Move Over For Jane Russell!
A few months ago, on a late Sunday afternoon news telecast, a commentator announced that it had, indeed, been a confusing week. The public could take the anxiety over the postponement of the Nevada atomic tests; it could stand the strain of the recent flareup in north Africa and tolerate the difficulties in the Formosa Strait, but could it be asked to bear up under the confusion of who’s body Jane Russell was wearing in the advertisement for “Underwater!”?
To those who know old Jane best, namely the studio people who work with her, there was nothing out of the ordinary in Jane becoming a news incident. Ever since “The Outlaw,” she’s left be* hind her a string of small explosions that can be attributed in part to publicity, in the main to her inherent talent for being the lovable, strong-willed, fun-loving, unchangeable zany that she is. Like, for instance, the time Jane went barreling off to Las Vegas for the premiere of her picture, “The Las Vegas Story.” The evening before the premiere she was flitting around town having a ball, completely ignoring the high wind that had blown up—and in the wintertime that high desert wind is pretty potent. So she bounces out of the car, let’s go of the door handle, the sixty-mile-an-hour gale smashes the door right smack in her face, and there is the glamorous Jane Russell the night before a premiere with a black eye. At the same time, a hundred of the press were being flown up from Los Angeles to cover the premiere. So ulcers, ice packs, sedatives and prayers were called on heavily that night by everybody from RKO. What seemed like a nightmare to the studio turned out to be a publicity man’s bonanza It hit the wire Services and the headlines of every paper in the country. And somehow, Jane’s black eye managed to turn in a healthy profit for “The Las Vegas Story.”
Two weeks after the Las Vegas incident, Jane took off for New York. She and her traveling companion were accompanied to the plane by one of the men from the studio. As the man unloaded Jane’s stuff from the limousine, he whispered to the traveling companion. “I don’t envy you, traveling with her. She’s like a white elephant—you can’t hide her any place. Besides, she refuses to act like a movie star.
The traveling companion was soon to find out exactly what he meant. In Chicago Jane trudged off the plane in her usual getup: slacks, fur coat, moccasins, ear muffs, ear plugs, sleep mask, scarf on her head—and absolutely no make-up!
“I caught up with her in the ladies lounge,” her companion related later. “She was in need of coffee and so was I. So at 7 a.m. I went scrounging around the airport looking for coffee. When I got back to the ladies lounge with the stuff, the teenagers had, with that sixth sense of theirs, found out that Jane was on the plane. She was surrounded. Looking like the wrath of God, she gaily waved an autograph book in the air and roared, “Well, here’s your White Elephant.” She had overheard our conversation and loved it.
“But Chicago was nothing next to New York. You see, Jane loves jazz. For most people this is a good, clean hobby, listening to live and recorded jazz. But for Jane it means using every free moment to find out-of-the-way places all over New York where she can hear her beloved modern jazz Refusing to accept the responsibility of a star, she’ll just start out, trailing, of course, the en tire New York office, whose function it is to see that nothing happens to this expensive product. But once Janie has her mind made up, who’s brave enough to change it? For she’s as strong-willed as she is unpredictable.”
When Jane landed in New York from London last January, after finishing “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes,” she was worn out and champing at the bit to get home to husband Robert Waterfield and her kids. When the powers that be at RKO decided she should go to the Florida premiere of her picture, “Underwater!” everyone started putting up odds that the top studio diplomat would never persuade Jane.
Apprehensively, the woman approached Jane that afternoon. After she explained what a fix the whole situation put her in, old Jane’s big, bleeding, cantankerous heart acquiesced. Her only provision was that her two children be air-mailed special delivery to her in New York immediately. After a couple of days with the children, Jane took off for Florida all graciousness and charm. which continued to be, until, unpredictable again, she ate some stale food and became violently ill.
Why RKO’s most valuable property should be fed stale food would be a news story in itself, if it were not for the fact that Jane did the feeding. She awoke one morning around 3 A.M. and decided she was hungry. Rather than check room service to see if anyone were on duty, she found a tray of tired food from the party the night before and started nibbling on a few of the stale goodies. Hunger appeased, she went back to sleep until she awoke again, violently ill, at 7:30 A.M. Within half an hour everything was under control, but
by this time half the hotel personnel, all of RKO and the press were flipping.
