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. Her parents spent the early years of their marriage in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. For her birth her mother temporarily moved back to the U.S. to ensure she was born a U.S. citizen. Later the family 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.
Russell'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, until the death of her father at forty-six, when she decided to work as a receptionist after graduation. 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.
In 1940, Russell was signed to a seven-year contract by film mogul 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 figure. 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. Contrary to countless incorrect reports in the media since the release of The Outlaw, Jane Russell did not wear the specially designed underwire bra (the first of its kind) that Howard Hughes constructed for the film. According to Jane's 1988 autobiography, she was given the bra, decided it had a mediocre fit, and wore her own bra on the film set with the straps pulled down.
Together with Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth, Russell personified the sensuously contoured sweater girl look, though Jane Russell's measurements of 38D-24-36 and height of 5' 7" were more statuesque than her contemporaries. Besides the thousands of quips from radio comedians, including Bob Hope once introducing her as "the two and only Jane Russell," the photo of her on a haystack glowering with sulky beauty and youthful sensuality as her breasts push forcefully against her bodice 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 sensational figure, 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.
In 1947, Russell attempted to launch a musical career, recording a single with the Kay Kyser Orchestra, "As Long As I Live".
She went on to perform with proficiency in an assortment of roles, which included 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.
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. The film was well received 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 and Robert Ryan in The Tall Men (1955).
In Howard Hughes' RKO production The French Line (1954), the movie's penultimate moment showed Russell in a form-fitting one-piece bathing suit with strategic cut outs, performing a then-provocative musical number titled "Lookin' for Trouble." In her autobiography, Russell said that the revealing outfit was an alternative to Hughes' original suggestion of a bikini, a very racy choice for a movie costume in 1954. Russell said that she initially wore the bikini in front of her "horrified" movie crew while "feeling very naked."
Russell and her first husband, former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Bob Waterfield, formed Russ-Field Productions in 1955. They produced Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), The King and Four Queens (1956) starring Clark Gable and Eleanor Parker, 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 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 came in Fate Is the Hunter (1964), in which she was seen as herself performing for the USO in a flashback sequence. 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," featuring the "18-hour bra."
She wrote an autobiography in 1985, Jane Russell: My Path and My Detours. In 1989, she received the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award.
Russell was portrayed by Renee Henderson in the 2001 CBS mini-series Blonde, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates and portrayed leaving her imprints at Grauman's along with Marilyn Monroe in the HBO film Norma Jean & Marilyn starring Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino.
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 herself 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. In her 1985 autobiography, Russell revealed that she got pregnant at age 19 and had a back alley abortion that was so badly botched she almost died. Upon inspecting her in the emergency room her doctor exclaimed, "What butcher did this to you?" After that Russell was unable to conceive. Since then Jane has taken a staunch pro-life stance against abortion.
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. Although in her autobiography Jane did admit that she had survived two attempted rapes unharmed, that her first marriage had been speckled with adultery (on both sides) and violence, and that she had been an alcoholic since she was a teenager. She also revealed that she was a born-again Christian, one of the things that had helped her cope.
At the height of her career, Russell started the "Hollywood Christian Group," a weekly Bible study at her home for Christians in the film industry that was attended by some of its biggest names. She appeared occasionally on the Praise The Lord program on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian television channel based in Costa Mesa, California.
Russell lives in the Santa Maria Valley on the Central Coast of California.
Jane Russell Outlaws PC Pose: Tinseltown Legend Jane Russell Longs for a Conservative Resurgence in Hollywood, While Using Her Celebrity to Get the Bible Back into the Public-School Curriculum
Mar 11, 2002; In World War II, pinup photos of actress/singer Jane Russell adorned the barracks of American GIs stationed throughout the world....
Jane Russell, 89, sultry movie star; Voluptuous actress was at center of censorship battle; Obituary.(News)(Obituary)
Mar 01, 2011; Byline: Claudia Luther; Los Angeles Times LOS ANGELES -- Jane Russell, the dark-haired siren whose sensational debut in the 1943...