Jane Russell would become an international film star and photographer’s dream, but her humble beginnings in front of the camera started in Van Nuys. This advertisement for the local J.C. Penny with Jane as the model appears in the 1938 edition of Crimson and Gray, the Van Nuys High School yearbook. A little over two years later, she would be under contract to Howard Hughes.
By the early 1930s, the Russell household had grown to include five children and Jane’s grandfather. The Burbank house had grown too small, so the family needed to find bigger quarters. Geraldine found a seven-acre parcel of land in Van Nuys for sale, located east of Woodman Ave and north of Sherman Way, that butted up against the Tujunga Wash. There, they built a home that resembled a Spanish Hacienda which they named “La Posada.” Here’s Jane at La Posada in the early 1940s.
Jane was the oldest of five and the only girl, so the family always called her Daughter. Having four younger brothers always kept Jane grounded, even after she became an internationally known film star. Here she is with three of her brothers at the Burbank home.
Jane was incredibly close to her mother, Geraldine Jacobi, particularly after Jane’s father Roy passed away unexpectedly when she was a teenager. Here’s mother and daughter enjoying a Southern California beach circa 1925.
Jane lived in Edmonton, Canada for the first two years of her life, then she moved to California with her parents, Geraldine and Roy. They purchased a modest home on Angeleno Avenue in Burbank which Geraldine described as being “cute as a bug’s ear.” Here’s Jane circa 1925 at the Burbank house.
Jane Russell was born on June 21, 1921 in Bemidji, Minnesota. Her parents were actually living in Edmonton, Canada at the time, but Jane’s mother Geraldine opted to spend the end of her pregnancy in Bemidji where her side of the family had a vacation home. Even though infant Jane only spent the first nine days of her life in the Minnesota locale, Bemidji didn’t have a problem claiming her as a native daughter as evidenced in this 1961 photo of Jane with James Hensel, the city’s mayor.
We’ll wrap up the negatives for now, but will probably return to the rest throughout the year. To end this challenging week, here’s a more playful portrait of Jane, taken circa 1951. I don’t know that Jane’s hands get talked about, but I’ve often found my eye drawn to them and the sharp nails polished red that I can never pull off quite as well.
Most of the portraits we’ve looked at the past week and a half have shown Jane at her smoldering best, but she could turn on the charm for the camera as well. Here’s one of the 8×10” negatives showing Jane flashing a smile in a publicity portrait for His Kind of Woman in 1951. She’s wearing the Howard Greer design we took a look at last week.
Here’s another portrait from the stash of original 8×10″ negatives I recently obtained, showing Jane circa 1953. It’s a great photo, and that she was able to maintain the unnatural pose in a tight dress shows what a professional she was. Jane learned to model while working with photographer Tom Kelley in 1940. His mantra, “If it’s not uncomfortable, it’ll be a lousy picture,” was one Jane understood to be true and photographers loved working with her.
Here’s a interesting portrait of Jane, wearing a simple coat and high-necked knit but still looking completely glam. As great as Jane looked in the custom designs of the movie studios, she much preferred blue jeans to the trappings of a Hollywood film star.