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.
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!