In this episode of the All Things Marilyn Podcast, we interview Christina Rice, author of “Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Making of a Hollywood Legend.”
We had a wonderful time chatting with Christina about all things Jane.
Tune in for a fascinating conversation about the life and career of Jane Russell, (AKA "Dorothy Shaw,") Marilyn’s co-star in the ultimate girl buddy film, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Scott: Hey Everyone. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of All Things Marilyn. My name is Scott Fortner, Marilyn Monroe, historian, collector, and owner of the Maryland Monroe Collection.
Elisa: And I'm Elisa Jordan. I'm the founder of LA Woman Tours. I'm an author and I am also a Marilyn Monroe historian.
Scott Fortner: We are season two, episode two and Elisa, guess what we're gonna do?
Elisa Jordan: What?
Scott Fortner: We're gonna tussle with Russell. Ready?
Elisa Jordan: I love her.
Scott Fortner: Why don't you our special guest today?
Elisa Jordan: Well, I'm excited. For those of you who have seen Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It is the ultimate girl buddy movie. This is the movie I started my Marilyn journey with. And today we have with us Christina Rice, author of Mean … Moody … Magnificent: Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend. So Christina, welcome.
Christina Rice: Thank you so much. Excited to be here. That was the best intro for Jane of any podcast I've been interviewed for. So thank you.
Elisa Jordan: Oh, thank you.
Scott Fortner: yes,
Christina Rice: Tussle with Russell is the best.
Scott Fortner: Thanks everyone for tuning in. We'll see you next time for All Things Marilyn. (laughter)
Elisa Jordan: So let's tell the audience a little bit about you. You are a writer librarian, an archivist who was born and bred in the Greater Los Angeles area. You majored in film at Cal State Fullerton, and for those who aren't from the area, we have several Cal State schools here in California. So you went to Fullerton and you obtained a master's degree in library science from San Jose State University.
Elisa Jordan: That is part of the same system. I went to Long Beach one by the way. So we have a lot in common. You are a librarian with the Los Angeles Public Library and since 2009 you have overseen the library's historic photo collection. In addition to authoring books on Anne Dvorak and Jane Russell, you have also written numerous issues of the My Little Pony Comic Book series. That is incredible.
Scott Fortner: A little unexpected.
Christina Rice: Well, I star I started writing them when my daughter was three years old, so it was really cool. And she was in preschool yeah, so I was very cool with the preschool set back then. I wrote a Star Trek comic last year as well. So, my writing career has been incredibly weird.
Elisa Jordan: You did?
Christina Rice: Yes. I wrote about, I wrote a Ferengi comic yeah, so I have a really weird writing career.
Scott Fortner: That's a whole lot of genres right there.
Elisa Jordan: Yeah. Are you a Trekkie?
Christina Rice: No, I appreciate it, I used to watch it. My grandma loved the show I've seen a fair amount of it. But no, I wouldn't call myself a Trekkie. But the opportunity came up and I'm a researcher, so I did a whole lot of Star Trek research and wrote a 40-page Ferengi comic.
Elisa Jordan: Well, speaking of your writing career, why Jane?
Christina Rice: As you mentioned, so I had written one other book on Ann Dvorak, and that was this insane odyssey that took about 15 years. So I had discovered Anne when I was in my twenties, and the book came out, I think, just shy of my 40th birthday. Once the book was published, I had decided that I was never going to write another Hollywood biography again. And a few months later I thought, oh, maybe it wasn't. So it's like childbirth, eh, maybe it wasn't so bad. And so I was trying to figure out who to write about next. And I didn't know. So I went to my publisher and said, “yeah, I think I might, wanna do another book.” And the University Press of Kentucky, I said, who should I do?
And they said, “have you thought about Jane Russell?” And I said no I hadn't, but I love her and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I'd seen that. And I had seen The Outlaw so I'd seen, her best movie and quite possibly one of the worst movies ever made in The Outlaw.
And realized I didn't actually know much about her. And that I hadn't actually seen really any of her movies. And then I was really surprised to discover that other than her autobiography, nobody had ever written about her. So there had never been a full-length biography, which I thought was absolutely astounding because she is somebody that has a tremendous amount of name recognition.
Once I started delving into her life a little bit and with Ann Dvorak, she was incredibly under documented as far as movie stars go. So it took a lot of digging. Jane was the opposite. Jane from the age of 19 was so hyper documented that it was the other problem.
There was too much. But I liked the idea of having all this material to wade through. And I have been a huge Marilyn fan since I was 14. Goddess was the first biography I ever read one a movie star. And at the time thought, wow, it'd be really cool to write something like this.
The idea of being able to, in a very small way contribute to Marilyn scholarship through Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was also pretty alluring to me. And I dove in and wrote a book about Jane Russell.
Elisa Jordan: So during that process, what did you discover about Jane that you really love or appreciate the most?
Christina Rice: I think there's a lot about Jane that I love. I think one of the most impressive things about her was that she was really devoid of an ego, I think, which is impressive in Hollywood. She was somebody who was incredibly confident and I think incredibly comfortable in her own skin, and even though she entered movies when she was 19 and became known around the world because of the photos that were taken for The Outlaw at a very young age.
She always stayed pretty grounded. She always stayed true to herself. She had friends that she had made in her youth and in high school that, that she, maintained those friendships for the rest of her life. So I think that she was somebody who didn't let Hollywood go to her head. kind of Didn't let Hollywood mess with her head, I think is just so impressive.
