“Music has gone just as bananas as the movies. But kids are learning swing and going back to the music of the ’40s. There’s a swing club near my home in Santa Barbara, and the kids are fantastic. There’s no drinking, no smoking, just dancing all night long.” –Jane Russell
Throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood, many actresses made their mark upon the industry. Several were considered bombshells, including Jane Russell. In addition to being a successful film actress, Russell was also one of Hollywood’s leading sex symbols.
Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell was born on June 21, 1921, in Bemidji, Minnesota. She was the first of five children born to Roy and Geraldine Russell and had four younger brothers.
Russell’s father was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, while her mother worked as part of a road troupe of actors. The couple lived in Canada before moving to Minnesota. Nine days after their daughter’s birth, they relocated back to Canada for another two years. Afterwards, Russell’s father took on a job as an office manager, moving the family to Southern California.
Growing up, Russell took piano lessons and explored an interest in drama. While attending Van Nuys High School, she participated in various plays. Though she dreamed of one day becoming a designer, the passing of her father caused her to pursue work as a receptionist after her graduation.
Nonetheless, Russell took on modeling jobs. Her mother encouraged her to continue pursuing an acting career, so Russell went on to study drama at Max Reinhardt’s Theatrical Workshop with Maria Ouspenskaya as her coach.
Russell’s film debut came in The Outlaw (1943), following her being signed on to a seven-year contract by Howard Hughes. The film’s release was delayed largely due to the production code and Hughes’ insistence on showcasing Russell’s figure as the female lead of the film.
After her first film role, Russell focused on developing a musical career. She performed with the Kay Kyser Orchestra on radio broadcasts and also made several song recordings.
Russell returned to films in 1946 but experienced a revival in her film career with the release of The Paleface (1948), alongside Bob Hope. Russell also worked with several other notable stars in musical comedies, including Groucho Marx, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, Victor Mature, and many more. Russell reunited with Hope in Son of Paleface (1952) and had a cameo in Road to Bali (1953).
Additionally, Russell famously carried out the role of Dorothy Shaw in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) alongside Marilyn Monroe. The film was Russell’s biggest hit since her debut and was a major success for 20th Century Fox. She and Marilyn had their hand and footprints immortalized at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at the film’s premiere.
In addition to appearing in films, Russell experimented with producing films. She produced Underwater! (1955), which, unfortunately, flopped at the box office.
Behind the scenes, Russell was married three times. Unable to have children due to a botched abortion during her teen years, she adopted three children. Moreover, Russell went on to found Waif, which was the first international adoption program.
As her film popularity began to wane, Russell returned to music and debut a successful solo act at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. She recorded several albums and also transition to television, fulfilling several guest appearances.
Later in her life, Russell wrote an autobiography, entitled Jane Russell: My Path and Detours. She received the Women’s International Center Living Legacy Award.
Russell passed away on February 28, 2011, at her Santa Maria, California, home. She was 89 years old.
Today, Russell is best remembered for her films, as tributes to her are minimal.
She and her family once lived at 1018 N. Angeleno Ave. in Burbank, California. The original home no longer stands.
In 2011, however, Russell took time to remember co-star, Hope, while in San Diego to celebrate a friend’s birthday party. Near the Midway Museum, visitors will find a national tribute to Hope and the military. A statue of Hope at the microphone “entertains” various services members enjoying his performance. A delighted Russell toured the memorial and posed for pictures.
Though few physical tributes to Russell remain, she is well celebrated through her filmography.