Jane Russell, who personified beauty and sexuality to the nation’s greatest generation during World War II and also reigned during the era of Hollywood moguls, died Monday (Feb. 28) at her home in California. She was 89.
Russell passed from respiratory failure, surrounded by family members at her home in the central coast city of Santa Maria.
Survivors include her children, Thomas K. Waterfield, Tracy Foundas and Robert “Buck” Waterfield, along with six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Russell lived a full life, from her days as a wartime pin-up girl to her Hollywood career and to her retirement years, where she was a philanthropist and active churchgoer, according to family member Etta Waterfield, a daughter-in-law.
“She always said I’m going to die in the saddle, I’m not going to sit at home and become an old woman,” Waterfield told The Associated Press . “And that’s exactly what she did, she died in the saddle.”
Although she was widely known as a wartime pin-up queen, she ruled in Hollywood under the tutelage of billionaire Howard Hughes, who was determined to make Russell a star of the first order in Tinseltown.
She reflected the post-war era of prosperity and more free-wheeling lifestyles as Hughes promoted her relentlessly throughout World War II.
He went so far as to buy a Hollywood studio, the then failing RKO Films and signed her to a two-decade film contract that paid the princely sum, at the time, of $1,000 a week.
He also bought the ailing RKO film studio and signed her to a 20-year contract that paid her $1,000 a week.
She was known for her voluptuous figure and ample breasts, and Hughes featured her in a series of movies as a sexy siren that pitted her against the leading men of the day.
Among the films were “His Kind of Woman,” with Robert Mitchum, “Double Dynamite,” with Frank Sinatra and the “The Las Vegas Story” with Victor Mature.
Perhaps her best remembered film was “The Outlaw,” a movie over which Hughes battled censors and Director Howard Hawks. The former he fought to get the film into wide release and the latter to get the picture made.
Russell also appeared in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a 1953 musical that cast her opposite Marilyn Monroe, another sex siren of the era.
By the 1960s, however, her film career was in eclipse, as Hollywood move away from the Big Mogul Era and films became more influenced by the 1960s counter culture.
In mid-life, she became a spokeswoman for Playtex bras, which featured here well supported bosom.
Her 24-year marriage to UCLA and pro football quarterback Bob Waterfield, which kept her out of major Hollywood scandals during the ’50s and free-wheeling ’60s, ended in bitter divorce in 1968. She was married two other times after that.