Jane Russell: Van Nuys High to Stardom

She was born on June 21, 1921, with the tongue-twisting name of Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell. She is better known, however, as Jane Russell, the sultry brunet sex symbol whose roles lit up the silver screen and outraged censors during the 1940s and ‘50s.

As a toddler she moved with her family from Minnesota to Southern California, settling in Van Nuys. While a student at Van Nuys High School she met Bob Waterfield, who would become her first husband and later a celebrated pro football quarterback.

After working briefly as a model, Russell signed a motion picture contract in 1941 at Howard Hughes Productions, the studio formed by the aviation pioneer and wealthy industrialist.

It was Hughes who helped Russell make motion picture history by casting her in “The Outlaw,” a picture loosely based on the life of Wild West bandit Billy the Kid. Russell’s voluptuous figure and wanton pose in publicity materials caused such a stir that the film was withheld from public view for years.


“God made her what she is,” a judge declared in 1948 after approving the film’s wide release.

Russell went on to make nearly two dozen films over the next three decades, starring alongside fellow Van Nuys High alumna Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 hit, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” In the 1970s, she appeared frequently on stage and on television as a spokeswoman for a line of brassieres.

Today, she lives in Arizona with her third husband, former real estate agent John C. Peoples.