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Gentlemen also prefer brunettes

When I heard the sad news that screen legend, Jane Russell, had died at her home in Santa Maria, California of a respiratory-related illness on Monday, February 28, 2011, and like so many of her fans, I was heartbroken.

Dan Wooding interviewing Jane Russell

Russell passed away at the age of 89, surrounded by family members, at her home in the central coast California city of Santa Maria. Her death came some 70 years after the eccentric Howard Hughes, who discovered her, had put her on the path to stardom with his controversial Western, The Outlaw.

Jane Russell was one of Hollywood’s leading sex symbols in the 1940s and 1950s, and in her latest years was an outspoken Christian, and was a regular, until recent years, at Dr. Ted Baehr’s annual Movieguide® Faith and Values Awards Galas, where I would often interview her.

She would always laugh when I told that my parents, Alf and Anne Wooding, had banned me from going to the movies in England, but I would disobey them so I could see her in movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe.

Back in February, 2008, at the Movieguide® Awards, I was able to spend 30 minutes interviewing my favorite movie star and so I thought I would share that story with you.

Here is my story released shortly after the event:

What a life screen legend Jane Russell has led. Her distinguished movie career began when, in 1940, she was signed to a seven year contract by millionaire Howard Hughes and made her motion picture debut in The Outlaw (1943), a story about Billy the Kid that went to great lengths to showcase her voluptuous figure.

Although the movie was completed in 1941, it was released for a limited showing two years later. There were problems with the censorship of the production code over the way her ample cleavage was displayed. When the movie was finally passed, it had a general release in 1946. During that time, Russell was kept busy doing publicity and became famous.

Together with Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth, Russell personified the sensuously contoured sweater girl look, though Jane Russell’s measurements of 38D-24-36 and height of 5’7″ were more statuesque than her contemporaries and the photo of her on a haystack glowering with sulking beauty and youthful sensuality was a popular pin-up with Servicemen during World War II.

I caught up with Jane Russell, now a sprightly 86, at the Movieguide® 16th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to the Entertainment Industry at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on Tuesday, February 12, 2008, and began my interview for ANS by asking her why she comes each year to the event.

“Because Dr. Ted Baehr and his team at Movieguide® are doing the best job in the world and I just hope that all the movie makers will finally catch on that things that are good for families make twice as much money as the other ones — the bad, and the naughty ones,” she said.

Jane, who is a committed Christian, then urged other Christians not to opt out of telling Hollywood the type of movies they will support.

“They should say that they want good family movies instead of the other kind,” she said.

Marilyn Monroe

Back in 1953, Jane Russell starred with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Monroe died some nine years later in her Brentwood, California, home after an overdose of pills.

So I asked Jane what Marilyn was like to work with on this famous movie and was she difficult?

“No, no, no, she was very sweet and shy,” said Russell. “Her makeup man told my makeup man that Marilyn came in way before I did and she was already to start work, but she was just nervous about going out on the set. So I’d just stop by and say, ‘Come on baby; we’ve got about ten minutes to get there and she’d say, ‘Oh alright’ and she’d get up and we’d trot on together. She was dear person.”

Howard Hughes

Another colorful character that Jane Russell was involved with was the reclusive Howard Hughes, so I asked her about him and wondered if his portrayal by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator (2004) was accurate as far as she was concerned.

“Oh, it was pretty good,” she said. “I wasn’t around him at the time when he [Hughes] was involved with airplanes, but the Howard Hughes that I knew was very shy and quiet and he was very polite. In fact, the only time I ever saw him really angry was on television when he was talking to a senator and the senator asked him would he do ‘so and so’ and he said, ‘No, I don’t think I will.’ That was as mad as I ever saw him.”

I then asked Jane Russell if, looking back on her long career, she would like to have done anything different.

“Well, I would like to have done some more serious parts, but I prayed about it in the beginning and just said, ‘Lord, you’re running this show; you do whatever you want with me’ and He took very good care of me.”

Jane then revealed that she is suffering from macular degeneration, a medical condition predominantly found in elderly adults in which the center of the inner lining of the eye, known as the macula area of the retina, suffers thinning, atrophy, and in some cases, bleeding. This can result in loss of central vision, which entails inability to see fine details, to read, or to recognize faces.

“I’ve got a lot of good friends praying about it,” she told me. “It’s just terrible that it’s there are thousands of people that are getting this and I don’t know why.”

She said that she has been suffering from this for a couple of years now.

“I have a marvelous little machine that sits on my lap and it shoots up on the TV whatever I’m trying to read,” said Jane. “It’s called Prism and its lightweight so I can take it from one house to another with no problem and they move my TV right up next to my bed so, from the lap to the TV, I get to read.”

With that Jane Russell was ready to go into the Movieguide® gala with her many Hollywood friends, but she definitely has proved over the years that many gentlemen, including myself, also prefer brunettes….

I would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

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