I was shocked and deeply saddened today to hear of screen legend Jane Russell’s death. Since my interest in classic Hollywood piqued about a year ago, this is the first death that I can recall of a legendary star whose work I knew and enjoyed. I just watched Gentlemen Prefer Blondes this summer and Jane was truly hilarious in that film. I remember thinking how she really had a way with a line.
Not too long ago I also listened to the TCM Private Screenings Uncut Podcast which had the full interview that Robert Osborne conducted with Jane Russell and her friend and former co-star Robert Mitchum. Jane came across as a very warm woman who was also strong, brassy, and unafraid to speak her mind. That is what I love about Jane Russell. Onscreen and off, she was very genuine. From listening to the interview, I got the sense that she never took herself or her fame too seriously and always kept her values in perspective.
More facts about Jane (from IMDb):
- Received the Women's International Center (WIC) Living Legacy Award in 1989.
- Discovered by Howard Hughes working as a receptionist for his dentist.
- In the late 1930s she was a member of Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Workshop and attended Maria Ouspenskaya's Drama School for six months.
- As a little girl Jane was a tomboy. She had four brothers: Tom, Kenny, Jamie and Wally.
- Her favorite book is the Bible. She reads a passage from it every day.
- A longtime pro-life activist, she opposes the use of abortion in any circumstance including rape or incest.
- Member of America's Future.
- Has a street named after her in Iowa City, Iowa.
- Through her organization, World Adoption International Fund (WAIF), Russell has placed 51,000 children with adoptive families.
- Unable to bear children, Russell championed the passage of the Federal Orphan Adoption Amendment of 1953, which allowed children of American servicemen born overseas to be placed for adoption in the United States.
- Her three adopted children are Tracy, Thomas and Buck.
- A born-again Christian decades before the term was coined, she held weekly Bible study at her home which was attended by some of the industry's biggest names.
- Attended the inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953.
- Leonardo DiCaprio visited Jane while filming The Aviator (2004) in order to find up close and personal what Howard Hughes was really like.
- A political conservative, she sided publicly with an industry panel that urged the removal of certain provocative scenes in one of her films.
- In 2006 (at age 84), Jane put together a musical show entitled "The Swinging Forties" that plays twice a month at the Radisson Hotel. The show features herself and about a dozen local Santa Maria residents, including a choir director, lay preacher and retired police officer. She formed the show out of boredom and because there was nothing much going on in town for the older folks to do.
“I have always been a Republican, and when I was in Hollywood long ago, most of the people there were Republican. The studio heads were all Republican, my boss Howard Hughes was a raving Republican, and we had a motion picture code in those days so they couldn't do all this naughty stuff. We had John Wayne, we had Charlton Heston, we had man named Ronald Reagan, we had Robert Mitchum, James Stewart,Clark Gable.”
“Publicity can be terrible. But only if you don't have any.”
“I like a man who can run faster than I can.”
“My son said, 'Mother you can't say the word bigot because that has to do with nationalities and things.' I said, 'No darling, it's a verb. It means I can't stand these people who are trying to take the Ten Commandments off the wall, take prayer out of school and take prayer out of football games.' It's too ridiculous. The Lord put this country together or we wouldn't be like we are.”
"These days I am a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist." (2003)
“People should never, ever have an abortion. Don't talk to me about it being a woman's right to choose what she does with her own body. The choice is between life and death.”
“I want to save America. I do not want a one-world order, a one-world government, at all. I think that our Founding Fathers had exactly the right idea, and we've got a great country, and let's go back to God.” (2001)
“I've been working a lot to get the Bible back in schools because I think a great deal of our loss of wisdom as a society results from the fact that a lot of children have never read the Bible. I've been helping Elizabeth Ridenour [of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools] get the Bible back in school by going on television shows for her. She's gotten it into 38 states and 117 school districts, and as a result of this effort 60,000 children have now been able to read the Bible.”
“Music has gone just as bananas as the movies. But kids are learning swing and going back to the music of the forties. 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.”
“My father was a Republican, and he couldn't stand what Franklin Delano Roosevelt was doing to the country. I always say I'm a mean-spirited narrow-minded right-wing, conservative Christian ... I start out with that, and if you don't like it, you can lump it. I am not politically correct.”
“It was always an accident; I wish I could take some of the credit. My mother used to say, 'You have a path from heaven and if you fall off of it, it'll be a problem, Jane.' It was always the case where no matter what way I wanted to go, the Lord wanted me to go this way.”
“I really think the 1940s were the best generation for Hollywood. Everybody was patriotic then. Nobody was talking the way they do now, against the soldiers. It was a different era, a different Hollywood then, and we respected our country, our leaders and our fighting men. Sure, I'll admit, I'm a mean-spirited, politically conservative old actress. I'm not bigoted against any race, just those idiots who want to spit on our soldiers' hard work or remove the Ten Commandments from our schools and courtroom walls.”
From Classic Film Scans
We will indeed remember Jane Russell every time we enjoy one of her films. But she will also live on through all of those that she has positively affected--both personally, and though her charitable work. That is her legacy.
Miss Russell stylishly waves good-bye. [Source]