Not all of the secrets of the universe can be gleaned from a one-hour luncheon chat with Jane Russell. No, that would require at least dinner, too.
However, in one hour you can learn that:
Advertising Playtex support brassieres for "full-figured gals" is very lucrative, and that is why she has been doing it since 1971.
Jane Russell is her real name. Movie fans, who since the beginning have pointed out that her in-fact name is really Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell, have been snookered. What the actual birth certificate said was "Baby Russell."
She first met Howard Hughes when he kicked Howard Hawks off the set of "The Outlaws" in 1941 and took over directing himself. Were they romantically involved?
Only Russell can answer that, of course, but first a word about WAIF, a private agency that actress founded in the 1950s to promote the adoption of children and for which she testifed yesterday on Capitol Hill.
"Countless foster parents throughout our country are doing a wonderful job providing temporary homes for children. But how much better to enable these same children to have a permanent and loving family to call their own?"
Now back to "The Outlaws" set, where Howard Hughes, the genius millionare-eccentric, has parlayed a forture made by manufacturing mining bits into leadership in aviation and has become a movie mogul, too. Sight unseen, he has signed up a 19-year-old female native of Bemidji, Minn., to play a role in the haystacks as Billy the Kid's girfriend in his new film. Well, not exactly sight unseen: He saw a picture.
Russell, admitted ex-tomboy, is waiting for the picture, and her career, to start. In the meantime, "There are all these magazine photographers, from Life and Look to Pop and Squeak, asking me to pose. Okay. They keep saying, 'Bend over and pick up the bucket. Bend over and pick up the apple.' I didn't get the gag, at first."
The pictures showed Russell to advantage. Later, studio flaks and newspaper hacks would compete to describe the advantage as Shapely, Bosomy, Large-bodiced, Haystack-proportioned, Curvaceous or even (blame this one on The Washington Post editorial page of 1953): "the callimastological Jane Russell."
The pictures that made her famous were all taken in one week, because after a week she got the drift and said quit it.
Then Howard Hughes fired Howard Hawks and took over the picture himself.
What kind of director was Hughes?"
"I met him after he took over," she said. "He and Hawks had a big argument and we were all sent home and then Howard took over, for nine long months. He was extremely patient and kind, but at the same time I don't think he really knew what he wanted. He did so many takes of scenes, and then he watched them all at night.
"He made Jack Beutel do the grave scene 103 times. And not because Jack ever made a mistake."That was fine, Jack,' he would say. 'But that time, when you said the line, you raised your eyebrow just a little.'" Russell appears to do an excellent Howard Hughes imitation.Unfortunately, even an excellent imitation of Howard Hughes is lost on 99.99 percent of the current population.
The movie was an instant scandal, thanks as much to Hughes' salesmanship as to the licentiousness of Russell warming over poor Billy with her torso during a chills-and-fever attack. Russell stayed under contract to Hughes for 14 years, and the calumnious hordes assumed they were, how do you say, in love.
However, in 1978 she appeared on an NBC television program and said of their relationship that "we were very good friends, and that's it. No romances ever."
Now she is not so eager to confirm the denial. In fact, she almost denies the denial. In this decade that is a sign that an actress is working on her memoirs.
"Sure, the final answer will be in my book. Bantam is the publisher. I wrote up through 1956 myself, and then I got tired of that and started with a tape recorder." Will it tell all? "Yes, yes, it will tell all."
If it does, perhaps, there will be more stories about Bob Hope, with whome she finally managed to reveal her wry wit in "The Paleface" of 1948, a movie that succeeded in diverting the eyes of the public away from her chest, if only briefly.
The wise guy in Russell got its first good look in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" of 1953, in which her cohort was an actress named Marilyn Monroe. (She really was a wise guy, she says, growing up back in Van Nuys with four brothers, and playing a game called "dead," in which you lay down on the roadside like a corpse and then when a horrified passing motorist screeched to a halt you jumped up and ran away laughing). Even though Marilyn got to play the blond, they got along well. "We were pals, and the movie was fun to do.Marilyn was a Gemini, too, like me. What's that mean? It means we're quick. Facile. Fickle." (Laughs).
And there may be something in there about her screen partners, such as Clark Gable in "The Tall Men," Victor Mature in "The Las Vegas Story," Robert Mitchum in "His Kind of Woman," and Cornel Wilde, with whom she played a convincing Gypsy in "Hot Blood."
Russell is thinking about entitling her memoirs "The Ring Through My Nose." The title suggests she was not always in control of her destiny, right? Right.
But first, another word about WAIF.
"In the past several years, state and federal governments have been spending $800 million on foster care. We've got a bill that would to the same job for $163 million. How? By getting kids into adoptive homes. A lot of the kids are handicapped, and for years social workers have been keeping them in the closet. Take them out, and people fall in love with them."
During most of her screen career, Russell was married to Bob Waterfield, the professional athlete, and together they adopted three children. In the early 1950s, that was not to easy to do. When Russell brought a child home from England to live with her, the English courts tried the biological parents on a charge of "illegally permitting their child to be transferred from their possession." Penalties were never imposed, but the result was headlines in America such as "Commons Query Due on Jane Russell Baby." So Russell had personal reasons for wanting to simplify the adoption process.
She also had personal reasons for wanting to keep out of the headlines after a while, since the RKO-Hughes publicity machine was versatile and ruthless. While trying to adopt her first child, she simultaneously shot a 3-D feature called "The French Line" that brought back all the bosom jokes, but did not leave everybody laughing.
Infantrymen in Korea captured a twin-peaked hill, and named it in Russell's honor, but the International Council of Christian Churches saw her screen image as more of a dishonor than an honor. Russell had always been interested in religion, and now heard herself accused of "allowing her curvaceous figure to be used as a lure" to attract crowds to West Coast evangelical meetings. She replied: "The people who object to my religious work are getting dangerously close to casting the first stone."
There were reports that she overindulged in alcohol, and in 1978 she spent four days in jail after a judge found she had violated probation on an earlier drunk-driving conviction.
"The judge said he wanted to treat me like everyone else," she said yesterday, sipping a glass of water. "I said, sure. Now I'd like to bring him the press clippings from London and Rome and everywhere, and say -- see, you treated me just like everybody else."
Russell still seems tough and sassy, however, and able to look back at her life, at 59, with appreciation. She is married to John Peoples, an investment counselor and former Air Force bomber pilot, and lives in Sonoma, Calif., whwere she has time for "art and sculpture and ceramics, and all the things I want to do. Her mother, who is 90, lives nearby and so do many of the 21 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Yet she can still look back and marvel about, say, Van Nuys High School. "You know, Marilyn went there for a while.So did Natalie Wood. Gail Russell was three years behind me. And Dana Andrews worked in a gas station in town."
However, Russell is not about to sink too far into the quicksand of reminiscence. It's all in the book, on sale next year.
Meanwhile, she has the admiration of the WAIF staff, three of whom drew their wagons around her protectively yesterday. As if Jane Russell needed it.
"You were amazing in the 'Tomorrow Show,'" one of them said admiringly. "Every time Tom Synder tried to get you talking about yourself, you talked about WAIF, and we got about 15 minutes of the whole show. But Synder kept coming back with 'Howard Hughes' -- just like he'd been one of the kids up for adoption. Do you remember how you finally cut him off?"
She did. Russell smiled, winked and gave a small wise-guy salute. It works every time.