Jane, weak and wan, just about made the plane that took her back to New York and her kids. Perry Leiber, RKO’s director of advertising and public relations, waved goodbye, holding his throbbing head and muttering, “Any other movie star would be demanding caviar and Baked Alaska. Ours gets sick on garbage!”
“On stale food,” a second studio executive hurriedly corrected. Leiber was in no mood for argument. “Yeah, on stale food,” he amended.
Jane has a good reputation around Hollywood as a girl who can really blow her stack. Such temper tantrums can usually be traced to her oversized heart. She just can’t say No to anyone. She’ll take on at least twenty projects at one time, more than any human being could accomplish. Then, when she’s caught up in the middle of production, plus her extra jobs, she gets completely worn out and eventually blows her stack. The bellow can be heard far beyond the studio gates.
While she was making “Son of Paleface,” with Bob Hope at Paramount, her home studio made it a habit to let Jane say Yes or No on benefit performances. When the studio representative approached her one morning in her dressing room with a “What do you want to do about the benefit—” Miss Russell didn’t let her get the words out of her mouth before she blew her stack. For five full, healthy minutes, she blew, then collapsed as suddenly into her former position, exhausted. Never glib, she didn’t know how to apologize, but the unhappy expression on her face said more than merely I’m sorry. And once the pent-up emotions were released, Jane readily accepted the benefit engagement.
In fact, Jane can rarely turn down a benefit request. Half the time her studio doesn’t even know how many she’s promised to do—like the time she promised to do the benefit at Victorville. It seems a cousin of her sister-in-law w as on a committee in Victorville to get some sort of entertainment for a charity benefit. A week before the benefit, Jane informed the studio she was going to be on the program. The studio couldn’t get any more out of Jane so after two talks with the sister-in-law, three talks with the cousin, a bottle of aspirin and five long-distance calls to Victorville, they got the facts. Jane Russell was going to appear in a small | movie theatre with a three-piece combo at the premiere of another picture from another studio! No other star in her right mind would ever think of putting money in the boxoffice for a rival studio. But this was different. This was for Jane’s sister-in-law’s cousin!
Because of her heavily loaded schedule, Jane’s impatient, wants things done fast. To get her into wardrobe long enough to get her properly fitted is a job. She’s docile and quiet for three to five minutes, and then her impatience sets in. She begins to wiggle and squirm and finally, very firmly, brings the fitting to an end with “We’ve done enough for today.” Then, when she wears the gown in a picture or on a personal appearance and it doesn’t fit, she’ll roar, “Why don’t I get called in for fittings? I’d come right over.” But then again, when the gown fits perfectly, the designers admit it’s worth all their efforts.
Jane hates to wait hates delays, hates to waste time. She’ll march through a restaurant or down a street in galloping strides, letting nothing interfere with her plan in mind. She’s impatient with chitchat, wouldn’t be caught table-hopping. She firmly believes all conversation should be stripped to the bone. Translated (to her co-workers), this means everyone except Jane must be clairvoyant at all times. On occasion, she has snapped out, “Tell that shortish, bald-headed man I said No.” Since the world is filled with short, bald-headed men, this usually leaves the messenger delivering the message to the wrong bald man.
Waiting makes her nervous. Recently she was going to a preview at the Fox Beverly, and the parking lot across the street was filled. She hit her brakes within an eighth of an inch of the “Full” sign and tapped impatiently on her horn. Luckily, the attendant recognized her and let her in or else the car probably would have remained right on the street until they had space. To top it off, when Jane came out of the movie and went to pick up her car, she found she didn’t have any money—another Russell habit. The attendant merely said, “It’s quite all right, Miss Russell, pay us next time,” obviously aware from past experiences that Jane never has any money. She blithely says that her husband handles money matters. Absolved of all financial interest and responsibility, she feels no need to carry it.
Not that Jane isn’t aware of the worth of a dollar. When she was in Paris and Monte Carlo making “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes,” she had a Scottish hairdresser named Pearl. Whenever Jane saw something she liked, she’d poke an impatient finger at the object and leave Pearl to do the bargaining. The result was some mighty good bargains that movie star Jane Russell could never have finagled. Although it might be said that Jane isn’t bad at finagling.
