The legendary Jane Russell passed earlier today at age 89. I spoke to her in July ’97 for a People story about the death of Robert Mitchum ; she seemed like a bright, sharp and collected lady. Russell and Mitchum made His Kind of Woman and Macao together. Both were minor noirs, at best, but she and Mitchum had a vibe — they seemed to really amuse and enjoy each other.
So my default image of Jane Russell isn’t the big-boobed hottie-in-the-hayloft in The Outlaw or even her singing and dancing with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but sparring or toying with Mitchum in some monochrome bamboo bar in some glistening, okay-but-not-that-great Josef von Sternberg film about martinis, guns, smuggling, waterfronts, smart patter and guys in panama hats.
Russell was everyone’s idea of a beguiling presence (terrific smile and dark eyes, great rack, above-average singer) but she was never anyone’s idea of a world-class actress. She had a five-year career as the mythical Outlaw girl (from ’41 when the Howard Hughes -produced western was shot, to ’46 when it was finally released). This was followed by roughly eight years as a big-name star in The Paleface (’48), His Kind of Woman (’51), Double Dynamite (’51), Macao (’52), Son of Paleface (’52), Montana Belle (’52), Road to Bali (’52), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (’53) and Underwater! (’55).
Russell had another 13 or 14 years of gainful employment from the mid ’50 to late ’60s — a gentle downswirl phase.