Jane Russell’s Teen-Age Escapades!
At the age of fifteen Jane took a notion to come and live with me in Fontana for a couple of semesters. I can’t say it was the most tranquil period of my life, but I wouldn’t have missed it for all the tea in China. I still cherish a compliment she paid me. “You’re so much like Mother, I never get homesick. Except Mother says, ‘Oh dear, somebody phoned—’ and for all she remembers, it might be the king of Siam. You say, ‘Jimmy phoned at 5 after 6, he wants to take you to the picnic Sunday and he’ll call again at 7 to find out.’ How about moving back to the valley, Aunt Ernie, so you can take my messages for me?”
You can imagine the rejoicing when Jane came to stay with us. At fifteen, she’d developed. Nature’d given her a lovely face. Yes, and lovely curves too. And here I’m going to digress for a minute to get a load off my chest. I’ve said it till I’m blue in the face. Now I’m telling the world. From The Outlaw on through Mamie Stover, I’ve sat through Jane’s pictures in a kind of dazed fascination. I make no pretense at being a critic of the arts, but I do make this statement. She’s got to be a good actress, for that girl on the screen isn’t any more like my niece than I’m like a gazebo. If you’re old enough to know what a gazebo is.
They’ve built her up as a sexboat. Professionally, it’s paid off and she’s grateful. Personally, it hasn’t changed her. Under any conditions, she’d have grown into the human she is—honest to the bone, hating sham as she hates little else, living by an unshakeable set of values that have nothing to do with stardom. My point is that she’s not the sexy type—and don’t holler before I explain what I mean.
Of course the boys buzzed around, attracted and attracting—which is the healthy and normal thing. Jane inherited her goodly share of the instincts old Mother Eve handed down the line. But she used them her way. Never once did I see her give a boy the come-hither, never once did she flaunt her charms nor make herself obvious. Her approach was frank and direct. If she liked you, you knew it. If she didn’t, you knew it sooner. There wasn’t a wriggle nor a fluttering lash in her makeup. There isn’t today. Watch her on the rare occasions when she steps out. You’ll notice that she doesn’t wear the sheerest hose nor the skin-tight gown. You’ll notice that the neckline’s somewhere up around her chin. She detests all forms of exhibitionism and being stared at is her idea of no-fun.
Having spoken my piece, let me try to give you a picture of the 15-year-old. As though it were yesterday, I can still see her at the dinner table, eyeing her spinach. At our house you ate your spinach. My husband said so, and the few laws my husband made you didn’t break. Anyway, not when he was looking. I can still hear Jane saying, “If I could just cut my head off, shove the spinach in and stick the head on again.” To this plea, her uncle remained unmoved. Down went the spinach.
A generous warmth
Her outstanding quality was the kind of generous warmth that would have endeared her to a cannibal. She never owned a stitch that Pat (my only daughter) wasn’t welcome to. “You like it? Take it. It’s too small for me anyway.” More important than money, she gives of herself without stint. From childhood on, she has always carried a torch for the underdog.
Basie goodness and all, I often found her hard to handle. I’d go out and she’d decide to clean house. I’d come back and the place would be spotless. Now how could she have done all that in an hour? Answer: she couldn’t. Stuffed into a huge chair way off in the corner lay a jumble of papers and clothes, all neatly tucked in by a steamer rug. Or Jane and Pat would do the dishes. Real fast. Too fast to be true. Not till I opened the refrigerator did I find the dishes, scraped and stacked away in the bottom. Of course they never pulled the same stunt twice. That dumb I wasn’t. But Jane could always dream up a new one. Of the two, I guess you’d call her the leader in mischief. Pat strung along as a willing accomplice.
Whatever mischief was afoot, I managed to get wind of. You don’t need magic to know when a girl ditches school. Her teacher tells you. You don’t need magic to smell smoke on her breath. “Open your purses,” I’d order, and there of course were the cigarettes. I’d squash them and dump them down the bathroom drain. To make a big deal of it would have been foolish. Or they’d say, “May we go to the library?” They’d go to the library all right. For ten minutes. After which they’d Some neighbor’d see them and report. Sometimes I’d punish Pat and let Jane off. That way I punished both of them: Pat taking the rap made Jane feel terrible.
