Monday, February 28, 2011

A Moment for Jane Russell: The Paleface

Here's to you, Calamity Jane
The Movie
Short post this evening in honor of Jane Russell, who died today.  Her two best movies were among my favorites growing up: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Paleface (directed by Norman McLeod, 1948).  The Paleface is (at least to someone who first saw it at age 12) a cornball movie with some really hysterical moments. It's the story of a yellow-bellied dentist with a mail-order degree (Bob Hope) and the gun-slinging toughie (Jane Russell) who uses him as cover to join a wagon train headed west in order to win freedom from a jail sentence by serving as a bounty hunter of sorts for the bandits also traveling in the train.  Add an Oscar-winning song ('Buttons and Bows'), some Wild West action and Bob Hope zingers and you have an overall enjoyable movie!

A publicity still from The Outlaw
Jane Russell
Ernestine Jane Russell was born in Bemiji, Minnesota in 1921.  Her family moved to California when Jane was still young, and it was there that she was discovered while working as a secretary in a doctor's office.  Howard Hughes signed her to a 7-year contract and initiated and nursed the controversy that resulted from her first controversial picture, The Outlaw.  The build-up was intense, but the movie's release was long delayed due to Hays Code-related controversy over the amount of skin on display.  Life magazine at the time even ran an article entitled 'Jane Russell Can Be Seen Anywhere But in a Movie', referring to her years waiting for the release of The Outlaw.  The article painted her as a good-natured, outdoorsy type (which many other interviews confirm) somewhat at the mercy of the publicity-man Russell Birdwell.  As a result of this publicity, Jane's pictures were popular WWII pin-ups, and in the Korean War it was reported that a hill was named after her (Jane Russell Hill).

Jane and Marilyn at Grauman's Chinese Theater (Life Magazine)
Following The Outlaw, Jane was in several forgettable pictures usually referred to as 'potboilers', eventually landing in The Paleface with Hope and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe.  After sequels to both pictures, film work eventually dried up and Jane turned to stage work, singing and commercial work, including serving as the spokeswoman for Playtex brand undergarments.  In her later life she became very religious, appearing on various talk shows, assisting with charitable programs and recording gospel music.

The Movie

Links and Sources:
Life Magazine  13 April, 1942
Life Magazine  27 October, 1952|79325

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