Sunday, May 1, 2011

Jane Russell: Nobody's Cupcake

Sixth in a series about strong women in film. Strong women are independent, beautiful, sexy, feminine and just want everything in life that a man wants and believe that they have every right to have it!

Why does everyone underestimate me?
If a person is seemingly without ego, can he or she be strong?

Physically, Jane Russell was one powerful woman. Tall, sexy and voluptuous, she was a florid beauty in a sea of pale-toned sex bombs. Her physical presence was overwhelming, dwarfing even such a monumental presence as the potently pastel Marilyn Monroe.

Derided by the way her fame was achieved, she was initially viewed as a bit of a joke (although a fetching joke, to be sure). Since Howard Hughes made her bosom the advertising focus of "The Outlaw," and pummeled the public with publicity photos of Jane, always sullen, with off the shoulder plunging blouses and such, she became known chiefly as a pin-up and manufactured star. A subject fit for mocking, Bob Hope famously called her, "the two and only Jane Russell".
Well, it is hard to ignore this....
But Jane was much more than her parts (besides the breasts, there was a sexy voice and legs that went on forever). Her no-nonsense, no-frills personality made her a perfect fit for westerns. Her monumental all-American beauty seemed well placed in the larger-than-life American west. Like so many sexy women (Jean Harlow, Marilyn Monroe), she was funny. But, where Harlow was hard-boiled and shrewd, and Monroe the not-so-dumb blonde, Jane was a very common-sense woman who  - barely - tolerated the nonsense that seemed to go on around her. She was the master of the deadpan, self-mocking tone of a totally secure individual. Her perfect male comic foil was cowardly Bob Hope in both "The Paleface" (she was Calamity Jane) and "Son of Paleface" (with Jane as  Mike 'the Torch' Delroy).

Here's Jane and Bob (with a little help from Roy Rogers) in a scene from "Son of Paleface." She is in her element: out west and funny with music.

Jane was also a capable dramatic actress, and while not quite Bette Davis, she had a kind of aloof allure that found its perfect counterpoint in co-star Robert Mitchum. They were strong in the same way. Both were cynics who had been around the block a few times, but had good hearts. They just wanted to fly under the radar and go unnoticed (stealing diamonds, running form the law, etc.), but how could they? They were simply too beautiful. The thing that no one suspected was that they were smart. What everyone could see was that, together, they were hot. Their two films, "His Kind of Woman," and "Macao" are wonderfully entertaining and they are about as a romantic a noir couple as you could find in the 1950s.
Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum: sexy cynicism
Jane's lack of ego made her the perfect co-star for those who, by their very nature, needed to burn a little brighter on camera (like Hope and Mitchum). One star who lit up the screen and left scorched earth in her wake to anyone who dared compete was Marilyn Monroe. So, although physically more imposing than Marilyn, Jane proved the perfect co-star for her in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." As the brunette buddy, Dorothy, her performance really stands the test of time and she more than holds her own against the century's reigning sex symbol. In fact, I dare say there are those who prefer Jane's down to earth sex appeal to Marilyn's more starlit version.
Jane holding her own in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
Jane Russel is never mentioned in the top echelon of actresses, but as I researched her I kept marveling at how much better in everything she was than I had originally thought. If you read the reviews of her films at the time they came out (usually not so good) and read more current reviews (much more appreciative), you will see that Jane Russell got a bit of a bum rap in her day. Jane's lack of ego probably kept her from tooting her own horn, so I will join those who toot it for her: she was FANTASTIC! She could act, do comedy and was a fine singer to  boot. Add her overpowering physical beauty to all of that and we can see why Howard Hughes thought he had hit the jackpot. Jane Russell: strong, sexy and secure. Can't get enough of her!

One jazzy woman: both hot and cool

dedicated to DB


Rachel said...

Great post about Russell. Count me as one of the people who walked away from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with a mad girl-crush on Russell and her character Dorothy.

VP81955 said...

A splendid salute to a wonderful lady.

Diane said...

Well maybe she was "Nobody's Cupcake" But she was my cupcake! Oh thank you for writing about Jane. When I was young I had such a girl-crush on her and that has not changed as the years have gone by. People are seeing what I saw in her all those years ago.
I loved your post.

FlickChick said...

I think this was one under-estimated star who really has shown up the doubters and demonstrated real staying power. She was tremendous. Thank you all for the comments. Go Jane!

Anonymous said...

Really great tribute! This is one of the best I've read about her :)
I definately am one who liked her better than Marilyn in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Jane seemed very down to Earth in interviews I've watched.

FlickChick said...

She was so not appreciated for so long, but it seems that people are rediscovering her in a big way. I was happy to do this.

Caftan Woman said...

Nicely written appreciation of Miss Russell. I'm sure it will help some discover her charm and talent.

I spent many years taking Jane Russell for granted and then I saw Raoul Walsh's "The Tall Men" with charismatic male stars Clark Gable, Robert Ryan and Cameron Mitchell. Who outshone them all? It was Miss Jane Russell! I started looking at her with more fond and respectful eyes.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, CW. It took me a while to come around, mainly because of pre-conceived notions. But, I'm on "Team Jane" now!

ClassicBecky said...

FlickChick, I absolutely love your title. Nobody's cupcake is a perfect description of Jane. Like Caftan Woman, I didn't really appreciate Jane's talent until I matured a bit. She WAS good at what she did. Unless one is blind, there is no mistaking her incredibly sexy look. But your description of her as "master of the deadpan,self-mocking tone of a totally secure individual" is so well-put and so true.

She and Mitchum were definitely a formidable couple, perfect on screen together. I wonder how they alog along personally? It doesn't really matter, many screen duos didn't like each other, but I'm just curious.

You have to laugh at Bob Hope's description of Jane -- they were very good together in comedy. Excellent review of Jane and her work!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Becky. Regarding Mitchum & Russell: I think they liked one another very much. One thing is for sure - when the two of them were in a movie together there had to be a vat of hair gel on hand! said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

I've loved Jane for a long-time now. A great underrated screen talent with tons of charisma! In regards to her relationship with Robert MItchum, they were life long friends. For the last several years of his life, Mitch was neighbors with Jane and her husband. When Mitch passed, she was the only non-relative on at the funeral when they scattered his ashes at sea. Jane had great chemistry with MOST of her co-stars, which is rare. Her best co-stars where IMO, Bob Hope, Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Egan, and Jeff Chandler.

Check out my blog devoted to Ms. Jane:

She was a fine singer too!