Believe it or not, those crazy kids used to amble over to Route 99—no country byroad, mind you, but a six-lane highway zooming with motor traffic. There they’d judge their distance, flop. as close to the road as they could, without being hit and lie like dead till the headlights of some car picked them out and squealed to a stop. Meantime they’d scamper off to the orange grove, giggling their fool heads off while the petrified passengers hunted for sprawling bodies. This was their notion of a rib-tickling joke.
At the end of the year she went home to her mother (my sister Geraldine). Jane kept coming back for weekends and holidays. And when my sister and I got together, which was often, what would we chatter about except our children? Jane’s doings were as familiar to me as Pat’s.
By the time she became a high school senior, she could stay out till 1 for Saturday night parties. Any boy who brought her home later, no more dates with him. “But, Mrs. Russell,” one young man protested, “my car was stripped—”
“They didn’t,” she asked, “take out the engine, did they?” And that was that.
There was another rule. Not exactly a rule maybe. More like a deal. “Jane,” said my sister, “I never really fall sound asleep till you’re in. I know you’re all right, I trust you completely. But every mother worries about possible accidents. So just come to my room and say, ‘Mother, I’m here.’ Then I’ll go off like a baby.”
One night she kept waiting for “Mother, I’m here,” and waited till 2 am. when the phone rang. Sure enough, Daughter. “Ma, I’m in jail. Come and do something.” What my niece called jail turned out to be the Santa Monica Police Station. Sister found boy and girl sitting side by side, eyes big as turnips, scared half out of their wits. Still, Jane wore her stubborn look.
“We’ve got nothing against her,” the sergeant said. “I told her she could go. But the boy ran through two stoplights. We’re holding him till his guardian gets here.”
Typically, Jane was loyal. “As long as he has to stay, I’m sticking with him.”
“Me too,” said Jane’s mother, who sat herself right down on the steps beside them. Which cheered everyone up.
Then there was the night Jane made it under the wire, but just about. She’d gone down to the beach with a bunch of girls and phoned that she was staying out for the evening. Well, it stood to reason that she hadn’t stayed out for a hen party. “Who brought you home?” Asked her mother.
Sister relishes that story. She plates winds it up with the same comment. “First time I ever heard the name. By now it has a kind of familiar ring.”
About boys and Jane she never worried. About school and Jane she did. She wanted Jane to graduate. Not to graduate struck her as a kind of disgrace. Math was Jane’s biggest problem. Only Jane didn’t worry about it. If she flunked math, it wouldn’t be the end of the world—an attitude that staggered her mother, who arranged for special coaching each morning from 7 to 8 a.m. Jane studied hard in these preschool sessions, but began to cut her actual math class. One day her mother saw her darling daughter strolling down the avenue when she should have been in class. That was a real blow. My sister started to pray in direct simple language. “Lord, you gave me this kind of girl. What shall I do?” He must have told her to take the girl as He’d made her. Because presently she dried her eyes, blew her nose, calmed down and went about her business, And Jane managed to graduate.
A letter from Jane
Sister treasures the memory of a letter Jane wrote her from Banff, where she’d gone on vacation with friends. It ran something like this. “Mother, you’ve brought me up beautifully and you’ll never have any regrets. But I’ma person now and you’re a person. When you’re a child, your mother decides for you. Now I’ve got to make my own decisions. I’ve stopped being a child.”
All right, she’d stopped being a child. So shift to a few days after her return, when she took ill in the night. Nothing serious. Some minor upheaval or other. But down the hall rang the cry—“Mama! Mama! Mama!”—exactly the same as when she was nine. Her mother of course went running, thought I shouldn’t wonder if she smiled a little as she ran. Seems children don’t grow up in all directions at once. The process is gradual.
It was shortly thereafter that all the publicity started over Jane Russell, the great big volumptuous vamp. (Yes, I know the dictionary word, but we call it volumptuous.) Actually, our Janie was green as grass and pretty well upset by the whole business. Yet in calling herself a person, she’d whacked the nail on the head. You couldn’t force her into any phony mold. You couldn’t make her pretend. The few people who met her realized this. One woman, for instance, came out to do a story. Jane was in bed, getting over a cold, her hair loose on the pillow, a little bed-jacket on. Interviews were strange to her at the time. “I don’t know what to say,” she blurted. The woman looked from Sister to Jane and back. “Siren!!” she gasped. “Good heavens, that baby?!!”
