I am excited to share the cover of the Jane Russell biography which is officially titled Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend. The projected release date is June 15, 2021 which will be just in time for Jane’s 100th birthday. Here’s to hoping we’ll be able to have an in-person launch!
I could not be happier with this cover, featuring a portrait of Jane from 1952’s Macao. I’ve had a few people comment that they expected me to go with one of the fabled Hurrell haystack images from The Outlaw. I have to admit that when I first began working on the book a few years back, I had every intention of using one of the Hurrells. Those images are so iconic that it seemed like a no-brainer to have a glaring-gun-pointing Jane on the cover. However, at some point during the process, I had a complete change of heart for a few reasons.
For many people, those images of Jane largely define her place in Hollywood history. The point of the book is to highlight how much more there was to her career and how she in fact overcame the publicity campaign for The Outlaw. For me, the peak of Jane’s career came around 1952-53, so I wanted to use an image from that period rather than the Hurrells, which were taken a full decade earlier. Since Jane’s autobiography uses one of the haystack photos, I wanted to use something that would set my book apart from hers. One of my biggest reasons for avoiding The Outlaw photos was as a nod to Jane. She spent most of her life being followed by those Hurrell images and eventually came to loathe them. The only reason she had one of them on her own book is because her publisher insisted on it, not because she actually wanted to. If Jane were still around, I suspect she would have been less than thrilled at having a book written about her, so I figured the least I could do was use an image on the cover I hope she would approve of.
Let the countdown begin!
On June 26, 1953, Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe participated in the most Hollywood of rituals: memorializing their hand in footprints in cement in the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. By that time, Jane had been an internationally-known personality for over a decade, but was still honored to be included. Never one to exhibit much vanity and always a fan of personal comfort, Jane later said, “I was wearing my usual big shoes, so no aspiring actress will have any trouble whatsoever getting her feet into my footprints!” The pair were presented together as a publicity stunt for their film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Marilyn wanted to dot the “i” in her name with a diamond. She got a rhinestone instead which was quickly pried out my a souvenir hunter, but the impression of the stone remains.
As big a star as Jane Russell was, Marilyn Monroe became a super nova and remains so. Any photos of Jane with Monroe that come up for sale are usually more than I am willing to pay, but I did manage to get two snapshots from the Grauman’s event on eBay. One, I’ll be using in the book. This is the other one which was dirt cheap, presumably because no one realized Marilyn was in it. She’s off to the side, but is looking right at Jane and smiling, which is actually a wonderful candid moment between the two women who were genuinely fond of each other.
Even though I grew up in Southern California and now live 10 minutes away from the Chinese Theatre, I have to admit that never tire of walking around that courtyard. I am still blown away that the tangible remnants of that day in 1953 still exist and can be visited. The last time I visited Marilyn and Jane’s prints was in December. Looking forward to when I can do that again.
This afternoon, I received a postcard in the mail about an upcoming Profiles in History auction featuring personally owned Howard Hughes items. It’s a rather mind blowing assortment of objects, including love letters from Katharine Hepburn and Joan Fontaine, contracts for Jean Harlow, Ben Hecht, Paul Muni, and Howard Hawks, among others (alas, no Ann Dvorak as far as I can tell), and even the desk that once belonged to Hughes’ dad. Also up for auction is the original painting used in magazine ads for The Outlaw which made the infamous inquiry, “How would you like to tussle with Russell?”
It’s a large format painting, measuring 50″ on the long side and is absolutely stunning. Jane Russell seems to have been one of Hughes’ favorite contract players (so much so, he paid her nearly $1,000 a week for years after they both stopped making movies), so it’s telling that this is a piece he held onto. In addition to it being associated with Hughes, Russell, and The Outlaw, add illustrator Zoë Mozert to the mix and the estimate on this one is $20-30,000.
With the interest in Howard Hughes still running strong, I’ll be sitting this one out. I hope the painting and some of the contracts and letters end up at an archive for us faithful researchers to access! Full auction details are over at the Profiles in History site.
