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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?