The marketing and advertisement campaign for The Outlaw was based around testing the power of sexual suggestion in the time of strict censorship in Hollywood. Importantly it instantaneously made Jane Russell a Sexual Symbol way before Marilyn Monroe, Ursula Undress, Bardot or Welch. The assets that capitulated her to stardom and as an international screen sex bomb was initially the idea of Director Howard Hawks, but when Producer Howard Hughes took over he took it to the next extreme. He had designed a specific brassiere for her, and sanctioned the movies poster which saw Jane Russell lying provocatively in the hay revealing as much cleavage as is possible.
Along with the repeated sexual innuendo the movie obviously got Hughes in trouble with the Hollywood Censors but the publicity from the hoopla guaranteed people would be talking about the movie for years to come. The exploitation and objectification of Russell meant that she was established as a smouldering sexpot something that was impossible to shake off. Because of this she became the subject of jokes and parodies that could only be tackled by accepting the stature and joining in. This she did in comedic effect with Bob Hope in the Western spoofs Paleface and The Son of Paleface, where she played a Calamity Jane type figure to Hope’s hapless cowboy. Bob Hope had described Russell thus “Culture is being able to describe Russell without using your hands”
Perhaps the film that exercised her talents best was the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes where she plays the big sisterly role to Marilyn Monroe’s voluptuous gold digger. In this film her physical attributes are not exploited at all, this is left to Monroe whose blonde hair is the object of all the men’s lust. Russell is the extreme counterpoint to Monroe’s bimbo beauty; she is smart, grown up, tough, with a quick wit and a lack of interest in diamonds. It was a performance that women loved her for and which subverted the popular image of her.
Early on she performs the number “Ain’t there anyone here for love?” with muscular men from the US Olympic football team. Like a Busby Berkley number, her rendition is completely subversive, and she went to inspire a huge gay following. She also goes on to parody Monroe in a court room in order to save her friend, proving that she is able to control her sexuality whilst also showing her comic talents.
Even though she was a figure of objectification in her youth, she had managed to rise above this and even outlived her co star Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She will be remembered for her sexuality but also for her toughness, humour and intelligence.
Russell is survived by Thomas, Tracy and Robert, and her grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The Son Of Paleface
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes