Film Star Jane Russell Dies

Screen siren Jane Russell died Monday of respiratory failure. She was 89.

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The voluptuous screen siren and World War II pin-up girl Jane Russell died yesterday at her home in Santa Maria, California. She was 89 years old. In her three decades as a star, Russell established herself as a capable actress, but as Bob Mondello reports, that wasn't really what attracted her many fans.

BOB MONDELLO: Jane Russell was a movie poster before she was a movie star. Howard Hughes commissioned what became a notorious billboard for her first Western, 1941's "The Outlaw." Russell reclining on a haystack, gun in hand with her blouse falling off one shoulder, the poster revealed more cleavage than the film would, but censors were enraged and kept the movie off all but a very few screens until 1947, when audiences could finally watch a sultry Russell comfort an ailing Billy the Kid.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Outlaw")

Ms. JANE RUSSELL (Actress): (as Rio McDonald) You're not going to die. I'll get you warm.

MONDELLO: The orchestra seems impressed, though critics weren't. Still, audiences flocked to "The Outlaw," drawn by reports of a specially engineered 38-D bra that Hughes had supposedly designed for his leading lady. Russell said she never actually wore it, and that the director simply didn't notice. Audiences have noticed her, though. And a few years later, the ad campaign for the musical "The French Line" simply read Jane Russell in 3-D. Need we say more?

Perhaps inevitably, she was hired to promote Playtex bras on TV as ideal for full-figured gals. Still, she was a far more capable performer than all this emphasis on amplitude would suggest. In her biggest hit, she didn't exactly upstaged co-star Marilyn Monroe, but she was sharp and funny when she mocked dozens of bodybuilders in a splashy production number.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes")

Ms. RUSSELL: (as Dorothy Shaw) Honey, you'll hurt yourself.

MONDELLO: They ignored her, which is preposterous, but she's the brunette in the film called "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

Ms. RUSSELL: (as Dorothy Shaw) (Singing) I can't play tennis. My golf's a menace. I just can't do the Australian crawl. And I'm no better at volleyball. Ain't there anyone here for love?

MONDELLO: Jane Russell abandoned Hollywood in 1970 after about two dozen pictures, but she never entirely gave up public life - recording Gospel songs, staying active with Christian and charitable organizations and with a local singing group until just a couple of weeks ago.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of movie, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes")

Ms. RUSSELL: (as Dorothy Shaw) (Singing) I'm apathetic and non-athletic. Can't keep up in a marathon. I need some shoulder to lean upon and a couple of arms to hold me. Ain't there anyone here for love?


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