Sunday, June 21, 2009
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JANE RUSSELL
Does anyone remember movie star Jane Russell. Today the old girl is eighty-eight years young. In her heyday, this volumptious and gorgeous women was an amazing performer who starred in some great movies inclusing the classic "Gentleman Prefer Blondes". Jane's mother arranged for her to take piano lessons. In addition to music, she was interested in drama and participated in stage productions at Van Nuys High School. Her early ambition was to be a designer of some kind, until the death of her father at forty-six, when she decided to work as a receptionist after graduation. She also modeled for photographers and, at the urging of her mother, studied drama and acting with Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Workshop and with famed Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya. In 1940, Russell was signed to a seven-year contract by film mogul Howard Hughes and made her motion picture debut in The Outlaw (1943), a story about Billy the Kid that went to great lengths to showcase her voluptuous figure. Although the movie was completed in 1941, it was released for a limited showing two years later. There were problems with the censorship of the production code over the way her ample cleavage was displayed. When the movie was finally passed, it had a general release in 1946. During that time, Russell was kept busy doing publicity and became famous. Contrary to countless incorrect reports in the media since the release of The Outlaw, Jane Russell did not wear the specially designed underwire bra (the first of its kind that Howard Hughes constructed for the film. According to Jane's 1988 autobiography, she was given the bra, decided it had a mediocre fit, and wore her own bra on the film set with the straps pulled down. Together with Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth, Russell personified the sensuously contoured sweater girl look, though Jane Russell's measurements of 38D-24-36 and height of 5' 7" were more statuesque than her contemporaries. Besides the thousands of quips from radio comedians, including Bob Hope once introducing her as "the two and only Jane Russell," the photo of her on a haystack glowering with sulky beauty and youthful sensuality as her breasts push forcefully against her bodice was a popular pin-up with Service men during World War II. Though The Outlaw was not a spectacular Western, it did well at the box-office. It appeared that Hughes was only interested in her being cast in movies that showcased her sensational figure, however, reportedly refusing an offer from Darryl Zanuck for her to play Doña Sol in Blood and Sand. She was not in another movie until 1946, when she played Joan Kenwood in Young Widow for RKO. Though her early movies did little to show her true acting abilities, they helped parlay her into a career portraying smart, often cynical, tough "broads," with a wisecracking attitude. In 1947, --the year of my birth-- dear Jane Russell attempted to launch a musical career. She sang with the Kay Kyser Orchestra on radio and recorded two singles with his band, "As Long As I Live" and "Boin-n-n-ng!" She also cut a 78 rpm album that year for Columbia Records, "Let's Put Out the Lights," which included eight torchy ballads and cover art that included a diaphanous gown that for once put the focus more on her legs than her breasts. It was reissued on CD in 2002, in a package that also included the Kyser singles and two songs she recorded for Columbia in 1949 that went unreleased at the time. In 1950, she recorded a single, "Kisses and Tears," with Frank Sinatra and The Modernaires for Columbia. She went on to perform with proficiency in an assortment of movie roles, which included playing Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope in The Paleface (1948) on loan out to Paramount; and Mike Delroy opposite Hope in Son of Paleface (1952), again at Paramount. Happy father's Day to all fathers out there. I especially salute my brothers-in-laws Ed Stapleton, John Hoffman and Bob Dillion. They have done great jobs as fathers. And my own dad-- well, there are no words that quite describe mu=y amazing father. He had more courage and class than anyone I can tell you about. He was as honest as the day was long.