And the fact that she wasn't threatened by other actresses or other women I think is really impressive. Cause I think women tend to be pitted against each other, particularly when we're younger. So the fact that she wasn't threatened and she could forge really strong friendships with women and genuinely want to see other women succeed and I think would sometimes push other women to succeed whether they wanted to or not.
I think it's just really an inspiration. And so I think, sometimes I do find myself trying to like channel my inner Jane Russell and just be comfortable in my own skin and I think that's something we could all benefit from.
Elisa Jordan: Mm-hmm.
Scott Fortner: So your book was published in 2021?
Christina Rice: Yes, it was published at a terrible time. So it was in June of 2021. It was I think there was a week after we all got our vaccinations where we went out. So that's when my book came out. So I did get to have a book release party in June of 2021 at Larry Edmonds in Hollywood. And then we all went back in our houses.
Scott Fortner: Oh, great.
Christina Rice: So then I ended up, yeah. So then I ended up doing all of my publicity from my living room.
Scott Fortner: So you never got a chance to meet Jane as part of this work?
Christina Rice: Yeah, I never did. Jane passed away in 2011 and I started working on the book, oh, probably around 2014. There used to be a Hollywood collector show in Los Angeles. It was at the Beverly Garland Hotel for years in Studio City, and then it moved over to the Burbank Marriott. And she was at one of those shows.
And I did stand there staring at her for a while with my close friend Darin, and both of us sent, I don't know what to say to her, so I didn't actually go talk to her, which is a regret. But I did gawk at her from across the room for a very long time.
Scott Fortner: Wow. You were in the same space with her, so that's pretty cool.
Elisa Jordan: That's right.
Christina Rice: I breathed the same air as Jane Russell. I absolutely did. Yes.
Elisa Jordan: You said something that really intrigues me and that is she was very grounded, she was very nice to people, I was just kind of wondering if you could tell us her upbringing. Is that how she was raised or is that her personality? A little of both. What can you tell us about her childhood and her family? Because she did, like Marilyn, grow up in the Los Angeles area.
Christina Rice: Yeah, she did. I think all of us are born, with our personalities. So I think a lot of that was just Jane. But she had, a. pretty solid upbringing. She had four younger brothers. So I think that was a big reason why she did remain so grounded because her brothers would never allow fame to go to her head.
I think when she initially signed her contract with Howard Hughes to be in The Outlaw, she came home and they all went, Ooh, look, it's the movie star. I think if Jane ever put on airs, they would've just, given her a lot of guff. Her, her mother was very involved in her life.
Her father unfortunately passed away when Jane was 16. So that was something tragic that happened early on, but the family really banded together. I think she had to step up and help, raise the younger brothers. But I think there just was a lot of love and a lot of support growing up.
I think she did feel secure. So it was, even though she lost her father, I think it was very secure. Her aunt. Ernestine, who was the sister of her mother, Geraldine, was also somebody she was very close to. And Ernestine lived out in Fontana and Jane would sometimes go out there.
Ernestine had a huge family as well, and so she had cousins that she hung out with. She had a lot of family and I think they always remained very close and it was a tight unit and I think it just gave Jane a very solid home base so that, she always had an anchor. And growing up, she grew up in the San Fernando Valley primarily, but she did know a lot of people in the film industry or she had friends whose parents worked in the film industry.
So I don't think it was anything she was ever incredibly impressed with because she grew up around it. And so I think, yeah, again, she just had this anchor and I think she always felt, very secure. And that served her well later on, when she did have a Hollywood career.
Elisa Jordan: How did she get discovered by Howard Hughes or Howard Hawks.
Christina Rice: Jane's mother had been an actress. She had performed on the stage, and then had stopped acting once she got married and started having kids. And I think deep down she always wanted Jane to be an actress, when asked why she named Jane, “Jane Russell,” she said I, I thought Jane Russell would look great in lights.
So that was something that I think her mom always nudged her toward. From a pretty young age, and Jane always wavered over whether she actually wanted to act or not. So she did some acting in high school. She, learned to play a piano at a young age and was a musician and her and her brothers would perform.
And then once she graduated from high school, she was a terrible student, and I think barely graduated. She went to the Max Reinhard School of Acting, I think, at her mother's encouragement, and then ended up ditching and going bowling. There was a bowling alley across the street that was actually the old Warner Brothers studio, which is now K T L A.
Elisa Jordan: Yeah, I know exactly where you're talking about.
Christina Rice: That like classical building for so for a period in the early forties, a Warner brother-in-law had converted part of it into a bowling alley, and that was right across the street from Max Reinhard.
So she would just ditch the class and go bowling. And then she also , took some acting classes under Maria Ouspenskaya had an acting school in Hollywood, so she did that, but was always like fairly, eh, a little bit half-hearted. So ultimately what happens is one of Jane's friends is working at a restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard and is discovered by Tom Kelley, the photographer.
So Tom Kelley was always on the lookout for models. And so he hired a friend of Jane's to do modeling for clothing. And the friend said, “you should see my friend.” And brought Jane. And he looked at Jane and said, oh yes, Jane was a Glamazon. So she was always incredibly statuesque.
And Tom Kelley immediately hired Jane to do modeling for clothing and he taught Jane how to pose. He told her, if it's not uncomfortable, it's not gonna look good. Or something along those lines. Tom Kelley would have photos of his models hanging up on the wall.
