Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend
by Christina Rice
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky (June 15, 2021)
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By the early 1950s, Jane Russell (1921–2011) should have been forgotten. Her career was launched in what is arguably the most notorious advertising campaign in cinema history, which invited filmgoers to see Howard Hughes’s The Outlaw (1943) and to “tussle with Russell.” Throughout the 1940s, she was nicknamed the “motionless picture actress” and had only three films in theaters. With such an inauspicious, slow start, most aspiring actresses would have given up or faded away. Instead, Russell carved out a place for herself in Hollywood and became a memorable and enduring star.
In Mean… Moody… Magnificent!, Christina Rice offers the first biography of the actress and activist perhaps best known for her role in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Despite the fact that her movie career was stalled for nearly a decade, Russell’s filmography is respectable. She worked with some of Hollywood’s most talented directors — including Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, Nicholas Ray, and Josef von Sternberg — and held her own alongside costars such as Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum, Clark Gable, Vincent Price, and Bob Hope. She also learned how to fight back against Howard Hughes, her boss for over thirty-five years, and his marketing campaigns that exploited her physical appearance.
Beyond the screen, Rice reveals Russell as a complex and confident woman. She explores the star’s years as a spokeswoman for Playtex as well as her deep faith and secondary vocation as a Christian vocalist. Rice also discusses Russell’s work in creating and leading the WAIF foundation, which helped unite tens of thousands of orphaned children with adoptive parents. This stunning first biography offers a fresh perspective on a star whose legacy endures not simply because she forged a notable film career, but because she effectively used her celebrity to benefit others.
Praise for Mean… Moody… Magnificent!
“Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend is a fascinating study of a complex Hollywood icon. As the movies’ first full-figured sex symbol, Jane Russell starred in classic comedies, film noirs, musicals and Westerns opposite Bob Hope, Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Gable, but author Christina Rice reveals that her life off screen is even more interesting. Russell was a woman of deep Christian faith who struggled with alcoholism. After a back alley abortion left her unable to bear children, she led the fight to overturn restrictive laws that resulted in thousands of overseas orphans being adopted into American families. Rice adroitly navigates through these contradictions and more, including the creation and marketing of a screen bombshell by executives, artisans, publicists, and the press, and the tension between that image and the real woman behind the façade. This is a magnificent biography of the occasionally mean and moody, but always magnificent Jane Russell.” — Andrew A. Erish, author of Vitagraph: America’s First Great Motion Picture Studio
“In the 1980s I was in the RKO Radio Pictures archives when Jane Russell was being interviewed for an RKO documentary. In 2010, I had the privilege is sitting with her for an entire day as she was interviewed for a documentary on photographer George Hurrell. Because Jane Russell’s story is unique, she has often been misrepresented. I’m happy that she has been accurately portrayed in Christina Rice’s biography.” — Mark A. Vieira, author of George Hurrell’s Hollywood
“Christina Rice has written an exceptional and thoroughly-researched biography that presents Jane Russell as a fully-formed human being and actress. As a Marilyn Monroe fan and biographer, I was enthralled by the chapters on their working relationship and friendship. It truly is a magnificent book, and one I’ll refer to time and time again.” — Michelle Morgan, author of The Girl: Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch and the Birth of an Unlikely Feminist
“Just when I thought I couldn’t enjoy a classic movie star bio more than Christina Rice’s book on Ann Dvorak, along she comes with this first-rate tome on Jane Russell. Impeccably researched and engagingly written, Rice’s latest is one of the better biographies I’ve read in some time. Her storytelling style grabs you from the opening chapter and never lets loose.” — Karen Burroughs Hannsberry, author of Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir and Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film
“The tumultuous life and career of Jane Russell is captured by author Christina Rice in an insightful biography of the legendary star who ultimately resisted her caricature as a buxom Tinseltown sex object. No detail is spared from Russell’s rustic San Fernando Valley childhood, discovery by the eccentric Howard Hughes and her subsequent stardom while enduring an abusive marriage and intermittent battles with the bottle. Through Rice’s detailed research and sure prose, the resolute Russell emerges as an empathetic woman of substance who ended up selling bras rather than burning them. An important chapter of Hollywood history, Mean…Moody…Magnificent! is the definitive Jane Russell story.” — Alan K. Rode, author of Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film