Legendary GI pin-up Jane Russell dies at 89

Jane Russell, famed for eye-popping curves and stunning beauty that made her the screen siren of choice for a generation of American troops at war, died on Monday aged 89, her family said.

"I did speak with her daughter-in-law this morning, and she did die peacefully at home, with her kids all around her," said Kim Davis, executive director of CASA, a child advocacy group in Santa Barbara, California with which the star had been associated.

The "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" star was discovered by chance when producer Howard Hughes spotted her working as a receptionist at his dentist's office, just as he was seeking a heroine for his new film, "The Outlaw."

The 1943 movie launched Russell's career, and her reputation as a sex symbol, with its sensuous poster depicted significantly more of her ample assets than was considered seemly at the time.

While the film, and the controversy surrounding it, catapulted Russell into the public eye, she was not unfamiliar with the entertainment industry.

Her mother belonged to a traveling troupe of actors and Russell studied piano and theater, including with famous Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaia, and modeled before being discovered by Hughes.

Born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921 in Minnesota, she was the eldest of her parents' five children, and their only daughter.

The family later moved to Burbank, California, and her father, a former soldier, died at 46, before Russell's career took off.

"The Outlaw," in which her seemingly never-ending legs and large bosom dominated the screen, propelled Russell into the world of Hollywood as a screen siren with an aura of scandal.

Censors expressed concern about the cleavage on display in the movie, forcing Hughes to cut feet of film. And while it got a brief release in 1943, the movie didn't get a full release until 1946, when it was a box office smash.

"There was absolutely nothing wrong with the picture," Russell later told Christianity Today in an interview that emphasized her religious faith. "It was an amazing time. But all it was about was some cleavage!"

Russell's status as an iconic sex symbol was being cemented by young American soldiers deployed abroad during World War II, who pinned up sultry pictures of the actress in their barracks.

Among the most famous was the near-scandalous poster for "Outlaw," which featured Russell reclining on a haystack with her skirt hitched up near her hips, her shirt open past her breastbone and a revolver in her hand.

Cementing her Hollywood status was the 1953 hit "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," in which she shared the screen with Marilyn Monroe.

Russell played the idealistic but responsible brunette to Monroe's flighty and naive blond, and the movie created a lasting friendship between the actresses, even though Russell earned 10 times Monroe's fee.

After an impressive roster of movie appearances, including the 1955 sequel "Gentlemen Marry Brunettes," Russell's film career fizzled in the 1960s.

In the decade that followed, she abandoned the movies for the small screen, appearing in television adverts for bras, and in music hall shows in Las Vegas and New York.

Married three times, Russell went through one divorce and was widowed twice. In famously liberal Hollywood, and despite her sex symbol image, she was a rare defender of Christian and Republican values.

Russell described herself as vigorously pro-life, after having undergone a botched abortion at 18 that left her unable to have children. She and her first husband, footballer Bob Waterfield, adopted three children.

"I was born to be married. A family life helps everything, and also my belief in Jesus," she told Britain's Daily Mail newspaper in a 2007 interview.

She jokingly told Christianity Today in 2009 that she could be described as "a mean-spirited right-wing conservative Christian bigot."

But she quickly qualified that: "I'm not bigoted about race at all, I am bigoted about those idiots that are trying to take the Ten Commandments off the wall (in courtrooms), the Bible out of school, and prayer even out of football games."

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