He had a photo of Jane hanging up and it wasn't a body shot, it was like this very tightly framed shot of her, like almost snarling cuz Jane really could look very intense if she wanted to. And an agent named Leva Green would come to Tom Kelley's studio scoping out the models for potential roles.
And he walked into Tom Kelley's studio, and at the time, Howard Hawks and Howard Hughes were casting the Outlaw and were looking for unknowns. And he saw Jane's face on the wall and told Tom Kelley, who's that? And Tom Kelley said she's a nice girl, I'm not gonna tell you who she is. And he swiped the photo, showed it to Hawks and Hughes, who said, get her in here.
And eventually Tom Kelley relented, gave up her contact information and she went in and auditioned for The Outlaw. And that was how she got the role.
Elisa Jordan: Wow.
Scott Fortner: What a way to be discovered.
Christina Rice: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Almost like Schwab's drugstore, pretty darn close.
Elisa Jordan: Yeah.
Scott Fortner: You mentioned a little bit earlier Jane's photos, for The Outlaw. Talk a little bit more about that please. And the publicity surrounding the picture and Jane Russell.
Christina Rice: Oh gosh. The photos I think have completely outlived the movie and rightfully so. Howard Hawks and Howard Hughes, they had worked together in 1932 on Scarface, the gangster film with Pa Paul Muni and George Raft and Anne Dvorak. Eight years later decided to make another movie and they were gonna do a take on Billy the Kid.
It was a loose interpretation of Billy the Kid, took a little while for them to get it off the ground. And in the meantime, MGM. Did their own Billy the Kid film. So at that point Howard Hughes pivoted and said, you know what? We're gonna focus our marketing campaign on Jane, on this new discovery.
And he hired Russell Birdwell to do the publicity in Birdwell, he had done the search for Scarlett campaigns, he was a publicist who knew what to do. And so once he was told, Jane is gonna be the focus, he just launched into it. And initially The Outlaw was gonna be shot on location when Howard Hawks was the director.
And when they went out location in Arizona, Russell Birdwell sent just a cadre of photographers and just said, photograph her and Jane was a very voluptuous young girl. And so they shot her at every witch angle and she had lived a pretty sheltered life at that point.
These photographers are telling her, “Hey Jane bend over and pick up those pails.” Or they're, getting on rocks and shooting down her skirt and, or they're having her bounce on a horse. So she was only moderately aware of what they were doing. But those photos get released and they go on magazine covers around the world.
The Life Magazine photos are a little bit more tasteful than some of these other magazines. And, the photos absolutely resonate cuz Jane was gorgeous. And so for the next couple of years as The Outlaw kind of dragged on because Howard Hughes, fired Howard Hawks, directed it himself and then just ended up dragging his feet and getting involved in the aerospace war effort Jane's full-time job just became posing for photos.
And so thousands of photos are taken of Jane. They are splashed all across magazines. Jane becomes known as the motionless picture actress, because no movies are coming out. Everybody knows who she is because of her photos …
Elisa Jordan: I was wondering why she was called that.
Christina Rice: Yeah, she becomes prominently known because of the photos in early 1941, but doesn't have a movie come out.
The Outlaw gets a limited release in 43, a little bit wider of release in 46, but isn't widely released until 50. So for the first few years of her career, no, there are no Jane Russell movies. There's just a lot of Jane Russell photos. And then very famously, George Hurrell is brought in and shoots Jane, lounging on a haystack with her shirt pretty low cut, wielding a gun and snarling.
Those photos get blown up on billboards and become the hallmark of the marketing campaign once the film is a little bit more widely released in 46. And yeah, so the photos have definitely outlived the movie. I don't think a lot of people have seen the movie, but they've all seen the photos.
And even when Jane's autobiography is published in 1985, I don't know that, she really wanted to have one of those George Hurrell haystack photos on the cover, but her publisher said, yeah, we really need to put one of those on the cover. So they did.
Elisa Jordan: They’re iconic.
Christina Rice: They're absolutely iconic. I don't know if Jane would've appreciated me delving into her life and writing a book on her. I think she felt like she'd been talked about enough. But the one thing I did out of respect for Jane was I did not put a haystack photo on the cover of the book.
So that was one thing I wanted to do that for her was not put an Outlaw photo on the cover cuz there is more to Jane Russell than just those
Elisa Jordan: That is right. Yes. How did her career change after The Outlaw finally came out?
Christina Rice: She finally started working more like I said, for the first few years. It was mainly, taking photos. She ended up marrying Robert Waterfield, who was the quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams. So they had started dating they knew each other in high school and started dating after he had graduated.
She got married and actually walked out on her contract for Howard Hughes. And once he enlisted in the Army she went with him. And was stationed in the South. She tried being a housewife for a while and that didn't go so great. Once The Outlaw is released, I don't even know if it really does that much for her career.
What ultimately happens is she gets cast in The Paleface opposite Bob Hope, which comes out in 1948. And she's great. Like it is a very just Jane Russell role where, she is just, just snappy and funny, and tough and awesome. And so from there, her career finally starts to take off and Howard Hughes ends up getting a controlling interest in R K O and he finally starts casting her in things he wanted the outlaw to be her debut and yet didn't release the damn thing for years.
And so finally, like once he got it out there she made one other movie, Young Widow. that was a Hunt Stromberg. Film, which was not suited for her at all, especially at that young age to do a super dramatic role. So when she does The Paleface, she hits her stride and, producers and directors can see, okay, this is what this woman is capable of.
