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Don’t Let Her Scare You!—Jane Russell

When she got home from Europe, eleven pounds underweight, Jane Russell announced a new Design For Living. There’d be no more of the too-frantic, too-exhausting rushing about and overwork that has characterized her life. There’d be no more collapses on the set of every picture she made. From now on, her time was going to be budgeted properly with everything in its season, and plenty of season for Jane to spend with her family.

So Jane made out a schedule. “I’ll do publicity Tuesday and Thursday. I’ll work out at Terry Hunt’s Monday and Thursday. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings belong to my kids. Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I’ll spend going over things with Penny Sweeney (her secretary ).”

So she made out her timetable, according to the schedule, for the next several weeks and someone noticed that the only time she had left to herself was one Wednesday lunch hour. “What’s going to happen when you’re asked to do a benefit?”

“I’ll manage,” said Miss Russell airily, having just returned from a four-hour jaunt, not on the schedule, to supervise the building of new houses by two of her four brothers. Kenny and Wally have decided to locate permanently on the Russell family acres and Jane is determined to be in on every step of the construction. It’s entirely possible that she would redecorate the interior of someone’s doghouse if nothing else were available, and she’s not going to be robbed of her role in this project.

“And on that same lunch hour,” continued the friend, “you are going to do your charity work, squeeze in a recording session or two, and see those four million friends you’ve been complaining about never having time for?”

“Don’t argue with the timetable,” Jane said.

The friend retired. “Yes, Jane,” she said meekly. For which conciliatory answer Miss Russell turned on her and snapped, “Stop treating me like a child!”

Carmen Cabeen, Jane’s stand-in for close to ten years, is inured to anything that might be reported in this vein. “You just have to get used to the way she thinks. Her mind is cluttered up with people and personalities, and essential things make no impression at all. She might have thought about you all day yesterday and not say more than hello today. Or, while you’re with her, she may make three important dates to be at different places at the same time; she expects you to stop her. One of the things she always says to me is, ‘If I were with somebody as stupid as me, I’d remind her of things!’ ”

She needs reminders—which anyone with built-in radar could supply. On a typical day, supposedly neatly arranged, this is what Jane did. She was up at seven to breakfast and play with the children. At noon, wearing pedal-pushers, carrying a make-up case and mink stole, she departed with a friend, announcing, “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

They had lunch at a restaurant in San Fernando Valley, from which Jane forgot to retrieve her mink stole. When that was recovered, they went to Emeson’s, where Miss Russell was half an hour late for a dress fitting, and there she forgot her make-up kit. They went to the Russfield office, so that Jane could countersign some checks and call Emeson’s about her make-up kit, and as she was ready to leave, secretary Margaret Martine handed her a Manila envelope with the admonishment, “Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t lose it.”

Jane didn’t say what was in the envelope. She planted it on the front seat and said, “Don’t let me forget this.”

They were only an hour and a half behind schedule, Jane having an appointment with Bob Thiele of Coral Records to discuss two new sides she was to cut. “Should I take the envelope?” asked Jane’s friend as they sprinted from the car.

“No! I’d leave it in the studio for sure!” Jane sat on a stool, went over the new arrangements with a pianist, muttered, “Oh, marshmallows,” and then went off to answer a phone call. She was back on the double. “Hey,” she shouted to her pal, “come on! We’re late to rehearsal for the Police Benefit. The girls are on their way over to pick us up; we’ll leave my car here.” From here the plot is obvious. The girls—Connie Haines, Beryl Davis and Rhonda Fleming, with whom Jane makes up a best-selling quartet for charity—picked them up and zipped off to the auditorium for rehearsal. Jane had no sooner greeted the orchestra leader than she turned to the friend, whose feathers were dragging from the pace they had maintained all day. “My music!” she said accusingly. “You left my music in the car.”

Exasperating, yes. But it’s at a time like this that you get the Jane Russell bug. Not when she’s doing a feverish movie scene; she’s almost always ornery during a production. You get the bug when you watch her, head thrown back, eyes closed, belting the daylights out of a song because singing is a part of her. Or, when someone else is rehearsing a number and you suddenly miss Jane. Looking around, you see her in the very back of the vast, darkened theatre, dancing alone. Not showboating, just dancing, because there’s a beat and her feet can’t keep still. Then she’s happy, somehow released, totally different from the Jane who greets her friends with such a somber “Hi” that they suspect her of wishing they would all drop dead.

Mostly these suspicions are quite wrong, of course. That’s just the Old One’s way. But sometimes, every now and then, they are quite right.

In France, for instance, Jane was not what you might call happy. The sum total of her experience abroad would appear to be the successful completion of Russfield’s first independent production, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, and four of the most homesick months of her life.

Example: Having been exposed to the charms of Paris before, Jane became increasingly disenchanted with director Dick Sale for his insistent, “You’ve got to see this place we’re taking you tonight!”