Today marks what would have been Jane Russell’s 99th birthday. While I haven’t been particularly active on this site, I am pleased to report on this notable Jane day that I have completed my book on JR and submitted the final draft to my publisher, the University Press of Kentucky!
I was in the final stretch of the manuscript when the pandemic really hit and quarantines began. So yes, completing it was a fairly grueling experience, mainly because it was so hard to concentrate with increasingly bleak news pouring in every minute. Closures of physical spaces did impact my ability to tie up some minor loose ends in a couple of archives, and there was one photo I could not get permissions to use because of staff furloughs. Still, those who have reviewed the manuscript so far have given it positive feedback, which is a huge relief.
So, why the rush to finish it? I really wanted to have the book released in time for Jane’s centennial which is next year, so that is what drove the contractual deadline. With everything going on right now, this seems less pressing than it once did and I obviously have no idea what the world is going to look like a year from now. No matter what the book release looks like, I am still grateful for this deadline which probably staved off some depression and stress-eating for a few weeks! I am also excited to share Jane’s story and films with folks, particularly the work she did on behalf of orphaned children through her WAIF organization. Ultimately, I had started working on this project five years ago, so it was time to finish it.
So, what happens now? I have a meeting with UPK’s marketing team tomorrow, so my time with Jane is definitely not done. As a compulsive collector who seldom finds Ann Dvorak (my true love) items anymore, I really dove in with Jane and now own 3 times more photos than I ended up using in the book. Now that the book is done, I’ll be spending more time on this site, sharing some of the extra photos & ephemera. Since this experience was a bit different from working on the Ann Dvorak book, I though I would highlight some of those differences as well.
In the meantime, wishing folks a safe and healthy Father’s Day and JR birthday.
Happy Birthday to the incomparable Jane who would have been 98.
Updates on the book coming soon!
When I was first approached about writing a Jane Russell biography, I must confess that I had only seen Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and The Outlaw, so it’s been a lot of fun diving into Jane’s filmography. Jane was certainly more of a personality than an actress, but she was usually well cast and always a heck of a lot of fun to watch onscreen. For those wanting get more exposure to Jane’s work (or revisit it), Turner Classic Movies is happy to oblige with three of Jane’s titles this month.
His Kind of Woman (1951)
Saturday, January 5, 9:00pm PST
Sunday January 6, 7:00am PST
Tomorrow, Eddie Muller is kicking off the 2019 Noir Alley series with His Kind of Woman, the first of two films Jane co-starred in with Robert Mitchum. This is a fun noir with amazing chemistry between its two stars and Vincent Price is an utter delight. The film ultimately gets the Howard Hughes touch, meaning it goes completely off the rails toward the end, but it’s well worth the time. Just in case you miss it for Noir Alley, it’s re-airing the following morning.
Monday, January 14, 12:45am PST
Macao was the second and (sadly) final pairing of Russell and Mitchum. For me, it’s not quite as memorable as His Kind Woman, but it’s still really enjoyable and Jane is stunning in this one. Her costumes are wonderful. This also might be my favorite entrance of Jane’s in a film. Check out her expression as she watches her date dance!
Born Losers (1967)
This is the first film of the Billy Jack series, focusing on the exploits of a part-Native American/Vietnam Vet/biker outlaw. Jane has a small role as the mother of a rape victim. I have not actually watched this film yet since, and admit to having been putting it off since the content sounds pretty intense. I could just watch Jane’s part, but feel like I need to watch the entire thing if I am going to ultimately write about it. Since I purchased the Billy Jack box set, I am going to be skipping this airing, but will post my thoughts once I take the plunge.
Yes, I know the holiday season is officially winding down, but I could not resist posting this photo of Jane topping off the Christmas tree to start a new year.
