Hollywood screen siren Jane Russell dies

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Jane Russell, the busty brunette who shot to fame as the sexy star of Howard Hughes' 1941 Western The Outlaw, has died of respiratory failure, her family said today.

Although Russell, 89, who died at her home in Santa Maria, California, made only a handful of films after the 1960s, she had remained active in her church, with charitable organisations and with a local singing group until her health began to decline just a couple weeks ago, said her daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield.

"She always said I'm going to die in the saddle, I'm not going to sit at home and become an old woman," Ms Waterfield said. "And that's exactly what she did, she died in the saddle."

Eccentric billionaire Hughes put her on to the path to stardom when he cast her in The Outlaw.

With her sultry look and glowing sexuality, Russell became a star before she was ever seen by a wide movie audience. The Hughes publicity mill ground out photos of the beauty in low-cut costumes and swimsuits, and she became famous, especially as a pin-up for Second World War soldiers.

By that time she had become a box-office star by starring with Bob Hope in the 1948 hit comedy-Western The Paleface.

Although her look and her hourglass figure made her the subject of numerous nightclub jokes, unlike Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and other pin-up queens of the era, Russell was untouched by scandal in her personal life. During her Hollywood career she was married to American football quarterback Bob Waterfield.

The Outlaw, although it established her reputation, was beset with trouble from the beginning. Director Howard Hawks, one of Hollywood's most eminent and autocratic film-makers, rankled under producer Hughes' constant suggestions and finally walked out.

The film's rambling, fictional plot featured Russell as a friend of Billy the Kid as he tussles with Doc Holliday and Sheriff Pat Garrett.

It had scattered brief runs in the 1940s, earning scathing reviews. The Los Angeles Times called it "one of the weirdest Western pictures that ever unreeled before the public". Another release in 1950 drew more poor reviews and mediocre business.

But Hughes bought the ailing RKO studio in 1948 and he devoted special care to his number one star, using his engineering skills to design Russell a special bra - she said she never wore it. That year she made her most successful film, a loan to Paramount for The Paleface.

But at RKO she was cast in a series of pot-boilers such as His Kind of Woman (with Robert Mitchum), Double Dynamite (Frank Sinatra, Groucho Marx), The Las Vegas Story (Victor Mature) and Macao (Mitchum again).

Hughes had rewarded her with a unique 20-year contract paying 1,000 dollars a week, then he sold RKO and stopped making movies. Russell continued receiving the weekly fee, but never made another film for Hughes.

Her only other notable film was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a 1953 musical based on the novel by Anita Loos. She and Monroe teamed up to sing Two Little Girls From Little Rock and seek romance in Paris.

She followed that up with the 1954 musical The French Line, which like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes has her cavorting on an ocean liner. The film was shot in 3D, and he promotional campaign for it proclaimed "JR in 3D. Need we say more?"

In 1955, she made the sequel Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (without Monroe) and starred in the Westerns The Tall Men, with Clark Gable, and Foxfire, with Jeff Chandler. But by the 1960s, her film career had faded.

"Why did I quit movies?" she remarked in 1999. "Because I was getting too old! You couldn't go on acting in those years if you were an actress over 30."

She continued to appear in nightclubs, television and musical theatre, including a stint on Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's Company. She formed a singing group with Connie Haines and Beryl Davis, and they made records of gospel songs.

Minnesota-born Russell's mother was a lay preacher who encouraged the family to build a chapel in their garden, but young Jane had a wild side. She wrote in her 1985 autobiography, My Paths And Detours, that during high school she had a back-street abortion which may have made her unable to bear children.

While working as a receptionist, she was spotted by a movie agent who submitted her photos to Hughes and she was summoned for a test with Hawks, who was to direct The Outlaw.

But Russell's life was marked by heartache. Her 24-year marriage to Waterfield ended in bitter divorce in 1968 (they had adopted sons Thomas and Robert, and daughter Tracy.)

That year she married actor Roger Barrett; three months later he died of a heart attack. In 1978 she married developer John Peoples, and they lived in Sedona, Arizona, and later, Santa Barbara. He died in 1999 of heart failure.

Over the years Russell also battled alcoholism but said she had always been able to rebound from troubles by relying on the religious lessons she learned from her mother.

She is survived by her children, Thomas Waterfield, Tracy Foundas and Robert "Buck" Waterfield, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

A public funeral is will be held on March 12 at Pacific Christian Church in Santa Maria.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMLD Teaching Assistant Required - Nottingham

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently looking to ...

IT Support Technician (2nd Line / Server Support) - Bedford

£24000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: 2nd line IT Support Techn...

Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments