Jane Russell—the Hollywood siren who dazzled for decades on the silver screen, and the devoted mother and adoption advocate—died on Feb. 28 at her home in Santa Maria. She was 89.
The buxom brunette first entered the public spotlight in the 1940s when she landed the role of Rio MacDonald in Howard Hughes’ controversial movie The Outlaw.
The film is perhaps best known for Hughes’ well-publicized battle with distributors, who told the director to censor scenes displaying Russell’s ample cleavage.
Even after the movie wrapped, Russell’s 38-D bust attracted plenty of unwanted attention.
“The photographers would ask me to pose for pictures and say, ‘Now, Janey, come down that hill and pick up this pail.’ … They weren’t aiming at the pail,” Russell recalled in a 2007 interview with New Times.
Over time, however, Russell became known for more than just her voluptuous figure.
She starred in dozens of other films, including His Kind of Woman with Robert Mitchum, Double Dynamite with Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx, The Paleface and Son of Paleface with Bob Hope, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe. She formed a spiritual singing trio, performed in a Las Vegas lounge act, and toured the United States with Bob Hope to entertain the Armed Forces.
The actress was also a trailblazer for adoption and a strong opponent of abortion. She spoke openly about her own infertility due to a botched abortion. In the 1950s, she founded the World Adoption International Fund, one of the first organizations to coordinate adoptions between the United States and foreign countries.
Russell is survived by her three children and two children-in-law—Thomas Waterfield, Tracy Foundas and her husband Kenton, Robert “Buck” Waterfield and his wife Etta—six grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service has been scheduled for March 12 at 11 a.m. at Pacific Christian Church, 3435 Santa Maria Way, in Santa Maria.
In lieu of flowers, Russell’s family asks that donations be made in her honor to Care Net Pregnancy & Resource Center, 121 W. Battles, Santa Maria; or CASA of Santa Barbara County, 120 E. Jones St., suite 130, Santa Maria; or online at sbcasa.org.