Scott Fortner: Speaking of her career and when she started to get big and have more films, what do you think her home life was like after she really became famous?
Christina Rice: Yeah. I think her home life was always a little bit rocky, so she married Robert Waterfield, who was a football player. I think he was always pretty jealous. I think once she started making movies he was always concerned that she might have been roving, which early on she absolutely wasn't.
And so I think I think it was always contentious. So I think once she had the career, she certainly embraced it. So maybe Jane didn't chase her career. But once the opportunities presented itself, she wanted it. She did try to be a homemaker for a while.
So in that period, in the mid-forties she was living with Bob at his mom's house in Van Nuys, and she did try to be a homemaker and she was just bored out of her mind. Like that just ultimately wasn't what Jane was about. Their marriage was pretty rocky, pretty combative. I think they were both very passionate people. I think their relationship, seemed to be very fueled by kind of this animal magnetism. Cause they, they were both just gorgeous people. I think that can only sustain for so long. They did have three kids together.
But I think, yeah, I think her home life wasn't always as strong as maybe she would've liked. And so after 25 years, they did end up getting divorced and she had a couple more marriages. But yeah, the home life was a little bit rocky.
Scott Fortner: Talk a little bit about Jane's career in the early 1950s, just before she was cast in Gentleman Prefer Blondes.
Christina Rice: She did the pale phase and then Howard Hughes started, allowing her to be in, in more films. And she did a couple with Robert Mitchem. So she did His Kind of Woman and Macao, I think she started to get cast as this tough dame, a quintessential like film noir girl.
I think, she just liked having the ability to be on screen and act, but I think she felt like she wasn't maybe being pushed that much or that maybe she was gonna start turning into more kind of like arm candy for her male leads. Again, she was somebody who appreciated having a career, maybe wanted roles to sink her teeth into.
She loved music. She loved performing and during that period where she wasn't making films, she actually started recording doing, song recording at that time, like Kate Kaiser brought her on and she performed. And so she launched her music career really early on.
People may not realize that and she loved that. So she definitely wanted to do musicals. She does perform in Montana Belle, which is a dreadful movie. Boring with George Brent. But she does get to perform a little bit she does a song called “The Gilded Lili,” which is absolutely a highlight of it.
But she seldom would go to Howard Hughes and say, “Hey, cast me in this type of thing.” So yeah, I think she, was very well known. She was very well paid, cuz if Howard Hughes loaned her out to another studio he made sure, he squeezed her. I don't know if she was like a huge movie star I would say.
She was a very well known, maybe not a huge box office draw, but very well known. And that is just that momentum that Russell Birdwell generated with those outlaw photos. Carried her through the entire decade of the 1940s, which is pretty astounding. So that once she's actually starts getting put into films and really starts getting that Hollywood treatment.
Like you look like a Macao, my God. Like she is stunning. Yeah, tons of name recognition and, and finally starts to have that career, which is amazing considering she did nothing through most of the forties other than take pictures.
Scott Fortner: That is really interesting, too. When we think about the amount of money that Jane Russell made for Gentleman Prefer Blondes and the amount of money Marilyn Monroe made for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, what was that discrepancy there?
Christina Rice: Oh God. I think Howard Hughes, I think charged like $200,000 for Jane to be in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And Marilyn was just under contract.
Scott Fortner: That was like $500 a week, wasn't it?
Christina Rice: Yeah.
Scott Fortner: Yeah.
Elisa Jordan: And I think Jane got a hundred thousand of that $200,000. It was something like that. She got a nice big cut of it.
Christina Rice: Yeah, Howard Hughes definitely took care of Jane. And he took a long time for him to bill Fox. Fox kept saying, “Hey, send us a bill. How much do we owe you?” And he kept not doing it. And then a few years later, after the movie was made, he was like, “Hey, you guys never paid me and owed me interest.” And rather than fight him, they just paid the interest. So he actually made more than what was originally
Elisa Jordan: Oh my goodness.
Scott Fortner: That's what we call strategic.
Christina Rice: yes
Elisa Jordan: And I don't put that past him at all.
Christina Rice: No, Howard Hughes was crazy like a fox. He was very strategic. Absolutely the red carpet was completely rolled out for Jane. Harry J. Wild was a cinematographer on it, cuz Howard Hughes insisted on that. Jane brought over her whole, hair and makeup crew. Yeah. Even though Dorothy Shaw is not the main character of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, yeah. Jane was absolutely treated like the Queen when that film was being made.
Elisa Jordan: Well, it sounds like we all love this movie. We're all Marilyn fans. We all love Jane Russell. They have a lot of parallels. They both grew up in the same area. They went to the same high school, Van Nuys High School, although Marilyn did transfer during her sophomore year to University, but they both went to Van Nuys.
Jane was a couple years older, but Jane went to high school with Marilyn's first husband, Jim Doherty. And then we already mentioned Tom Kelley, the link between Tom Kelley because Tom Kelley took the nude photos of Marilyn. And then there's also Andre de Dienes. So let's start there. These are two homegrown LA girls.
Christina Rice: Yeah, absolutely. And Jane she knew James Dougherty and they actually did the acting club together, so they were in like productions together. So yeah, absolutely. There are those parallels, like the parallels with Tom Kelley. They both married athletes. Marilyn was dating DiMaggio and so she would talk to Jane about that.
So their relationship on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was, was absolutely fantastic. Jane was just somebody who was not threatened by other women, and that was certainly the case on the set of that movie. Jane had been discovered by Howard Hawks and he directed her screen test for The Outlaw, but he never actually directed any of the film footage that's in the movie.
