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Life With Bob Hope—Jane Russell

When it was announced that Jane Russell—the girl whose anatomy has been made famous by “The Outlaw”—was going to star opposite Bob Hope in “The Paleface,” everyone said, “Gosh, that will be murder. Imagine the gags Bob will pull on her!”

But the people who said that didn’t know Jane Russell. She is a girl who always gives back as good as she gets—and better. Where Dorothy Lamour had been driven frantic at times by the Hope gags, Jane Russell was simply waiting for him to start in on her so she could let loose a Sunday punch on him—and brother, when Jane lets loose a Sunday punch, you feel it!

For Jane, believe it or not, was born a tomboy. Raised with four younger brothers, she learned early how to hold her own in any form of combat, verbal or otherwise. She is an earthy sort of person—straightforward, hard-hitting, with a gleam in her eye that betokens just plain fighting spirit.

When Jane first heard rumors that she was going to be cast as Calamity Jane in “The Paleface,” she thought the rumors were goofy. After all, by this time she was accustomed to Hollywood’s crazy rumors, and while she wondered how this one had sprung up, she paid it little attention, till the day her agent phoned her and told her the deal was all set. Meanwhile, Bob Hope, vacationing in South America, received a phone call one day from William Meiklejohn, head of talent casting at Paramount. Meiklejohn, caliing from Lucey’s, said triumphantly, “It’s all set, Bob. Jane Russell will play Calamity Jane in ‘The Paleface.’ ” Bob had previously heard that Paramount wanted Jane for the role, and he was enthusiastic about the idea, but until that moment no one had known whether the unpredictable Howard Hughes would consent to the loan or not.

Bob and Jane Russell had met a number of times at benefits, but their conversation had been limited to “How do you do?” So when they met at rehearsals of “The Paleface,” they measured each other, like two opponents getting ready for a big bout. Undoubtedly Bob wondered what sort of a co-star he had drawn now. Jane, for her part, wondered how soon the gags would begin, and how rough they would be.

“To my surprise,” she told me recently, as we had lunch together in her dressing room on the Paramount lot, “Bob was extremely formal with me all during the first few weeks. He didn’t pull a single gag while I was on the set.”

Jane, at the moment she told me this, looked so different from the exotic girl she played in “The Outlaw” or even the attractive girl she played in “Young Widow” that at first I hadn’t recognized her. For Jane was wearing the makeup and clothes she wears for the tag in “The Paleface.” In this last scene Bob’s a gold statue and Jane’s an old woman. When she had entered the dressing room with her companion, Portia Nelson, I wondered to myself, “Who the heck are these two characters?” Gray hair was piled in a high bun on Jane’s natural hair. The makeup man had drawn all sorts of wrinkles and crow’s feet on Jane’s naturally unlined skin, and the frontier pants Jane was wearing hid her curves. Even though Jane was wearing a sweater, you just don’t expect to see a sweater girl with wrinkles on her face and gray hair piled high on her head!

“Bob’s been kidding me plenty about this makeup,” laughed Jane. “But that’s been in the last couple of weeks. During our first few weeks of work on the picture, he laid completely low on gags wondered why he was so formal at first, but finally I figured it out. Bob is a very smart man. He has a good business head and he doesn’t act the comedian all over the place constantly. Some comedians act the fool all the time. But Bob never sticks his neck out; never puts himself in a vulnerable position. He never makes a fool of himself. He moves only when he knows everything is favorable. He is completely conscious of how other people feel, and wouldn’t, hurt them for the world. He loves to tease people, but he studies them first to see how they will take his gags. He knows just how far he can go with his razzing routine—and he never goes a step farther. He takes personal things and makes gags about them If some tiny thing is wrong, he kids you about it.”

After the first few weeks during which Bob was friendly but never pulled any gags on Jane, he suddenly began addressing her as “Lumpy.” If Jane had been offended, he probably would have ended his gags right then and there. But Jane knew that Bob took great pride in the fact that he’d lost seven pounds just before starting the picture. So she hurled the nickname “Fat” at him.

“I’m losing so much weight making this picture,” said Bob, “the first thing you know I’ll be another Sinatra.”

“You think you’re losing weight!” said Jane scornfully. “I can’t see it.”

From that day on, each kept kidding the other about being too fat. One day the script called for Bob to carry Jane over the threshold of an ancient cobweb-covered cabin. Bob groaned as he picked Jane up in his arms. “Let’s knock this off in one take,” he told director Norman McLeod. “I’m a big strong man, but not strong enough to go through this routine too often.”

On the other hand, when a scene called for Bob to be thrown into Jane’s arms, she groaned, then said, “You know, Bob, you weigh about as much as my husband—and he’s a football hero, so there’s some excuse for him, but none for you.”

