Strangely, her big break came in the most bizarre of situations when she was picked by director Howard Hughes as the winner of the nationwide chest hunt for a figuratively suitable leading lady for his upcoming film. Subsequently, she signed a seven year contract with Hughes.
She made her debut in 1943 with the motion picture, ‘The Outlaw’ which was released to a limited audience. The film did much to showcase her voluptuous figure and deep cleavage that rubbed the censor board on the wrong side. Nevertheless, the film finally witnessed a wide release in 1946.
Right after her first film, she gained a national star status for her busty, full-figured and bodacious self. She gained much fame than her contemporaries who envied her voluptuous figure which was a treat to watch out for, for the men of that era.
Following the release of ‘The Outlaw’, she came up with her second movie, ‘Young Widow’ in which she played the role of Joan Kenwood. Since she was under seven year contract with Hughes, she was bound to appear in his films which only displayed her alluring physical self rather than her artistic talent.
Meanwhile, in addition to pursuing her acting career, she trailed her musical abilities as well and in 1947, launched her musical career by singing along with Kay Kyser Orchestra on radio. She even recorded two singles with his band, ‘As Long As I Live’ and ‘Boin-n-n-ng!’
She also came up with a 78 rpm album for Columbia Records, titled, ‘Let's Put Out the Lights’. In 1950, she recorded a duet, ‘Kisses and Tears’, with Frank Sinatra and The Modernaires for the film, ‘Double Dynamite’. The song was later released as the soundtrack for ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and made it into the Top 10.
In 1948, she was cast in the film ‘The Paleface’ in which she portrayed the role of Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope. The film was a raving success and led to the release of a sequel ‘Son of Paleface’ in 1952, in which she played the role of Mike ‘the Torch’ Delroy.
Meanwhile, some of the other films that she worked on early in her career include the gangster drama ‘His Kind of Women’ and sultry smuggling thriller ‘Macao’. Both the films were opposite Robert Mitchum. In 1951, she was cast in the comedy ‘Double Dynamite’.
In 1952, she appeared in the film ‘The Las Vegas Story’. The same year, she appeared in a cameo role in the film, ‘Road to Bali’ and in the films ‘Montana Belle’ and ‘Son of Paleface’
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In 1953, she was cast along with Marilyn Monroe in the film, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’. This was her most successful movie as it showcased her artistic talent.
In 1954, she returned to the Howard Hughes RKO production camp for the film, ‘The French Line’. The movie showcased her full-figured self in a form-fitting one-piece bathing suit with strategic cut-outs. It was shot in 3D and ran for about one hour and forty two minutes.
Year 1955 was a busy year for this talented actress as four of her films were slated to be released in the year including ‘Underwater!’, ‘Foxfire’, ‘The tall Men’ and ‘Gentlemen Marry Brunettes’. The latter was a sequel to her earlier film, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’.
In 1956, she acted in the films, ‘Hot Blood’ and ‘The Revolt of Mamie Stover’, both of which showcased her talent as a fine actress. She followed this up with the film, ‘The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown’. The film was her last release before she went on a self-declared hiatus from the big screen.
In the absence of films, she concentrated her energies toward singing and formed a gospel quartet in 1954 along with three other members. The quartet came up with the Coral single ‘Do Lord’ which peaked at number 27 on the Billboard singles chart. It went on to sell two million copies.
The quartet was reduced to a trio as one of its members disbanded from the group. Nevertheless, the group did not give up on its musical ambitions and came up with their second record for Capitol records, titled, ‘The Magic of Believing’. Soon the trio became a quartet as they were joined by Fleming.
In 1957, she debuted as a successful singer and solo performer at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. She followed this up by performance in the US, Canada, Mexico, South America and Europe.
In 1959, she came up with her self-titled solo LP on MGM Records. The same year, she ted with a tour of Janus in New England, performed in Skylark and also starred in Bells Are Ringing at the Westchester Town House in Yonkers, New York.
In 1964, she returned to the big screen with the film, ‘Fate is the Hunter’. In the movie she performed as herself for the USO in a flashback scene. She followed this up by four more movies titled, ‘Johnny Reno’, ‘Waco’, ‘Born Losers’ and ‘Darker than Amber’.
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In 1971, she made her Broadway debut with the musical drama, ‘Company’. In it, she succeeded Elaine Stritch by playing the role of Joanne. After her stint at theatre, she tried her luck at television commercials appearing as a spokeswoman for Playtex ‘Cross-Your-Heart Bras' for us full-figured gals’. It became and still is one of the top selling products of Playtex.
In 1985, she turned a writer and penned her autobiography, ‘Jane Russell: My Path and My Detours.’
In 1995, she starred in the docudrama ‘America: A Call to Greatness’ along with Charlton Heston, Peter Graves, Mickey Rooney and Deborah Winters.
Personal Life & Legacy
She went into the wedlock thrice. The first was with Bob Waterfield, Los Angeles Rams quarterback and a Pro Football Hall of Fame member. The two married in 1943 but separated in 1968. The duo had adopted a baby girl Tracy and two baby boys, Thomas and Robert John
She then married actor Roger Barrett in 1968. However, the marriage lasted only a few months as Barrett passed away in November 1968.
Next, she tied the knot with real-estate broker John Calvin Peoples in 1974 and they remained married until his death in 1999.
In 1955, she founded the World Adoption International Fund, an organization which aimed to place children with adoptive families and which pioneered adoptions from foreign countries by Americans
At the age of 79, she went into a rehab, recovering from alcoholism. She spent the latter half of her life in the Santa Maria Valley along the Central Coast of California.
She breathed her last at her home on February 28, 2011 due to respiratory-related illness. Her funeral was held at Pacific Christian Church.