For instance, the coat she wore all through Europe last fail. It was a lovely beige coat and looked marvelous on her, despite the fact it wasn’t hers. Seems a writer called at her home for an interview some time in the spring and left the coat. She forgot to call back about it until early fall. When she did, she was informed Miss Russell was in Europe and the coat seemed also to be missing. A news picture of Jane on the Riviera in the coat verified the writer’s dark suspicions. When Jane finally arrived home in January, the writer cornered her point blank and asked about the coat. Jane looked vague and then sheepish. “Oh, no,” she moaned “You mean that beige coat is yours. . . .” To this day, the writer isn’t sure Jane wasn’t acting.
This doesn’t mean that Jane isn’t absent-minded—she is. Her favorite things-to-forget are appointments. She doesn’t have the little annoying habit that most people do. She never shows up late for appointments; she just forgets them.
Take the time she discovered she was going on location in Las Vegas and didn’t know anyone there. She invited her cousin and his wife to drive up from Arizona to visit with her during the making of the picture. A few nights later she was sitting in a car, in what is called an exterior set, waiting to drive in to the main set, when a policeman came up to her with information a lady wanted to see her.
Miss Russell frowned her forehead but to no avail. “I don’t know anyone in Las Vegas,” and she dismissed the matter lightly. As he thanked her and turned away, she shouted, “What’s her name?”
The officer read the name off a card. “No, don’t know her,” Jane answered. The officer was fifty feet away when a roar that could be heard over the slot machines of Las Vegas came from Jane’s direction. “Hey, wait a minute—that’s my cousin.”
After seeing her cousins for a few minutes she promised to meet them at their hotel after the shooting. That is, she had intended to. But she forgot. Instead she grabbed something quick to eat and went back to her motel to retire early. Not until the following afternoon did she remember that she had cousins in town.
After this incident, Jane herself decided to do something about her forgetfulness and started to make a daily schedule, adhering to it closely, checking frequently her appointments. She organized it beautifully, marked each appointment down faithfully—then forgot to leave herself enough time to keep them. She’ll leave a note on the door of her hotel room, with a careful engraving of a skull and crossbones, saying: “Don’t dare wake me before five minutes of eight.” Her timing is magnificent. Between five minutes of eight and eight o’clock the hairdresser, the make-up man and the wardrobe girl must have Jane out of her sound sleep, fully clothed, made-up and hair dressed, all ready to face her eight o’clock appointment. This, of course, is a complete impossibility. But for five minutes, pandemonium reigns as the impossible is attempted.
And, of course, if someone should not heed her warning on the door—she’s in for an experience, as the woman manager of the motel in Arizona where Jane stayed can testify. A long-distance call from Europe came in at 5 A.M. and, despite the warning, the woman knocked on Jane’s door and made known her news. Old Jane came charging out like a black bull. She thought the place was on fire. When she found out it was only a telephone call—well . . .
Hardly the dignified, self-conscious actions of an actress, true, but then, as we said, Jane will never act like a movie star, will always be amazed when she receives the fanfare of one. Also, what seems like perfectly normal behavior to Jane sometimes looks a little odd to everybody else. Like the morning she was on her way to the airport in one of the company’s chauffeur-driven limousines. She hates to drive up winding hills and, unfortunately, her traveling companion, whom they had to pick up on their way to the airport, lived on top of such a hill. Before ascending, she asked the chauffeur to stop and, getting out of the car, requested he pick her up on the way back. Taking a magazine and her make-up along with her, she planted herself, at 7 A.M., on the grass of a near-by lot. This might not have been too conspicuous if she’d picked another plot of grass, but being Janie, she chose to plant herself three feet away from the main traffic artery in Hollywood—Sunset Boulevard. She was thoroughly provoked and amazed at the attention she received!
But in all fairness to Jane, it must be pointed out that this is only one side of her character. The warm, real, human simpatico Jane is the other side. She is mother-confessor to the hurt, the troubled, the lovelorn, an impulsively generous, openhearted woman, a good wife and a loving mother. Her big ambition is to see that kids all over the world get parents and loving homes. She works tirelessly with the organization she started, WAIFS, trying to raise money and inform the public. She greets everyone with, “If you have any extra money, send it to WAIFS, Hollywood 51, California.” And if anyone wants a personal letter from Jane Russell, all she need do is slip a contribution into an envelope and send it there. She’ll have Jane’s ever-lasting gratitude, for it’s true, an elephant—particularly this White Elephant—never forgets.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JUNE 1955