One day Bob Waterfield, Jane’s husband, visited the set. That afternoon Bob Hope acted very nervous as he went through his love scenes with Jane. “What’s the matter, Bob?” said Norman McLeod. “You act as nervous as if this were your own wedding night.”

“I am just about that nervous,” admitted Bob. “Take a gander over there.” He pointed to where Bob Waterfield and his buddy, Tommy Harmon, his teammate on the Los Angeles Rams, were watching from the sidelines.

“Bob Hope,” Jane told me, “is tremendously interested in football. He is part owner of a professional football team. the Los Angeles Rams. The afternoon my husband visited the set, Hope announced the fact to me by saying, ‘It seems we have a football player on the set today.’ When my husband came up to Bob to be introduced, he said he hoped my husband would be able to visit the set often, but Bob explained he wouldn’t be able to visit it again because of the strict training rules.”

During the making of the picture, Bob put on a continual free show for visitors, as he always does between scenes. There was one scene in which Bob was bound to a bent-down tree. The scene was cut just as two tomahawks flew down and the bent tree was released. Of course, a dummy had been substituted at this point for Bob Hope’s body. As he watched the body which was supposed to be his flying through the air, Bob said, “Just imagine if that really was me. I’d be traveling east and west at the same time. If I were a chicken bone, I could even make a wish.”

One of the funniest scenes in the picture involves Bob’s hiding in an undertaker’s parlor. Temporarily he finds refuge from a group of gun-smuggling renegades by hiding under a sheet. But during this scene, the sheet under which Bob is hiding is set on fire, the fire is extinguished with water, and a cat shares Bob’s refuge with him. Bob took all this punishment like the good sport he is, but when it was over, he said, “Boy, those guys must have been a rugged bunch to have been able to stand all this punishment after kicking the bucket.”

Then he began peering under the sheets, which supposedly held men who had been killed in gun-battles. Peering under the first sheet, he said, “Oh, no, it can’t be! They shouldn’t be burying Barney Dean. It’s only his gags that are dead.” (Barney Dean is Bob Hope’s favorite gag writer, and works with him on every picture.)

When Bob first saw Jane in her old lady makeup, he said, “Oh, good heavens! I never saw a grandma with thatkind of build before.”

By this time Bob and Jane were really buddies. They had been from the first in a way, but they hadn’t completely understood each other until they had tested each other with gags and sarcastic remarks. Now Jane sat down on Bob’s lap with her makeup on. “People will be saying that you can’t get anyone but an old lady to sit on your lap,” laughed Jane. When she got off, Bob, who had been talking on the phone, said over the phone, “Jane Russell has been sitting on my lap. Wait till my heart starts beating again.”

Later Jane was asked to pose for some portraits in makeup, to be used to advertise a benefit in which she was interested. Jane looked completely serious as she and George Jessel posed for these photos. “Don’t you think,” said Bob, “you ought to crack a smile, Lumpy, for a change? Otherwise people will think that this benefit is for the Pierce Brothers.” (Hollywood undertakers).

While they were making “The Paleface” Bob learned that Jane has an excellent singing voice—so appealing, in fact, that Columbia Records has put out a group of records with Jane called “Turn Out the Lights.” Occasionally between scenes Jane would burst into song, while her friend Portia would play the piano.

Bob enjoyed these singing sessions so much that one day he said to Jane, “Won’t you try to sing today between scenes?”

“Sure,” laughed Jane, “if you’ll try to be funny.”

The fact that Jane had proved that she could take everything that Bob dished out and then go him one or two better only made them better pals. “What a gal,” breathed Bob to his friend. “You know I never realized before I made ‘The Paleface’ what girls working with me in pictures have to go through. I always enjoyed the three-ring circus that exists on all my pictures, with a constant stream of visitors coming on the set. I’m such a ham I love to be on all the time. But during the first couple of weeks on this picture, I didn’t feel well and for the first time in my life it was an effort to keep on smiling. Believe me, I was grateful for the fact that I had as a co-star a girl as amiable as Jane. No matter how nutty the scenes were that we were called upon to do or what screwy photographs we had to pose for. Jane never complained. She took the constant tide of visitors as nonchalantly as though she’d been working on Hope sets all her life.”

Jane met Bob Waterfield when she was in the ninth grade and developed quite a crush on him, but he didn’t start taking her out until she was a senior in the Van Nuys High School. From that time on, they went together steadily, except for three months when they weren’t talking to each other. Jane and Bob were married around Easter, 1942. (If this date turns out to be wrong, don’t blame me. Blame Jane. She gets dates mixed up.)

