We lost a true Hollywood icon this week when Jane Russell passed away on February 28 at age 89. Russell had brassy, good-natured quality that made her seem like the girl next door — if the girl next door had a sensationally curvy figure.
She was born in Minnesota, the oldest of six children and the only girl. She was discovered by Howard Hughes, who signed her to a seven-year exclusive contract and famously used his skill as an engineer to design a bra for optimal display of her generous bust. (She later said it was so uncomfortable that she tossed it away). Her bust was also the focus of a widely distributed publicity still for “The Outlaw” and for the film itself — today no one remembers much about it except that its release was held up for two years over debates about the display of Ms. Russell’s cleavage.
What Hughes didn’t seem to notice was her talent as a comic actress, singer, and dancer. After her contract with Hughes was up she made her best-known films, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as the wisecracking sidekick to Marilyn Monroe, and The Paleface and Son of Paleface with Bob Hope.
In her later years, she continued to perform, making her Broadway debut at age 60 and recording pop, standards, and Christian music. Her great heart and generous spirit shone through all of her work and she will be missed.