So he got into it with Howard Hughes and he walked off the picture before he actually was able to direct Jane. She was devastated by that cuz she absolutely adored Howard Hawks and looked to him as a father figure. Cause at that point in her life, she had only lost her father a couple years before.
And so she had always been desperate to work with him again. When this opportunity came up for her, to be not only directed by Howard Hawks, but in a technical or musical, it was just an opportunity that that she was just thrilled to have and she would've never done. Not that Jane ever jeopardized anything she did professionally.
I think she was always the utmost professional, but she was just absolutely thrilled to be on this film. And Howard Hawks, even called her and said, “Janie, I have a role for you.” And she said, okay, fine. When are we doing it? And he said, there's another character in this film and depending on who plays it, it might overshadow you.
She's like, I don't care. Whatever, when are we starting? It was a huge chance for Marilyn. And, I think her insecurities started to really show up early on.
Marilyn was getting to the set, at the crack of dawn to get made up. Jane always insisted on getting eight to 10 hours of sleep every night. So Jane always would calculate the least amount of time spent getting to a film set. She would do her own makeup in the car and once she would get there that she would get her hair and makeup would get touched up.
She would roll in an hour before she had to be on the set. Whereas Marilyn would be there really early on, but because I think of Marilyn's insecurities, she started getting late to the set. And so Marilyn's makeup man, Whitey Snyder saw that this was happening, went to Jane's makeup guy, Shotgun Britton, which I love the names of these makeup guys.
Whitey went to Shotgun and said, Hey, I'm starting to see that we might be having some issues with Marilyn cuz she's just, having difficulties getting out to the set, maybe Jane can help and Shotgun said, Hey, this is what's going on with this girl.
And Jane said, oh, all right, I'll deal with it. So from then on every morning Jane would just knock on Marilyn's door of the dressing room that Marilyn had to fight to get and she would just say, “Hey, Blondie, let's go.” And Marilyn would just go, oh, okay. And she would walk out and the two of them would walk to the set together.
So Jane didn't care, Jane didn't have to be the last one out on the set. The two of them would walk in together I think she was just always super encouraging for Marilyn. If Hawks would try to direct her and if Marilyn didn't understand what Hawks was saying, Jane would just say, honey, this is what he's talking about.
And I think that was one of many reasons why Hawks wanted Jane for the movie because he felt that. She could handle, Marilyn, that, if there were any difficulties with Marilyn or if Marilyn's insecurities were getting to her, Jane could be empathetic and could be compassionate and just deal with it and shepherd it along.
And she absolutely did. And she was impressed with Marilyn. She said Marilyn had the strongest work ethic, the first couple of months that they worked on the film was training, was doing choreography. And Jane would come and Jane would finish, put in her time and then go home so that she could spend time with the kids and get that 10 hours of sleep in and Marilyn would just stay and work and work.
And so she was always, completely impressed with her work ethic, I think identified that she had those insecurities, knew that Marilyn didn't have the stable household that Jane had, and so was perfectly fine, being a big sister and just wanted the movie to work, and so having that movie.
Work meant having a strong performance from Marilyn , and you see it on the screen when you watch any movie with Marilyn, it's really hard to not watch Marilyn the entire time.
Elisa Jordan: Mm-hmm.
Christina Rice: You can see how amused Jane is by Marilyn during that film. And it's actually just fun to watch Jane's reaction to Marilyn's performance.
Scott Fortner: actually noticed that, in some cases it doesn't even look like Jane Russell is acting, like when Marilyn's trying to put the crown around her neck, and, Jane Russell says there couldn't possibly be any other explanation. It was just so true to life.
Christina Rice: Yeah,
Scott Fortner: I've seen that.
Christina Rice: Yeah.
Elisa Jordan: Their friendship really comes out on the screen.
Christina Rice: Oh 100%. And I think that's, one of the biggest reasons why that movie works as well as it does. They have chemistry like those two broads genuinely have chemistry, and it just makes it such a joy to watch.
Scott Fortner: Marilyn and Jane were co-inductees at Grauman's Chinese Theater when they put their hands and feet in wet cement. Is this something that Jane had always wanted? Do you know?
Christina Rice: I think once it happened again with Jane, I think once anything happened she was, oh cool this is a cool thing that's happening. But no, I don't think she was one to go and dream about it. Once it happened, I think she, she was totally fine and, she wore like her actual shoes. Cause I think some actresses would maybe bring smaller shoes to put in the cement and, and Jane was like, no I want these kids to come and actually, put their big foot in mine and, and see that it's real.
Scott Fortner: So that's the opposite of Marilyn, who as a child went to groins and watched films there and actually put her hands in the cement and really dreamed about what it would be like to be a movie star someday.
Christina Rice: Oh yeah, absolutely. But again, I think, Marilyn didn't have that stability and so I think was looking for something to make her, feel like someone where again, Jane, I think just always had that very strong sense of self and, I think thought it was great that she had a film career, but yeah, never pursued it the way Marilyn did.
Elisa Jordan: . Right around the time they were filming or just after they were filming, Jane invited Marilyn over to her house a few times. She had a Bible group and Marilyn came over a few times for that and she didn't stick with it. But there seems to be, an effort on Jane's part to offer some stability or some sort of social circle to Marilyn. She had trouble sticking to any one religion, but I was wondering if you could speak about the group that Jane hosted at her house.
