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Jane Russell, an outlaw in more ways than one, dies at 89

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Among the many striking facts about Jane Russell, the mid-20th century screen siren who died Monday, is that soldiers named pieces of geography after her: Russell was ‘a bona fide star and a favorite pinup girl of soldiers during World War II. Troops in Korea named two embattled hills in her honor,’ The Times’ obituary of Russell notes.

Of course that’s far from the most striking thing about her. Russell -- who died at 89 in Santa Maria, Calif., after a battle with a respiratory illness -- was the actress who changed much about movie marketing when her role in, and publicity photo for, the Howard Hughes western ‘The Outlaw’ drew the ire of production-code censors.

The 1943 movie, which highlighted Russell’s full figure, was eventually released without code approval and made millions, prompting directors such as Otto Preminger to follow suit and setting the stage for much of what is now a given in contemporary moviedom, which cleverly (and sometimes not-so-cleverly) uses sex to sell new releases.

Anyone who grew up during and after World War II knew her, and modern actresses -- not to mention movie marketers, who’ve borrowed often from the controversy-as-selling-point playbook -- owe plenty to her.

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Despite more than three decades on stage and on screen, with roles in films such as ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ -- where she often played a character amusedly aware of her own vixenish qualities -- Russell never evolved into an A-list actress. ‘Except for comedy, I went nowhere in the acting department,’ she acknowledged in her 1985 memoir. ‘I was definitely a victim of Hollywood typecasting.’

And despite her legacy as someone who challenged a repressive status quo, there was this fact: Russell was actually a deeply religious political conservative.

More on a colorful career here.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


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