Jane and The Outlaw
But the climax came with the opening of The Outlaw in San Francisco, Pat went up with Jane. Certain disturbing rumors reached our ears and since Geraldine couldn’t leave the boys just then, I acted as her stand-in. By the time I got there, Jane was beside herself, screaming up and down like a wildcat over the way they had pictured her on the billboards. I’d seen them enroute to the hotel and felt like screaming with her. Instead, I listened. To Jane in her wrath. To a horde of people with advice, telling her to sue, to break her contract, adding to her confusion. My niece was just twenty years old. She needed help. I slipped out and asked to see Howard Hughes. It was our first meeting but I saw no point in pulling my punches. I gave him our blunt views on the sensationalism. He gave me a straightforward look. “Well, you know, Mrs. Henry, I can’t make a Shirley Temple out of her.”
Laughter breaks the ice between people. We had a long talk. Then I marched myself back, cleared out the whole kit and caboodle of advisers and sat Jane down. “I’ve just come from a chat with Mr. Hughes,” I told her. “I found him a very nice man with a lot of problems here that you and I can’t even begin to guess at. His judgment may differ from ours, but he honestly thinks this is the way to sell his picture. And it is his picture, his time, his energy, his millions of dollars. I wouldn’t be too angry with him just because he doesn’t see things the way we do.”
She listened quietly and. when I got through she thanked me. Jane’s a fair-minded girl. “Nobody else ever bothered to show me his side. What should I do?”
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t sue. I wouldn’t do anything. I’d just go home.”
So she went home and married Bob.
We all knew by then that Bob was the one and only. We knew they’d marry, but didn’t know how or when. Except my sister always said: “He’ll never stand still for an elaborate wedding, not that one.” Jane didn’t give a hoot. To her, the thought of eloping was a big thrill. The day before Easter they drove up to Las Vegas with another couple and saw this little church. Bob sent Jane in to see whether she liked it. She liked it all right. It looked heavenly, all banked up with the most gorgeous flowers. For Easter of course. “For me too,’ Jane decided and didn’t even bother to go out and tell Bob this was it.
“Will you marry me?” she asked the minister.
He seemed puzzled. Where’s the groom?”
“Out in the car.”
“Well, if you’ll fetch him in I think we can manage it.”
Meanwhile at home they were putting on an Easter play. My sister was called to the phone, wearing the trailing robes Mary Magdalene. “Mother, we’re married came Jane’s voice from Las Vegas.
“Good. When will you be back?”
I asked her if it hadn’t been a shock. Her eyes twinkled. “Ever take a good look at Bob’s shoulders, Ernie? I was very glad to shift the responsibility from mind to his.”
Meant for each other
He’s never given her cause to change her mind. “Waterfield,” she says, “we handpicked by the Lord for that girl. He loves and understands her. He knows how to handle her and she respects him for. They’re both strong-willed characters but he’s the head of that house, and to be the head of Jane’s house is no small job. I used to watch them before they went married. They’d feud and fuss and make-up, then start the whole thing over again from scratch. Bob’s a stickler for promptness. When they had a date, he expected Jane to be ready by the time he got there. Once she wasn’t ready. Well! No girl was going to keep him waiting. First thing heard was his car roaring out with a bang. Next was my daughter wailing, ‘Mother he’s gone, he’s gone!’—as if the earth has swallowed him up for good. Half an hour later back he steams and out she goes with him, meek as any lamb. I don’t know what Jane would do with a man who her walk all over him, like some husband do. I suspect she’d never have married him in the first place. As it is, she’d rather please Bob than anyone in the world. Which is how it should be.”
Bob’s a poker-faced guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him howl with laughter. But he’s got a dry humor that tickles Jane.
Sister tells of the morning she dropped by as Bob was leaving. Jane sat at the table, grumpy as all get-out. “What’s wrong, Daughter?” asked Geraldine.
“Nothing,” cracked Bob. “She just wake up sweet!”
The fact is there’s no living with he till she’s had her coffee. “I hate people, she growls, “who grin before breakfast. She’s a pepper-pot too and can fly off the handle over nothing.