Christina Rice: Jane was raised to have a very strong faith. That was something that she got from her mother. Her mother would have Bible study growing up, her mother ultimately had a chapel on this family compound. Jane's faith was very important to her.
Once she started to become famous, she wasn't maybe always comfortable going out in public to go to church or maybe just because of the filming schedule didn't necessarily have the time to go to church. There were a lot of people in the industry, and particularly people that maybe were younger and came from outside of Los Angeles, who maybe wanted a place to practice their faith.
And so she started this Hollywood Christian group and they would actually go to different houses. I think each month or however often they had it would be held at someone else's house. And as far as I know, Marilyn only went once. Jane, I think again, identified that Marilyn maybe would benefit from having that faith in her life and from having something to anchor her and having stability and so invited her.
Elisa Jordan: Along those same lines, Jane started an organization called WAIF, and Marilyn did work with her on that. I was wondering if you could talk about that, because they were both very interested in helping children.
Christina Rice: One of my favorite things that I learned about Jane was researching her WAIF organizations. Jane was unable to have children. Around 1942, she did have an abortion and, it's a back alley thing because it wasn't legal or safe.
She wasn't able to have children after that cause it went horribly wrong. did end up adopting three kids, it wasn't an easy experience to do that. And her second child that she adopted, Tommy, she had gone to the UK, she was invited for the command performance to meet the Queen.
So while she was over there, she was visiting orphanages. And this was right after World War ii. And so the orphanages were, filled to the max. And a lot of the children that were in there, had been fathered by GIs, by American GIs. And so she wanted to find a child to adopt, but there were a lot of hurdles and so she wasn't able to.
And the press caught wind that she was doing and she said, yeah I'm trying to adopt a kid and I'm having trouble. There was actually an Irish woman living in London who had a child that kind of fit the description of what Jane was looking for, a boy who was approximately three years old.
This woman didn't feel she could care for her son and thought Jane could. And so got into Jane's hotel room with this kid and said well, you take my son. Jane, because she was a movie star, she was able to get the paperwork, expedite all of that. Get the red carpet treatment, as she would said.
She went through all the proper channels to be able to take this kid back to the States, but it ended up just, becoming a huge controversy. And there was a member of Parliament that decided to get some publicity for himself. It became this international incident about her taking this Irish kid, cause I think there actually was a black market for Irish kids at the time. The FBI, Hoover, to appease Parliament opened up a file on her. , it ended up being a huge ordeal for the birth parents of this child. And she was so disgusted with all of it that she said, you know what I'm in a position, I have this celebrity that I am in a position to do something to be able to help these kids in need.
She ended up starting her WAIF organization and what WAIF did they became a fundraiser for international social services. They raised money to help the ISS, be able to have enough staff to be able to process paperwork and to be able to, get kids adopted. She would go and lobby Congress to raise immigration caps so that more kids could come into the country and that ended up being something that she devoted much of her life to.
So WAIF was around for 40-plus years. At some point they switched from adoption to focusing on the foster care system here in the United States. It wasn't lip service. She was always incredibly involved in it and everything she did. From that point on was, for WAIF oh, I'm gonna go film Mamie Stover in Hawaii. Oh, I can start a chapter for WAIF over there. Oh Howard Hughes wants me to do publicity. Okay, then he can pay for my plane ticket so I can go to Washington DC and go talk to this congressperson. So that was something she was very involved in. I don't think Jane and Marilyn had a lot of contact once Gentlemen Prefer Blondes wrapped. But I think there was a connection there. And I think if she needed something from Marilyn, particularly on behalf WAIF, wasn't shy to ask and I think Marilyn was just as quick to oblige.
That's something that I just love about her. And I hope WAIF is something that people will, if they do read the book I hope that's something that'll make an impression on them and that they'll walk away from it remembering that was something that Jane did. She really put her money where her mouth was.
Scott Fortner: It's an incredible story. It's certainly having an impression on me.
Elisa Jordan: Sure is.
Scott Fortner: Yeah. Jane's later career, she transitioned into television, maybe you can just talk a little bit about her career later on in life.
Christina Rice: She only made movies into the early sixties. There might have been some scattered ones throughout the sixties. She did a little bit of television, not a whole lot. She did end up signing a 20-year contract with Howard Hughes where he paid her a thousand dollars a week, basically, whether her she was working or not. But by that time he just adored her and appreciated her so much that she got this thousand dollars a week even though she wasn't working. And as I had mentioned, Jane loved to sing. I think even more than acting, more than making movies.
She absolutely loved to sing, and she traveled the world singing. At one point, she paired up with Rhonda Fleming and Della Russell and Beryl Davis and Connie Haines, and they would record like Christian Gospels or Christian pop songs. And so they recorded a few albums and they would travel the world performing these songs.
Mr. Blackwell, if you remember, designed gowns. He designed gowns for them. She also ended up going onto the stage, so she only performed on Broadway once. She was actually in Company, Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
And that was a lot of pressure and a little bit traumatic, but she got through it. But she mainly did like smaller stock theaters, so she did do a lot of theater later on. Again, scattered television here and there. And then constantly had her cabaret show. So even the last few years she was living up in Santa Maria and thought it was boring as all hell.
So she went to a local hotel and said, “Can I just perform so I could give the old people in this town something to do?” And that was something she did literally right up until, I think the week she died, was performing her cabaret show up in Santa Maria, which I really am sorry that I never got to go see her perform in that.
