|"Jane tried to convert me (to religion) and I tried to introduce her to Freud," Marilyn Monroe once said of Jane.|
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The Passing of an Icon: Jane Russell
Jane Russell, a sex symbol of 1940s and '50s Hollywood, was known as much for her voluptuous figure as for her acting has passed away a few days ago. To me, Jane was double-edge sword. On one side, she epitomized sultry glamour and helped promote feminism. While on the other side, she was involved with groups that promoted intolerance and hate.
Most likely, Jane caught your attention. If you are old enough, you probably saw her in such classic films as “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” with Marilyn Monroe or “The Paleface” with Bob Hope. If you are a younger baby boomer, your first introduction to Jane probably was in those Playtex bras in which she brought "good news for us full-figure gals."
As an aspiring young sissy in the 70s, I remember seeing Jane in those Playtex commercials but couldn’t understand why she was wearing her underwear on the outside of her clothes. I asked my mom if she would buy me one of those cross your heart bras and she laughed as she asked me why I would want one. I told her so that I could look just like that pretty lady. My mom just laughed – probably thinking that I was just kidding. Little did she know!
The story of how Jane’s career took off is well know. She was working as a receptionist when a photo of her was sent to eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes, who had been conducting a nationwide search for a curvaceous actress for his new film, The Outlaw. The movie gained notoriety after censors kept the film from general release in a dispute over Russell's cleavage. Hughes then engineered a long publicity campaign to take advantage of this “controversy” over the screen debut of Ms. Russell’s boobs. Adverts for the film showed the star sprawled on a bale of hay with the tag line "How'd you like to tussle with Russell?"
"Yes, Howard Hughes invented a bra for me. Or, he tried to. And one of the seamless ones like they have now. He was ahead of his time. But I never wore it in The Outlaw. And he never knew. He wasn't going to take my clothes off to check if I had … " Russell said.
You really can't appreciate what Jane was doing back then without taking into account the culture that preceded it. Girls wore one-piece bathing suit-the bikini was yet to appear. What Jane was showing off was considered scandalous. I think that it would be fair to say that Jane did help move forward as a society away from sexual repression and towards gender equality.
While known for her acting and singing, Russell’s World Adoption International Fund has succeeded in placing over 50,000 children with adoptive parents. Russell herself adopted three children.
While I can admired Jane Russell for much, she has also done things that make my blood boil. During a speech in 2003, she announced that "these days I am a tea-totaling, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded conservative Christian bigot…" While I have every respect for differences in religious views amongst people, I don’t have much respect for using one’s religion to legitimize violence and hate.
For example, Russell was affiliated with Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum, which wanted Muslims banned from the military, banned from political office, and banned from having government jobs. This group also testified in support of legislation that would allow the murder of abortion doctors as “justifiable homicide.” This seemed a bit ironic to me when I read that Jane, at the tender age of 19, had undergone an abortion herself. Russell’s opinionated stances sometimes made it easy for people to view her as a hypocrite – especially when one considers her extra-marital affairs, her divorce, and her alcoholism.
Unlike many of her conservative colleagues, Russell was certainly no homophobe. She often would talk nostalgic about her openly gay choreographer in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Jack Cole. She repeatedly called him a “genius” and credited him for the success of the film since neither she nor Marilyn Monroe could dance a step when they started shooting.
Jane always seemed to enjoy her status as a gay icon, and she commented on the bizarre bit of homoerotica in the film when she sings "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love" in the middle of a training session for the Olympic team. As dozens of hunky studs go through their work-out moves, Jane darts in and out of their routines singing lines like "I like big muscles, and red corpuscles, I like a beautiful hunk of man." The men ignore her completely and seem far more interested in each other as they gyrate in suggestive positions.
Jane Russell’s life was dictated by her beauty but the feisty glamour icon has deservedly earned a place in cinema history. Like each of us, her life was a mixture of good and bad, of opinion and controversy. Let us remember her for her beauty and for her helping children.