It’s no wonder to me that Jane’s nerve a fray now and then. Everyone’s troubles are her troubles, and even her vitality has its limits. When she goes day and night without rest, that’s when it’s best to keep your distance from Jane, who needs her sleep even worse than she needs her coffee. In the end, completely worn out, she’ll hit that pillow, sleep twelve hours one night and ten hours the next. On the third day you can talk to her. Or she’ll talk to you first. “When children don’t take their naps,” she’ll explain, “they get naughty.”
Jane makes a point of not being sentimental. But the Waterfields celebrate two wedding anniversaries—Easter Eve, which is a movable day, and the date itself. Uh-huh, she’s not sentimental, but she’s been overheard calling the baby “Mother’s little Toodledeoots.” And she’ll probably have my head for spilling that item. They got him when he was six days old and named him Buck after Bob, who used to be called Robert Waterbuckets on the football field. He’s a beaut, with baby no-color eyes, which are turning brown. This pleases Jane, since she already has a couple of blue-eyed children. They planned to keep the news of this third adoption to themselves for a while, but little Tracy leaked it by telling the whole school.
I can’t help smiling now over one or those positive statements Jane used to make before she reached the age of wisdom. “I’m certainly not going to bring up my children the way Mother did. Mother says, ‘If you do thus-and-thus, I’ll feel so bad.’ Not me. Because children don’t care how you feel. I’ll tell them they’re the ones who’re going to suffer. I’ll say, ‘Of course if you run in front of a car, you’re bound to get hurt. But run in front of a car if you want to, that’s your affair.” Needless to say, she’s changed her tune.
One day the housekeeper took Tommy and Tracy to spend the afternoon with Bob’s mother. On the way home a car rammed them. Jane had gone to a movie with Geraldine, and Bob had arranged to meet them when it was over. As they eft the theatre, a traffic officer came up. “I don’t want to frighten you,” he said, “but there’s been an accident, and your children are in that ambulance that just went by. I don’t think they’re badly hurt—” Jane never spoke. Just turned green. Bob brought the car around. He’s a person of great self-control. Sure, he wanted to break all the speed laws but drove extra cautiously because he was shaking inside, half out of his mind. At the hospital they found Tommy unhurt. Tracy’s face was all blood. When the doctor washed her off, however, there was only a little scratch about this big. The kids took it in stride. We had a ride in an ambulance,” they chirped. It was the grownups of course who suffered nightmares.
A close family
When people wonder whether you can love adopted children as well as those born to you, I think of the Waterfields and give them a rousing yes. No children could be better loved or cared for. And it’s not the material things I have in mind, it’s the togetherness, the sense of sheltering family. Bob’s a man who’d rather be caught dead than demonstrative in public, but with the young ones he can’t keep his feelings from showing. About table manners and such he’s exacting, as I think he should be. But I wish you could see his face when he rassles with Thomas and teaches him the holds. Or when both kids go running to meet him and he squats and catches one on either knee. “He’s not waiting,” says Geraldine, and her words hold a special meaning for both of us. Lots of men don’t fuss too much with their children as babies. Her husband didn’t. But when they lost little Billy at fifteen months, he was pitiful in his grief and bewilderment. “I was waiting for him to grow up,” he mourned and mourned. Waterfield’s not waiting for his kids to grow up. He enjoys every minute of them.
With three in the family now, he thinks they should quit. Jane thinks they ought to have a sister for Tracy. Ask her who’s going to win out, and she’ll give you the wise wife’s smile and the wise wife’s answer. “We’ll see,” she says.
I could go on about her for hours, but enough is enough. So I’ll just tie it up with a bit of dialogue. Before starting this story, I talked it over with Sister. “Don’t drool over Jane,” she warned me. “She won’t thank you to paint her the angel she isn’t.”
“Well, how would you size her up?”
“Between us, and don’t quote me, she’s hard to beat. But then I’m her mother.”
“But then I’m her aunt, and of the same opinion. Does that make me a drooler?”
She chuckled and leaned over to pat my hand. “You know something, Ernie? You say whatever you want as long as it’s true. And as long as you don’t call her Toodleleoots.”
—By Jane’s Aunt Ernestine Henry
Jane can currently be seen in the 20th century-Fox film The Revolt of Mamie Stover.
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 1956