I do confess there’s been crickets in these parts since I first announced I was working on a Jane Russell biography. 2018 proved to be a year of distractions, albeit good professional ones, but I have cleared off my plate and am ready to be all about Jane.
So, where does the bio stand? I have spent the last couple of months organizing and logging the research I have compiled over the last four years and geeze there is a lot! Jane is the opposite of Ann Dvorak (the subject of my last book) in that there is more information than I could ever possibly use. Jane made far fewer movies than Ann, but she worked non-stop in television, radio, and especially as a touring singer so there was a lot of coverage. She was interviewed constantly over the years (though tended to get asked the same questions over and over), so that’s another great source. Jane also published her own memoir in 1985, though I am going to try to quote that sparingly since I want my book to complement Jane’s not just rehash it. Did you know Jane’s mother wrote book in 1960? In other words, there is no shortage of info on Jane Russell.
Looking forward, I have a list of folks I need to contact for interviews. For some reason, this is the one aspect of research that a loath, but I need to suck it up and do it. My goal is to finish organizing everything but the end of this month and start writing. I am hoping to send the proposal to my publisher by May and be damn near done with it by the end of the year. With Jane’s centennial coming up in 2021, that is my publication goal.
Anyone who has followed my Ann Dvorak exploits knows that I posses that defective collecting gene which tends to overcome my better financial judgement. After collection Ann Dvorak memorabilia for the last 20 years, I don’t find as much as a used to, so Jane has proven to be a worthy substitute. I have tried to limit myself to photos, though at this point I have way more than I would ever use in the book, though many of them are pretty great. I’ll probably start sharing some of those here and on social media.
In other words, get ready for a lot of Jane Russell!
Cheers and Happy New Year!
When Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was released in November 2013, I was often asked, “who are you going to write a book on next?” At the time, my answer was an emphatic “No one!” It had taken me 15 years to research and write the book on Ann and I simply could not conceive of tackling a similar project on someone else. Instead, I went the opposite route and started writing issues of the My Little Pony comic book series.
After a spell, Patrick McGilligan over at the University Press of Kenucky asked me if I had considered writing a follow-up book. By that time, I had thawed on the idea of never writing another biography and was open to it. I told him I found Aline MacMahon fascinating, to which he replied, “We’d like to see you write about someone less obscure than Ann Dvorak. How about Jane Russell?”
How about Jane Russell? I have to admit that I had never given much thought to Jane Russell. Sure, I LOVED her in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and was vaguely familiar with all the hoopla surrounding Howard Hughes and The Outlaw, but otherwise I knew nothing about Jane. Ok, I did remember those Playtex bra commercials from when I was a kid. I found the suggestion intriguing and started exploring the life and career of Jane Russell.
What did I discover? Jane Russell is fascinating! Despite being discovered by Howard Hughes in 1940, Jane only had 3 movies released the entire decade, but managed to hold the public’s attention all that time, largely by being one of the favorite pin-ups of servicemen. While the marketing of Jane Russell was some of the most overtly sexual in Hollywood history, off-screen Jane was extremely spiritual and an avid student of the Bible. Jane worked with some of the era’s most notable director’s and actors, but considered her work as an adoption advocate to be her greatest accomplishment. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on Jane and commit to another book.
Amazingly, there has never been a biography on Jane Russell, though she did pen her own memoir in 1985. That book is incredibly candid and I recommend it. However, I believe an examination of her life and career is certainly in order and I view the book I am working on as a companion to the autobiography.
So where is the project at? I’ve been researching on and off for around three years now, and have a good deal of info compiled. I’ve conducted a handful of interviews, but would like to get some additional input for people who knew and worked with her. I’ll still need to go through an official submission process with University Press of Kentucky, but I feel pretty good that I will move forward with them. Overall, I am far enough along that I felt the need to launch this site and get the word out about my commitment to Jane!
If you’re a Jane Russell fan, I hope this is exciting news. If you’re not that familiar with Jane, I hope this book will make you a fan.
Catch you back here soon!