Elisa Jordan: Do you feel like Marilyn impacted Jane's career or that Jane impacted Marilyn's career? Or how do you feel like they impacted each other? Because it just gosh, I wish they had made more movies together. They just seem perfect together and they're remembered well together.
Christina Rice: Yeah. And I think for that reason, I think it is fair to say that yes, they did impact each other's career because of that movie. Marilyn's star was definitely ascending, but Gentlemen Prefer Blondes just absolutely shoots Marilyn into the stratosphere and rightly so, cuz she's so incredible in it, Same with Jane. It's the best film Jane ever made. And I think Jane agreed. It was Jane's personal favorite film that along with Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. Jane absolutely loved that film. Jane is definitely remembered for The Outlaw and for the photos from The Outlaw, but I do think she's beloved because of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
When I started writing the book, as I mentioned, I hadn't seen a lot of Jane's films, but I loved Jane and that was, really based on the strength of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. And, know, I think that film is just an absolute just cinema legacy for both of them.
I do think they would've had different careers, had not ended up making that film together. And again, just, playing off of each other so well is just what makes that film, so memorable.
Elisa Jordan: You know what I love about it is that movie came out in 1953 and it had two strong female leads. You didn't see that very often then. You don't see it very often now.
Christina Rice: No, you don't. When you really stop and think about it. Yeah. It's incredible to have this film with these two women who just, completely carry this picture. I do think it's the greatest buddy film. I don't think it's the greatest female buddy film. I think it's the greatest buddy film ever made.
Elisa Jordan: I'm going to agree with you on that because I really like it.
Christina Rice: Yeah. My daughter's about to turn 13 and during lockdown, our family pandemic project was to do a podcast called Little Miss Movies, where we would make her watch movies and then we'd talk about them. And at the end of it, all my big takeaways that my daughter really doesn't like movies that much.
Elisa Jordan: She's your daughter, right? (laughter)
Christina Rice: She's my daughter and my husband's daughter. But she will watch Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, she will sit down and watch that anytime. So even my surly teenager has no problem watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Elisa Jordan: It is a masterpiece.
Scott Fortner: There's no question. It's a masterpiece. So Christina, I have something really interesting. You know, I'm a big collector of Marilyn Monroe's personal property. I have two of her personal phone books, from 1962. That was her final year of life. And Jane Russell's contact information is in both of those phone books.
Christina Rice: Oh, that's gonna make me cry. Oh no, I love that.
Scott Fortner: Yeah, these phone books are amazing. They're probably one of the best additions to my collection ever because you can go through and just really see who those people were in Marilyn's life that were important to her as well as who cleaned her house and mowed her lawn and dry cleaning and those types of things. All different types of contacts in there. But Jane Russell is in both books, and that was 1962. So almost a decade after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. What was their relationship like do you think, through the years after Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?
Christina Rice: Jane never claimed to be super close to Marilyn after. I think Jane said that Marilyn, I don't think was ever super close to anyone for an extended period of time. But again, I think if they needed to reach out to each other for any reason that connection was there, I do think Jane probably wished she would've maybe been able to have had a closer relationship with her.
And she, she said, I think right around the time that Marilyn died, if I'm remembering correctly, it might have even been that day Jane had been hanging out on the beach with some girlfriends and they were all just kvetching about the men in their life. And Jane stopped and thought about Marilyn and thought, God, it would be so nice if Marilyn could just be here and just have a support system like I have.
And I think she, she passed away shortly thereafter, and I think Jane thought Hey, God, maybe had I reached out to her may maybe it could have been different. So I think Jane always, held Marilyn like very close to her heart. And because Jane was made the film with her, had such a strong relationship with her during the filming and because Jane lived until 2011, she got interviewed all the time and so often got asked the same questions about Marilyn over and over again, and, was always happy to talk about Marilyn, was always happy to answer those same questions. Never said a crossword about Marilyn ever only had the highest praise for her, which I think is so incredible. In that last interview that Marilyn gave for Life Magazine, talks about the incident of not having a dressing room, having to put up the fight, because she was the blonde and then, mentions Jane and said, but by the way, Jane was quite wonderful to me.
One of the last, things that she talks about publicly, she actually mentions Jane. So I think yes, there was that genuine connection.
When Marilyn got divorced from DiMaggio, Jane did send her a letter reaching out, just wanting to make sure she was okay. So Jane absolutely, genuinely cared about her and I think it's beautiful that Marilyn had Jane's contact information.
Scott Fortner: Right at the end.
Christina Rice: I do hope they talked to each other occasionally. I don't know that they did, but I certainly hope so. Cause again, Jane just was supportive and genuinely I think wanted the best for the people in her life. She really did.
Elisa Jordan: It just sounds like there's a genuine warmth there between them.
Christina Rice: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Scott Fortner: You see it on film and the way that they interacted with each other and the behind the scenes and on the set stories and, clearly there was a friendship to the end. I really appreciate your comments about Jane Russell and speaking about Marilyn and I often, for lack of a better phrase, I feel bad for certain stars that were in films with Marilyn and they get put into a position where all they get asked about really is questions about Marilyn and they were stars in their own right. Huge celebrities, film stars, movie stars, and, Marilyn is so big and has been so big that people just want to glam onto anything that has something to do with Marilyn. And like I said, I just feel bad sometimes for people. They were a movie star in their own right.
