Jane Russell Centennial Celebrated with a "Mean...Moody...Magnificent" New Bio
June marks the centennial celebration of the legendary actress Jane Russell whose talent and sex appeal made her a star in memorable films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Paleface. Bringing her story to the biography “Mean…Moody…Magnificent: Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend,” author Christina Rice found a woman with a dynamic personality and history big enough to match her onscreen magic. This isn’t the first time Rice has tackled the story of an actress from Hollywood’s heyday, however, and it was her first biography, “Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel,” that led her to her second bio release.
“I was really enamored with stars of that time period,” Rice said. “I love the visuals and imagery of stars from the 30s, 40s, 50s. That high glamor was really appealing to me when I was young.”
Rice found herself researching Dvorak, famed for her role in the original Scarface film from 1932 as well as Three on a Match from that same year, and was surprised to discover no available biographies. She was able to affordably begin collecting photographs and memorabilia since Dvorak’s recognition wasn’t that of other actors of that era.
“I kept wondering why she wasn’t a bigger star,” Rice said. “All these books about stars of that era, and there wasn’t one about her. I thought that was a real head scratcher. As I kept collecting all of these movie posters and photos, I realized nobody else was going to tell her story.”
The years went by, and Rice earned a master’s degree and became a librarian in Los Angeles. She also got married, had a daughter, and battled cancer. But Ann Dvorak was always there, as was Rice’s desire to tell her story.
“I’m really not an expert on anything except Ann,” she said. “All of my formative years were spent with her. I found the scrapbook of her honeymoon which was a really transformative experience in her life. It’s really so special being the custodian of her legacy.”
The culmination of her efforts came in 2013 with the release of “Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel,” and a book tour at various venues which included screenings of Scarface followed. That might have been it since Rice’s motivation was more about sharing all things Ann than becoming a Hollywood historian. But as the years went by, and Rice continued to have access to a wealth of research materials at her workplace, Los Angeles Central Library, the itch to tackle another book began to take hold. There was just one problem.
Christina Rice (photo credit: Heidi Ryder)
“I had no idea who I wanted to write about,” Rice said. “So I talked to the University Press at Kentucky and said ‘I’m thinking about doing this again, but I don’t know who,’ and they said ‘Have you ever thought about Jane Russell?’”
So began her second biographical effort, one which posed different questions and challenges than her research into Dvorak.
“One of the things about Ann that I always wondered is why she wasn’t a bigger star. One of the mysteries about Jane is why she was a 50s star and not a bigger 40s star. Then there’s the insane odyssey of Howard Hughes and the making of The Outlaw. She was also incredibly spiritual, very open about her religion and faith. She had a very different offscreen versus onscreen persona.”
Where with Dvorak Rice found a dearth of information, with Russell there was plenty of material given her status as a sex symbol early in her career. Ultimately, it was Russell’s perseverance that allowed her career to last as long as it did.
“It’s a testament to her and her personality that she had the career that she did,” Rice said. “Because of Howard Hughes she became an internationally known person, but she didn’t have the career she could have. He put her out there, but he also held her back. They were always promoting her breasts, and there was an onslaught of newspapers and magazines.”
Despite that skewed attention, Russell did go on to have a remarkable career, and she even parlayed that attention to her dimensions into a series of Playtex bra commercials which introduced her to another generation of fans. “Mean…Moody…Magnificent!” by Christina Rice is now available on Amazon, but signed copies are currently available at Hollywood’s favorite bookstore, Larry Edmunds Bookshop (larryedmunds.com).