“He and Mary always wanted to make a night of it,” Jane lamented, “and the idiots just couldn’t get it through their heads that I need ten hours of sleep. They dragged me from place to place, with me complaining every inch of the way. And Dick saying, ‘Why, you’ll still have five hours to sleep!’ ”

Those first eight weeks, spent in Paris and Monte Carlo, were rough, quite apart from the abuse of Miss Russell’s sleeping habits. At times Jane began to suspect the entire French nation collectively of wanting her to drop dead. Not true, of course, but possibly close.

Jane started off on the wrong foot with the French and was too tired and homesick to bother about getting back in step. When she and Carmen flew into Paris, they found it bitter cold and wet. No exterior scenes could be shot, and the studio they had hired wasn’t ready for interiors. Having worked out at UniversalInternational up to the very day she left, Jane felt she could well use the three days of rest that lay before her. But, unfortunately, she found herself in conflict with one of the innumerable French eccentricities—to wit: they do not turn on the heat before October, regardless of the temperature. The Parisiennes may not mind that, but Miss Russell was chilled to the marrow, racked by a cough, and was, as always a pioneer for the preservation of creature comforts. She remonstrated gently with the hotel management, which remained polite but adamant. Provide heat in September? An absurdment!

This was the moment someone chose to tell her that she should appear at some public function or other. Jane turned stone deaf and did not regain her hearing until a friend from the American Embassy said that the sun very often shone in Deauville while rain fell on Paris. Within the hour she and Carmen departed for a week end in Deauville.

That was, to put it mildly, a goof. When they returned, their horrified Embassy friend met them, newspaper in hand. “Do you know what you’ve done, girl?” he demanded. “You’ve only insulted the entire French nation, that’s all. Do you know what this headline says? ‘Jane Russell refuses key to the city!’ That’s a very great honor and, as far as I know, this is the first time it has ever been offered to an actress—and you go off to Deauville. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Oh, fiddledeedee,” answered Jane. (Well, it’s possible that that’s what she said.) “I thought it was some publicity thing, and I couldn’t be bothered. Besides,” she countered reasonably, “what do I want with the key to a city where they let you freeze to death?” She would have accepted the key to the hotel furnace.

There was only one way left to fracture the French ego, and the Old One did that, too. It had to happen that the Dior “flat look” was unveiled during her stay in Paris, and it figured that the press would fish for the Russell reaction. Jane was baited and she bit off a mouthful.

Despite the headlines it was not in the nature of an international incident. Thereafter, Carmen reported, “They just ignored her. The French didn’t understand Jane.”

She could’ve gotten a bad press from it. Said the blockbuster in her blandest voice, “I wouldn’t know. I can’t read French.”

All Jane wanted was to go home. She worked on the picture with such ferocity that the assistant director, an Englishman with a bristling red mustache, called her the Black Bull of the Pampas and suggested she take up mule skinning if she ever retired from acting. She worked and, when the day was over, she huddled by the fireplace in the hotel suite she shared with Carmen and Boyd Cabeen.

“That weird place! The walls were hung with dark, brocaded tapestry; both Boyd and I hate overhead lights so we used nothing but candles. The French thought we were crazy and the Americans who visited us always did a double take; it looked just like a den of iniquity.”

Whit all of the glamorous activity of Paris going on in the streets below, the Old One sat by the fire and dreamed of home. She was so lonely that the appearance of Bob Waterfield precipitated an outburst that nearly startled him out of his wits. Normally, if she sees someone dear to her after an absence of a year or two, Jane can work up something really demontrative—like, “Hi.” It had only been a month since she had seen her husband, but this was different.

“The day Robert was due, I couldn’t concentrate on my lines; I kept watching the clock. He came straight to the studio from the airport, and when I saw him I just grabbed him and started bawling. I never do things like that. Poor Robert. He held me off at arms’ length and said, ‘What’s the matter with her?’ ” Jane loved the guy, and Robert understood her even if the French didn’t—that was the matter.

But shortly thereafter, the production moved to London where, unaccountably, the reserved British public took Jane to its collective heart with an enthusiasm that more than compensated for Gallic indifference. She couldn’t leave her house on Belgrave Square without attracting a fascinated, but mannerly, mob. Her chauffeur, Miller, who came with the car provided by the studio, explained the mystery of guineas, pounds and shillings, accompanied Jane into stores on shopping expeditions, stood by every hour of the day. The Italian couple who constituted her household staff were equally solicitous And at the studio? “They certainly never had seen anything like her,” one of the company said, “but they loved her.”

When her customary untrammeled bellows rang from the rafters there, her proper little hairdresser went around reassuring the crew, “Its only the way she expresses herself,” Jane brimmed with self-expression.

“You should see this poor little publicity girl,” Jane wrote to a friend in Hollywood. “She comes pussyfooting in every morning with her little list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’, and I let her have it before the first sentence is half way out of her mouth. She really scurries.” They all scurried until they learned the harmless nature of the sound and the fury, and then, to their huge enjoyment, they found that they were shouting right back.

It was nice to be liked, but it still wasn’t home. The last few days when the picture was winding up, Carmen reported, Jane threw temperament around like Confederate money. “She picked fights with everyone. She wanted everyone to be so mad at her that they’d want to get rid of her, so she wouldn’t have to stay one extra day.” They couldn’t get very mad at her, but they let the girl go home.