Shortly afterwards “Doll Face,” as she calls her husband, was inducted into the Army and stationed in Columbus, Georgia. “Banjo Eyes,” as he calls her, decided that she would rather stay with Bob in Columbus, even though she could see him only week-ends, than go on tour with “The Outlaw.” Displeased at first by her refusal to tour with the picture, Howard Hughes took her off salary. “Banjo Eyes” went down to Columbus, anyway, and got a job in a beauty parlor where she earned $36 a week. She averaged six customers a day, and nearly all of them were women who were curious to see what she looked like. They were also curious about Hollywood. “Do tell us about Hollywood, my dear,” they would say. Jane set them straight, and revealed Hollywood as a town of hardworking people not very different in essentials from Columbus, Georgia.

Meanwhile in the evenings, Jane and her cousin, Patricia Henry, would go to the apartment they shared and talk over their experiences. Because her husband could be with her only week-ends Jane decided that she would be happier working with Pat and spending daytimes with her as well as evenings. Pat had a job selling bonds from an army tank. She earned $27.50 a week. For this princely stipend and the company of her cousin, Jane gave up her own beauty parlor job.

After a few months of this and of trying to pay half the rent on a $75 apartment on a salary of $27.50 a week. Jane decided to have another talk with Howard Hughes in Hollywood.

“Why should I put you on salary if you’re not willing to work in pictures?” he wanted to know.

“But I am willing to work. I’ll make any picture you ask me to, provided I can spend as much time as possible between pictures with my husband.”

So Howard Hughes put her on salary again, and Jane went back to Columbus, while Howard Hughes went back to making planes. He paid her salary for about a year without casting her in another picture. Then he agreed to loan her for “Young Widow,” an independently produced picture.

Jane is very frank about the roles she has played. Of “The Outlaw,” she says, “I liked the role, but I acted like a wooden stick in the picture. I just didn’t know how to act.” Of “Young Widow,” she said, “I played a dull girl in a dull picture.”

She’s much more hopeful about her role in “The Paleface.” “I play Calamity Jane straight and sarcastic,” she says.

Though the real Jane can be sarcastic on occasion, she’s also kind-hearted. Witness her plan to run a series of benefits for the paraplegic veterans of World War II. Several of the youngsters Jane knows had given parties for the disabled veterans at Birmingham Hospital. Jane noticed how difficult it was for them to get into an ordinary home. Since they were paralyzed, they had to be carried inside, and up the stairs. She decided that the entertainment world ought to do something more to help these paraplegics than anyone had yet done. Why not a series of benefits to raise $100,000 with which to buy land in the San Fernando Valley? Then this land could be divided into lots, on which the disabled veterans could build their own homes.

When Jane told Bob Hope her idea, he said, “That’s a swell idea. Let’s do it.”

“Bob,” laughed Jane, “never gets excited about anything, but is always ready to cooperate on any venture that will help disabled servicemen. He has probably taken part in more benefits than anyone else in the country.”

Just as Jane found life with Bob Hope very satisfactory on the set, so she’s finding her life with Bob Waterfield off the set completely satisfactory. Jane never gushes, but if you goad her on, she will tell you of either Bob, “He’s wonderful.”

She and Bob Waterfield live with his mother in a home in Van Nuys, but are building a new home for the future. Jane, one of whose greatest hobbies is decorating, is planning the decorations for the new home herself. She has several unusual ideas: for instance, a drapery closet with pull drapes in four different colors. She once read an article saying that colors influence your moods, so why not, she says, have different colors for different moods? On the days when she can stand red, she’ll have that color. On days when she’d rather have chartreuse or peacock blue drapes, she’ll have those. And there will be drapes in one more color, not decided yet. The bedroom will be on one side of the house, the living room on the other, with the closet with the pull drapes in between. She’ll be able to pull drapes she wants into either room. Another idea of Jane’s is changeable lamp shades.

Although Jane is fascinated by decorating, other phases of homemaking She admits candidly that she can’t cook. “I won’t ever be a housewife, I’m afraid. Bob’s a good cook. He says, ‘Hand me the pepper, hand me the butter, hand me the flour,’ and I hand them to him. I make the salads, set the table and wash the dishes. When I’m working and Bob’s on tour, I usually eat out.”

Asked if she’d like to have children, Jane said, “Yes, I’d like to have a boy and a girl.” But she doesn’t know whether or not she’ll retire after she has children.

Meanwhile, she’s grateful to Bob Hope for giving her what she considers the best opportunity she’s had in pictures since “The Outlaw.”

“Bob was very helpful to me all through the making of the picture,” Jane told me. “I was very grateful whenever he had a suggestion to make. I can use help. After all, I haven’t had much experience in pictures. But Bob never made his suggestions brusquely. He was very tactful.”

For the first time on the screen, you’ll see a girl in “The Paleface” who’s something like the real Jane Russell. Not that Jane can shoot the way Calamity Jane could, but she can hold her own in other ways.

The role should establish Jane Russell on the screen for the first time as an actress who can act. At least she hopes so. And why not? Where there’s Bob, there’s Hope.





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