), Kenneth Steven Russell (born September 2, 1925), James Hyatt Russell (born February 9, 1927) and Wallace Jay Russell (born January 31, 1929).
Her parents were both born in North Dakota. Three of her grandparents were born in Canada, while her paternal grandmother was born in Germany. Her parents married in 1917. Her father was a former commissioned First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and her mother was a former actress with a road troupe. When Jane was a child they moved temporarily to Canada, then moved to the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. They lived in Burbank in 1930 and her father worked as an office manager at a soap manufacturing plant.
Jane's mother arranged for her to take piano lessons. In addition to music, she was interested in drama and participated in stage productions at Van Nuys High School. Her early ambition was to be a designer of some kind. But her father died when he was forty-six and after graduation, she went to work as a receptionist. She also modeled for photographers and, at the urging of her mother, studied drama and acting with Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Workshop and with famed Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya.
Start of her career
In 1940, Russell was signed to a seven year contract by millionaire Howard Hughes and made her motion picture debut in The Outlaw (1943), a story about Billy the Kid that went to great lengths to showcase her voluptuous bust. Although the movie was completed in 1941, it was released for a limited showing two years later. There were problems with the censorship of the production code over the way her ample cleavage was displayed. When the movie was finally passed, it had a general release in 1946. During that time, Russell was kept busy doing publicity and became famous.
Besides the thousands of quips from radio comedians, including Bob Hope once introducing her as "the two and only Jane Russell," the still of her on a haystack glowering with sulking beauty and youthful sensuality as her bosoms push forcefully against her amply filled dress was a popular pin-up with Service men during World War II.
Though The Outlaw was not a spectacular Western, it did well at the box-office. It appeared that Hughes was only interested in her being cast in movies that showcased her physique, however, reportedly refusing an offer from Darryl Zanuck for her to play Doña Sol in Blood and Sand. She was not in another movie until 1946, when she played Joan Kenwood in Young Widow for RKO. Though her early movies did little to show her true acting abilities, they helped parlay her into a career portraying smart, often cynical, tough "broads," with a wisecracking attitude.
She went on to perform with proficiency in an assortment of roles, which includes playing Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope in The Paleface (1948) on loan out to Paramount; and Mike Delroy opposite Hope in Son of Paleface (1952), again at Paramount.
Her family life
Russell had three husbands, NFL quarterback and producer Bob Waterfield (married April 24, 1943-divorced July 1968), actor Roger Barrett (married August 25, 1968-his death November 18, 1968) and real-estate broker John Calvin Peoples (married January 31, 1974-his death April 9, 1999). She and Peoples lived in Sedona, Arizona.
In February 1952, she and Waterfield adopted a baby girl, Tracy. In December 1952, they adopted a fifteen-month-old boy, Thomas. And in 1956, she and Waterfield adopted a nine-month-old boy, Robert John.
Russell was unable to have children and, in 1955, she founded World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), an organization to place children with adoptive families that pioneered adoptions from foreign countries by Americans.
Though her screen image was that of a sex goddess, her private life lacked the sensation and scandal that followed other actresses of the time, such as Lana Turner. At the height of her career, Russell started the "Hollywood Christian Group," a weekly Bible study at her home for Christians in the movie business that was attended by some of the biggest names. Russell was a prominent Republican who attended the Eisenhower inauguration, along with Lou Costello, Dick Powell, June Allyson, Anita Louise, Louella Parsons, and other conservatives.
Russell was at the height of her wry comedic talents with her performance as Dorothy Shaw in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) opposite Marilyn Monroe at 20th Century Fox, which is one of her most memorable roles. It was an excellent movie and showed her as a talented actress.
She appeared in two movies opposite Robert Mitchum, His Kind of Woman (1951) and Macao (1952). Other co-stars include Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx in the comedy Double Dynamite (1951); Victor Mature, Vincent Price and Hoagy Carmichael in The Las Vegas Story (1952); Jeff Chandler in Foxfire (1955); and Clark Gable in The Tall Man (1955).
