Jane Russell was well known as the dark-haired siren whose sensational debut in 1943’s “The Outlaw” inspired producer Howard Hughes to challenge the power and strict morality of Hollywood’s production code.
Russell died Monday of a respiratory ailment at her home in Santa Maria. She was 89.
Russell’s provocative performance in “The Outlaw” — and the studio publicity shots posing her in a low-cut blouse reclined on a bale of haystacks — marked a turning point in movie sexuality. She became a bona fide star and a favorite pinup girl of soldiers during World War II.
She went on to appear in 18 more films in the 1940s and 1950s and, while only a few were memorable, she remains a favorite from the era for her wry portrayals of sex goddesses who seem amused by their own effect.
Among Russell’s better films are “The Paleface,” in which she plays the spirited Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope’s feckless dentist in a spoof of “The Virginian”; and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” a musical in which she is the dark-haired gal pal Dorothy Shaw to Marilyn Monroe’s gold-digging Lorelei Lee. In "Blondes," Russell had her own show-stopper sauntering through a gym filled with exercising men in the production number Ain't There Anyone Here for Love? written for her by Hoagy Carmichael.
Russell appeared in a few films in the 1960s and ended her movie career in 1970 playing Alabama Tigress in “Darker Than Amber,” a film version of John D. MacDonald’s mystery novel. She replaced Elaine Stritch in “Company” on Broadway for several months in 1971, but her career after that was mostly limited to nightclub, stage and other live appearances.
To later generations, Russell — who once famously had a brassiere designed for her by Hughes — was known as “the bra lady” for her role as a spokeswoman for Playtex bras for “full-figured gals.”