It wasn't just because they were Marilyn Monroe’s costar. I do see that Jane was the type of person, as you say, no ego, happy to talk about Marilyn, who was her friend. Whereas other people on set may have been a lot more frustrated with Marilyn because she was late or she flubbed her lines, you know, these types of things. And so that's just a testament, yet another testament to the type of person that Jane was and the friendship that they had.
Christina Rice: Yeah. For Jane, it was a double whammy because, she knew Howard Hughes so well, and he's another one that, people are desperate to know about. So she got asked about him, ad nauseum as well, and never um, a crossword about Howard Hughes either.
I think it's a total testament to Jane that I think she did have a genuine friendship with him. And I don't know that he had very many, just close, genuine friendships in his life. And so I think she, he certainly frustrated her at times. Absolutely. And there were a couple of times where she threw down the gauntlet with him. With both Marilyn and Howard Hughes, Jane did have just these very genuine, sincere friendships with them, which I think is absolutely fascinating. And yeah. And she was, till the day she died, would always, was always happy to talk about 'em, and never said a crossword about either one of them.
Scott Fortner: That's amazing.
Christina Rice: Yeah.
Scott Fortner: This may be a question you've never been asked before. Ready?
Christina Rice: I'm ready.
Scott Fortner: If you could pull Marilyn and Jane, right out of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and put them into a few modern-day films as two female leads, what would those films be?
Christina Rice: I'm gonna cheat a little bit. These days I tend to watch more TV shows.
Scott Fortner: TV shows is fine too. TV shows is fine too.
Christina Rice: I think I would love to put them in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Elisa Jordan: Really?
Christina Rice: Cuz I could see Marilyn as Midge and Jane as Susie.
Elisa Jordan: Really? Okay.
Christina Rice: And I think because Suzy is such a strong, no nonsense character, and that's Jane. And I'm sorry, I would love to see Marilyn be a foul mouth standup comedian.
Scott Fortner: I have to admit, I've never seen that show, but I constantly hear about how good it is constantly. So now I'm going to be watching it through the lens of this conversation with Marilyn and Jane as the two leads.
Christina Rice: Please do. And now that the show has completely wrapped up, I can say with confidence. Yes. Watch it cuz it comes to a satisfying conclusion.
Scott Fortner: Can I just say thank you for not saying the obvious movie. Thelma and Louise.
Elisa Jordan: Thelma and Louise.
Christina Rice: Oh, that did immediately cross my mind, and I'm like, no. That is not the only female centric film to come out besides Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Elisa Jordan: well, You know what else popped into my head was Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
Scott Fortner: Such a good film.
Christina Rice: I've never actually seen it. I've never seen it.
Scott Fortner: Oh, it's a good one. Cult classic.
Christina Rice: Nice. But yeah I'm sticking with Mrs. Maisel, I think.
Elisa Jordan: I've just enjoyed this conversation so much because like I said at the beginning, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is what started my journey to loving Marilyn and Jane is such a big part of that. So if you love Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, you love Jane too. This has been great.
Scott Fortner: It has been really fantastic. Thank you. Christina, is there anything that you wanna share that we didn't touch on that you wanted to get across to our followers about Jane or Marilyn?
Christina Rice: I encourage people to go watch Jane's other films because yes, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is the pinnacle, I'm not gonna lie. But no, Jane, she's an absolute joy to watch. There's a movie that she did with Jeff Chandler called Foxfire, which I don't think enough people know about. I think she's just absolutely fantastic in it. I think it was the last three strip Technicolor films to be made. So it's just that gorgeous, insane saturated Technicolor. So I encourage people to seek that one out. The two she made with Robert, her and Robert Mitchum, oh my God, they are just tho those two just light the screen on fire.
His Kind of Woman, it's a hot mess cuz it has Howard Hughes’s fingerprints all over it. But Vincent Price is a hoot in it and he was a great friend of Jane. So again, they just have great on-screen chemistry together. So yeah, I absolutely encourage people to go seek out some of Jane's other films.
Cause that woman was a movie star. That just comes across on the screen. She didn't do a lot of films, but I think she certainly, makes the most of it. So absolutely. Go check out Jane.
Scott Fortner: Great advice.
Elisa Jordan: Jane and Robert go to school together? Did they go to Van Nuys school?
Christina Rice: No, not with Robert Mitchem. I think he was oh God. He had some connection to Dougherty. I don't know if they were like enlisted together, but there was a connection there. Cause at one point the three of them did an interview together.
Elisa Jordan: Yeah, I remember seeing that as a kid. I thought it was high school. I guess I'm wrong.
Christina Rice: No, I wanna say they were like in the military together or something, but Mitchum knew Dougherty somehow. But yeah, Jane didn't know Mitchum until later, until they started making movies together. Yeah,
Scott Fortner: Christina, it's been an absolute pleasure to talk with you today. And just a reminder for our listeners, Christina's book is Mean … Moody … Magnificent: Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend. And I can honestly say that I never thought in my lifetime that I would ever “tussle with Russell,” but here we are. Here we are, and it's been such a pleasure and such a joy.
Elisa Jordan: Be sure to give us a five-star rating if you enjoyed this interview. If you could leave a comment that would help the whole goal of this show is to get Old Hollywood out there, make sure people know the real Marilyn, and that's all we ask.
Scott Fortner: Remember that you can follow us on Instagram at AllThingsMarilynPodcast and you can also email us if you have questions, comments, thoughts, suggestions or ideas for future episodes. We are at AllThingsMarilynPodcas@gmail.com. We'll see you next time on All Things Marilyn.