Russell and her first husband, Waterfield, formed Russ-Field Productions in 1955. They produced Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), A King and Four Queens (1956), Run for the Sun (1956) and The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957).
Her performances in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, opposite Jeanne Crain, and in the drama The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) displayed her fine acting ability. But after making The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957), which failed at the box-office, she did not appear on the silver screen again for seven years.
In the Summer of 1961, she debuted with a tour of Janus in New England. In the Fall of 1961, she performed in Skylark at the Drury Lane Theatre, Chicago. And in November 1962, she performed in Bells are Ringing at the Westchester Town House in Yonkers, New York.
Her next movie appearance was in Fate Is the Hunter (1964), in which she was Jane Russell performing for the USO in a flashback sequence. Unfortunately, she made only four more movies after that, playing character parts in the final two.
In 1971, she starred in the musical drama Company on Broadway, replacing Elaine Stritch. Russell performed the role of Joanne in the play for six months. Also in the 1970s, she started appearing in television commercials as a spokeswoman for Playtex "cross your heart bras for us full-figured gals."
- The Outlaw (1943) (United Artists), (general release: (1946) ( RKO), ... Rio
- Young Widow (1946) (United Artists) ... Joan Kenwood
- The Paleface (1948) (Paramount) ... Calamity Jane
- His Kind of Woman (1951) (RKO) ... Lenore Brent/Liz Brady
- Double Dynamite (1951) (RKO) ... Mildred "Mibs" Goodhue ... aka It's Only Money
- The Las Vegas Story (1952) (RKO) ... Linda Rollins
- Macao (1952) (RKO) ... Julie Benson
- Son of Paleface (1952) (Paramount) ... Mike "The Torch" Delroy
- Montana Belle (1952) (RKO) ... Belle Starr
- Road to Bali (1952) (Paramount) ... Cameo
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) (20th Century Fox) ... Dorothy Shaw
- The French Line (1954) (RKO) ... Mary "Mame" Carson
- Underwater! (1955) (RKO) ... Theresa Gray ... aka The Big Rainbow (USA)
- Foxfire (1955) (Universal) ... Amanda Lawrence
- The Tall Man (1955) (20th Century Fox) ... Nella Turner
- Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955) (United Artists) ... Bonnie Jones/Mimi Jones
- Hot Blood (1956) (Columbia) ... Annie Caldash ... aka Bad Blood (USA)
- The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956) (20th Century Fox) ... Mamie Stover
- The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957) (United Artists) ... Laurel Stevens
- Fate Is the Hunter (1964) (20th Century Fox) ... Herself - USO performer in flashback
- Johnny Reno (1966) (Paramount) ... Nona Williams
- Waco (1966) (Paramount) ... Jill Stone
- The Born Losers (1967) (American International) ... Mrs. Shorn
- Darker Than Amber (1970) (National General) ... Alabama Tigress
- Shower of Stars (April 2, 1956) episode: Bombshells
- What's My Line? (August 11, 1957) ... Mystery Guest
- Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (January 26, 1959) episode: Ballad for a Bad Man ... Lili
- Death Valley Days (September 25, 1960) episode: Splinter Station
- What's My Line? (November 18, 1962) ... Mystery Guest
- V.I.P.-Schaukel (October 20, 1972) ... Herself
- The Yellow Rose (January 7, 1983) episode: Chapter XII, Divide and Conquer ... Rose Hollister
- The Yellow Rose (February 25, 1983) episode: Chapter XVII ... Rose Hollister
- The Yellow Rose (March 10, 1984) episode: Chapter XIX, Sacred Ground ... Rose Hollister
- Hunter (January 18, 1986) episode: Burned ... Ava Fontaine
- Private Screenings (1996) episode: Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell ... Herself
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- Classic Movies (1939 - 1969): Jane Russell
- Women's International Center biography of Jane Russell