Except that she didn’t get there. A submarine premiére of her latest RKO picture, Underwater, had been arranged to coincide with Miss Russell’s arrival from Europe, and though Miss Russell knew about it well enough, she wasn’t about to go to Florida. Having arrived in New York of a morning, she had a reservation on a plane leaving for California that night and meant to be on it. The trick was to avoid talking to anyone connected with the studio, so every time the phone rang, Jane said, “I’m not here,” and walked out of the room so it wouldn’t be lying.

It might have worked, but Carmen got tricked. “We were expecting a call from someone else at a certain time, so I answered the phone. There was no operator saying Hollywood was calling; I just said hello, and I was talking to Edie Lynch at the studio. So I had to get Jane.”

The RKO publicity department’s Mother Lynch is a persuasive talker, but this time she bent the Old One’s ear to no avail.

“No,” Jane said. “I’m going home to see my kids.”

Edie talked on. This premiére meant a great deal to the studio, it was a personal project of Howard Hughes; the press was being flown in from all over the country, it was going to be a spectacular do—but only if Jane put in an appearance. Otherwise, the whole thing would be canceled.

“All right, I’ll make a deal with you.” Jane was at her most sullen and uncooperative, which only happens when she’s justified in feeling that way. “If you can get Robert’s permission and have the kids flown here tomorrow, I’ll go to Florida. You’d better call me before plane time tonight, though, because if I don’t hear from you by then I’m coming home.”

Neither of them entertained the slightest expectation that Bob Waterfield would consent to having Tracey and Thomas flown to New York. After all, Jane had already been gone four months, and a few more days wouldn’t make any difference. That was the way he would reason, being a logical man—and that’s the way Jane counted on his reasoning.

But Robert can throw logic to the wind as well as the next guy. Not that he does, very often. You get comfortably used to the idea that Bob Waterfield is sane and sensible about impulsive notions. And then he throws you a curve with his warm understanding of the impulse.

Edie Lynch called him and repeated Jane’s ultimatum, bracing herself against a possible atomic explosion. Instead of which, Robert mildly said he’d call his mother and see if she could take the children to Jane.

It was a nervous, fidgeting Jane Russell who met that plane the next morning. Four whole months she had been gone . . . they were such babies . . . suppose they didn’t even recognize her. Did they?

“Aaaah!” Pride and inhibition fought it out on her face, and pride won in a broad grin. “The minute they saw me, each one grabbed me by a leg and started hollering for me to pick them up. And them grown so big and fat that it would take a derrick to lift them!”

There are these beguiling quicksilver glimpses. She recently negotiated a new contract with Howard Hughes which guarantees her an annual income of $50,000 for the next twenty years. Hughes is an old, respected friend, the contract has been hanging fire for a year, and Jane’s share of the loot could be delivered in bales even if it ain’t hay. Is she dancing for joy? When she was congratulated, she said darkly, “Well, I don’t know . . . I’m exchanging my freedom for security.”

Probably she was thinking impatiently of the next Russfield production, The Way Of An Eagle. This is a project that has been close to her heart ever since Margaret Martinez wrote the original’ story some five or six years ago. Jane was under exclusive contract and hadn’t a prayer of making the picture herself, but that didn’t prevent her from knocking herself out on its behalf. She showed it to everyone who could be remotely interested; specifically, she induced Producer Harry Tatelman of one studio and Director Nick Ray of another to all but memorize it. Both agreed that the story was great, but neither was in a position to do anything about it.

What does one do with a great picture that no one is interested in making? If you’re Jane Russell, you start casting it, of course. She saw a fan magazine picture of a guy named Jeff Chandler, and from that moment on he was her star. When she found a movie in which he appeared—Jeff did what amounted to bit parts in those days—she dragged Margaret off to inspect him. “Let’s find him,” Jane suggested. “I want him to read the story.”

Somebody at Universal thought they had an actor by that name under contract, but he might be anywhere. It turned out he was in Hawaii.

“By the time we found him, I’d have called if he had been in China. I don’t know why his wife didn’t divorce him then—she couldn’t have believed that an actress he’d never met named Jane Russell was calling him all the way from Hollywood because she wanted him to read something nobody was ready to produce! Jeff sounded a little suspicious, himself.”

Things always work out if you bide your time, according to the Old One. Jeff Chandler became a star. Years passed and the idea of Russfield was born. Jane was asked to make Foxfire for Universal, and she did so on the condition that in return she could borrow her co-star, one Jeff Chandler, for a Russfield production. The Way Of An Eagle, naturally. To be produced by Harry Tatelman. Directed by Nick Ray with a brilliant writer named Ellis St. Joseph to do the screen play.

The wheel has come full circle, the story Jane loved so well will become a picture under conditions ideal beyond her wildest dreams. It is to be hoped. At the moment there is one final, infinitesimal stumbling block which can’t be ignored. Ellis St. Joseph is in Hollywood, the stage is set, the players are waiting, Jane’s timetable is prepared, but he has nothing to write a screen play from. Owing to circumstances which anyone who knows her could have foretold, Jane Russell has lost the original manuscript.





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