Gentlemen Prefer Jane Russell

Jane Russell

“Tall…. Terrific…. and Trouble!” screamed the ad line for “The Outlaw,” the 1943 film that introduced the world to Jane Russell – and her spectacular cleavage.

Millionaire Howard Hughes produced and directed the film specifically to challenge Hollywood censors and the notorious Hayes Code. After an extensive talent hunt, he discovered Russell working in his dentist’s office and cast her as “Rio,” the love interest for Billy the Kid played by Jack Buetel.

Russell, who is now 88, tells me that the most memorable part of her film debut was, “the fact that a picture that should’ve taken eight weeks to make took nine months. Howard had never directed a film before and we thought he should never do another.” He never did.

“He was a nice guy and very polite, but he made us do take after take after take,” she says. “Jack and I didn’t know any better because we had never done a film before, but Thomas Mitchell finally flipped his wig. He screamed at Howard, stormed up and down, threw his hat on the floor and stomped on it. Howard looked up and said, ‘Tom, did you say something?’ Jack and I were in hysterics.”

Hughes also designed a bra for Russell to wear in the film, or as she puts it: “He tried. I threw it under the cot in the dressing room and never wore it. He was trying to make a smooth bra without seams, which they now have. He really was a brilliant man.”


Jane Russell & Adam Sandel

Jane Russell & Adam Sandel

“The picture that couldn’t be stopped!” had its premiere in San Francisco. “It was jam-packed because people wanted to see this ‘naughty’ picture,” says Russell. “But there was only one scene with some bosom in it – when I had to lean over Jack. It’s rated PG today. Now you get cleavage from the back and the front!”

For the premiere engagement, Hughes planned for the stars to perform a live scene on stage before the film. “They had this big beautiful curtain with leaves on it and as it was going up, the curtain got stuck at about Jack’s knees and that was it,” she says.

“As we went back to the hotel, Howard was hanging off the cable car and he felt so bad because we never got to see the picture because it was so packed. We finally got in and sat on the steps in the balcony,” she says. “The ushers tried to kick us out but we said, ‘We’re Jane and Jack and we haven’t seen the picture yet’ so they let us stay.”

When Hughes’ life was immortalized in Martin Scorsese’s 2004 film “The Aviator,” to research his role as Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio paid Russell a visit in her Santa Barbara home. “Leo wanted to know what Howard was like. He asked me about his mannerisms and he was very dear.”

A Girl’s Best Friend

One of Russell’s most memorable films was “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the 1953 musical in which she starred with Marilyn Monroe.


"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"

“It was Marilyn’s first starring role but I’d been doing it for years,” says Russell. “She was like my little sister. She was always nervous about going out on the set so I’d go to her dressing room and take her out with me.”

“She was constantly reading and working with her acting coach every night,” says Russell. “After each take she would look to her acting coach, not at the director Howard Hawks. Directors don’t like that so Hawks had her acting coach taken off the set.”

Russell recalls that Monroe was painfully insecure throughout the shooting of the film. “After she did a love scene with Tommy Noonan, somebody asked him what it was like to kiss Marilyn Monroe and he said, ‘It was like being eaten alive.’ When Marilyn heard that she burst into tears and ran into her dressing room. She was just very vulnerable.”

Having worked with many Hollywood legends, Russell says it’s hard to choose her most memorable co-star. “Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, Richard Egan… I had a ball with all of them.”

Or as Howard Hughes reportedly said of Jane Russell’s success: “There are two good reasons why men go to see her. Those are enough.”

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