Showing posts with label Jane Russell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jane Russell. Show all posts

Monday, June 14, 2021

Mean... Moody... Magnificent!: Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend by Christina Rice

Mean... Moody... Magnificent!
Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend

by Christina Rice
University Press of Kentucky
ISBN: 9780813181080
June 2021
392 pages

“The movie star turned out to be devastatingly human.” 

Jane Russell was larger than life. A bonafide movie star. She first made a splash as the sultry lead in Howard Hughes' western The Outlaw (1943). The marketing campaign for that film lasted years thanks to Hughes' penchant for controversy and control. She was dubbed the "motionless picture star" as she traveled to promote her first film for months before its release. The wait was worth it because it cemented her place as a Hollywood celebrity. Russell was an entertainer through and through. She had great screen presence, could sing and had a figure that caught the attention of moviegoers, something Hughes had banked on from the very beginning. Russell was under contract with Hughes for over 30 years, working with him at RKO and beyond, and was often loaned out to studios when she wasn't making a film for her boss. While Hughes was controlling and their working relationship could sometimes be contentious, Russell remained loyal to her boss, a trait that Hughes both valued and rewarded. The pinnacle of her acting career was her co-starring role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) opposite Marilyn Monroe. Taking the role was a total gamble. Russell had to be okay with being overshadowed by her costar. And just like The Outlaw, this gamble paid off. 

Russell collaborated with Robert Mitchum on two noirs for RKO: His Kind of Woman (1951) and Macao (1952). The two had great chemistry on screen and off-screen became lifelong friends. Russell was great to work with and even had a core team from RKO that she took with her on other studio gigs. She married three times, first to Robert Waterfield, a professional football player with whom she later ran Russ-Field Productions. Russell was deeply religious, passionate about adoption and lived to perform. After making Darker Than Amber (1970), she retired from films. In the years that followed, Russell performed on stage and on television, wrote a memoir, gave interviews about her career and made countless appearances. She passed away in 2011 at the age of 89.

Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum in His Kind of Woman (1951)

June 21st marks the 100th anniversary of Jane Russell's birth and to celebrate we have Mean... Moody... Magnificent!: Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend, a delightful book from the capable hands of librarian, researcher and archivist Christina Rice. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a big fan of Rice's biography Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel. It's one of my top favorite classic film biographies so needless to say I had high expectations for Rice's biography on Jane Russell. Rice did not disappoint.

Mean... Moody... Magnificent! paints the portrait of a complicated woman who stumbled upon fame and soon found her calling as an internationally renowned entertainer. As Rice says in her book, Russell was "more of a movie personality than a serious actress,... [she] could electrify a screen and was a true star of the old studio system.” I really admire how Russell found her confidence to perform even as she was being objectified for her naturally curvy body. One could say that Russell and her body type paved the way for curvaceous entertainers to come, like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. 

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

“During production Jane adopted Marilyn as a kind of kid sister, exhibiting a tremendous amount of empathy for Monroe, who was experiencing the same type of amped-up sex symbol publicity Jane had been enduring for over a decade.”

Russell's religious beliefs were often in conflict with her actions, something Rice adeptly explores in the book. There is lots to garner from this biography including how Hollywood packaged and promoted their movie stars for public consumption, how sometimes movie stars were made from being in the right place at the right time, and how networking and close working relationships were key to survival in this cutthroat industry. This biography is laid out chronologically with each chapter focusing on a particular theme. This made the book flow very well. Rice's research shines through and her storytelling skills make this for an engrossing read. There's lots of great behind-the-scenes information, especially as it relates to how Russell was styled for her movies. Even if you're not particularly interested in Jane Russell as a person, this is still a must read for anyone who loves stories from old Hollywood.

This is my first review for the 2021 Summer Reading Challenge.

Thank you to University Press of Kentucky for a copy of the book for review.

Monday, February 28, 2011

God Speed Jane Russell

Jane Russell

Jane Russell was a full-figured woman with flare and attitude. She spoke her mind and wasn't afraid of what people thought of her. I think her impervious personality, her thoughtfulness as well as her down-to-earth nature was what Robert Mitchum, her best friend for many years, admired so much about her. In fact, she was the only non-family member who attended the spreading of Mitchum's ashes.

In the book Baby I Don't Care: Robert Mitchum, Lee Server says the following about Russell's early friendship with Mitchum.
Bob and Jane got along like old buddies... She would rave about his astounding command of the English language - even as he would tell her she was the most inarticulate girl he knew. He would tease her about her God-fearing ways, but he understood she was no Loretta Young, wallowing in piety. He loved to tell the one about the pestering report who couldn't believe a girl with her 'image' read the Bible and went to church each Sunday. 'Hey buddy,' she told him, 'Christians have big breasts, too.' She was good-natured, generous, strong-minded when she had to be, a stand-up guy. Mitchum nickname her 'Hard John.' They became fast friends. 

If you haven't seen the Private Screenings episode with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell being interviewed by Robert Osborne, I highly suggest you watch it. You learn a lot about both of the actors as well as their dealings with Howard Hughes and their days at RKO. I hope TCM will show it soon with Jane Russell's recent passing.

God Speed Jane Russell. Hope you'll continue to be fabulous wherever you are.

Here is the trailer to my favorite Jane Russell film, His Kind of Woman (1951).

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