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“Jane Russell Got In My Hair”

I called Jane Russell the night before our first-story conference for “Underwater” to thank her for being instrumental in getting the role for me. She was careShe actually sounded embarrassed.

But the next day in story conference I threw away my opinion of shyness when she decided I’d look great if my hair were changed for the role. Jane said, “Wouldn’t he look great sun-streaked and tanned?” and Harry Tatelman, the producer, scrutinized my face and head, and said, “Yes.” I said carelessly that it was an idea and thought we’d discuss it for a week or two.

(Little did he know. J.R.)

Just two hours later I was in a chair with Larry Germain rinsing my hair while La Russell stood behind me giving instructions. You see, Jane had decided. My black hair turned light orange and even Jane had to admit defeat. When my hair was dyed back to normal, I forgot the whole thing. But not Jane, the indomitable one.

(He sneaked out behind my back and had it dyed back to normal. But I wasn’t through!!! J.R.)

A week later I got a phone call, and the dulcet tones of J. R. came wafting sweetly in my ear, “Lovie, will you meet me tomorrow to try the hair bit again?” she cooed. I explained firmly that I felt that had been settled. “Try it just once more. I’ve got a friend who I know can do it,” urged the little-girl voice.

(I learned that tactic years ago. J.R.)

So three hours later, between Jane’s instructions and her friends’ applications, my hair was both orange and green. Even Harry Tatelman was startled. So Larry was called in again and an eleven-hour job began. Of course, Jane stayed right there issuing instructions like a master sergeant. My scalp and my temper were beginning to burn like mad, while my hair got lighter and lighter. My slow burn became a raging fire. And when Jane suggested bluing, I suddenly roared—long and loud. I turned to include Jane in the roar, but she had disappeared. She was crouching in a corner watching me like a child expecting to be punished. The master sergeant had, in an instant, changed to a frightened recruit. I said between clenched teeth, “This is it,” and nobody uttered a word as I walked with my fallen dignity and burning scalp out of the room.

(This boy is so chicken—I’ve never heard anybody cry so loud in my life. J.R.)

To be horribly honest, which I hate to do, the sun-streaked hair looked very good. But I didn’t mention it and neither did Jane.

Jane is a constant tease. She looks for your weakest link and then hits it hard. She will deliberately say things to see if they will upset you. Jane is definitely the outspoken type. She will have no truck with flowery preliminaries to a conversation. She comes to the point she has in mind immediately. One of her pet peeves about me is that I am still a bachelor. Jane, I’ll swear, was born married. (Is there another way? J.R.) Therefore, she considers every bachelor a challenge to her match-making ability. I can’t remember all the provocative reasons she held out, but her marital theme song is an unfinished symphony. Jane is a strong-minded gal. and I have no doubt she’s looking over the field of eligibles for me right now!

(He will never be happy until I have succeeded, either. J.R.)

Later she came out of her crouching position and again became a full-fledged general when she decided I didn’t comb my hair correctly. She made no comment at all, but every chance she got she casually flipped my hair back. I comb my hair across my head and flat. The repetition of Jane’s flipping my hair back became monotonous. Until one day I found myself combing my hair across and flat . . . and then flipping it up. Perhaps you’ve noticed that the sergeant has an excellent batting average in being right.

(He looked like somebody’d hit him over the head with a flat iron. J. R.)

I hadn’t intended to be fascinated with the Russell personality, but after a few days working with Jane you start seeing the hidden depths, the unexpected potentials and the sensitivity that, surprisingly, is one of her roots. I honestly feel that Jane often has been misunderstood. In her publicity, her physical appeal has been played up so much that the real attributes of Jane have been lost. She has, in the past, always played parts with a chip on her shoulder, daring some strong man to knock it off. In “Underwater,” RKO has gone all out to show the world that Jane is a warm, versatile, feminine actress. And Jane has come through with a sensitive portrayal that will throw the critics on their respective ears.

I remember in particular one scene on the boat. I haven’t been alone with her for a long time and I’m waiting for her to come up from the cabin. I don’t know that she is serving coffee to Gilbert Roland before she comes up, and I am irritated. Jape (who quite often does not stick to the script) looked at my face as she came up to me and said, “You’re getting grouchy, honey.” And then she slipped her hand inside the collar of my shirt and touched my neck. It was an instinctive bit of acting and the rest of the scene was much too warm for even salt water to put out.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not selling her physical ability short. Because she has it. She is one of the most beautiful and graceful swimmers I’ve ever seen. She can also run like the wind. In one scene we were to run thirty yards across the beach within camera range and then I was to tackle her—still within camera range. Feeling rather male at the time, I gave the little girl a head start. That was my undoing. I was really pounding up the beach and I couldn’t catch her. She looked back with that gamin grin and then slowed down so I could catch her. My ego shrunk to the size of a shriveled pea!

(Haven’t you noticed, my legs run up to my arm pits? J. R.)

In my opinion, Jane’s personality has evolved from being raised with four boys and having to stand on her own. This served a dual purpose. No one knows more about male behavior than Jane. She knows what men will and will not do and the very nature of the beast. Her brothers obviously didn’t pamper her and she had to fight to be one of the group. And when she married Robert Waterfield she was still in the world of a man’s man. For he is not given to long and flowery speeches nor does he treat her like a lovely clinging vine, but rather with a mature understanding that, by mutual acceptance, is a continuation of the life Jane has always known.

(Chum, if my feminine wiles don’t show any more than that I’m going home!!! J. R.)

She is, I think, completely unaware of herself as a beauty and the spoken word can have her growling “sissy” in a minute. And yet I found that deep sensitivity and gratitude for being treated like a woman when we slowly changed places during the making of the picture.

The sergeant started folding when, as usual, she over-extended herself, physically, mentally and emotionally. She is always taking care of anyone she feels needs help. Her dressing room was crowded at all times with five or six people who came to her with problems. On top of that she was receiving adverse publicity on “The French Line,” which hurt her deeply.

Did you ever see a sergeant helpless? Watching this one cave in, I said sarcastically, Just great. We’ll wind up eighty pages short on Monday.” “I don’t,” the sergeant admitted wanly, turning in her stripes, “feel so good.” And with that concession, I started trying to help her as much as I could. I cleared her dressing room, made the set as easy as possible for her and helped in any way I could to see that she was taken care of for a change. And—she liked it! Maybe it was because she didn’t have the strength to fight back. One day when I was going home an hour earlier than usual, I heard a knock on the door. There stood Jane. The new Jane stood hesitantly for a moment and then she said, “What are you doing? We wanted to talk about the script but I wanted you to be there. Would you?” She said it just-as if I could help her. If you remember our first introduction with the hair bit, then you, too, can see the switch in this girl of many facets.

(You’re lying. I always insisted on your being in on script conferences—I was simply too weak to shout it this time. J. R.)

How can I fully explain Jane? Shy and sensitive, boisterous and unpredictable, impatient and growling, warm and vital, sneering at flattery but in love with the whole wide world. After you meet her you just can’t help saying fervently and with admiration—“I love that Jane!”

(My word. My word!! J. R.)