Gentlemen prefer Jane Russell

The first time I ever heard about Jane Russell’s Bible studies was here at GetReligion and I could hardly believe it. I imagined the star of Outlaw and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes pouring out of her blouse rather than poring over Scripture. Russell died on Monday and it was interesting to see how obituary writers handled it.

The first piece I read was over at The Hollywood Reporter. While it included great lines such as something about most of her roles being “designed around her towering physicality and frontal amplitude,” the most it said about her religious views was that she had remained active in “her church.”

Thankfully there were obituaries with more information elsewhere. The Associated Press had a great one written by John Rogers. Immediately after a poetic lede, we learn:

Although she had all but abandoned Hollywood after the 1960s for a quieter life, her daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield said Russell remained active until just a few weeks ago when her health began to fail. Until then, she was active with her church, charities that were close to her heart and as a member of a singing group that made occasional appearances around Santa Maria.

“She always said ‘I’m going to die in the saddle, I’m not going to sit at home and become an old woman,’” Waterfield told The Associated Press on Monday. “And that’s exactly what she did, she died in the saddle.”

The phrases “voluptuous,” “stunningly beautiful,” “scandalously sexy” and “provactively dressed,” “sultry, sensual look and hourglass figure,” appear along with a ton of details about her movie career. (And we can’t forget those Playtex bra commercials from the 1970s!) Then we learn:

She was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921, in Bemidji, Minn., and the family later moved to Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. Her mother was a lay preacher, and she encouraged the family to build a chapel in their back yard.

Despite her mother’s Christian teachings, young Jane had a wild side. She wrote in her 1985 autobiography, “My Paths and Detours,” that during high school she had a back-alley abortion, which may have rendered her unable to bear children. …

She was the leader of the Hollywood Christian Group, a cluster of film people who gathered for Bible study and good works. After experiencing problems in adopting her three children, she founded World Adoption International Agency, which has helped facilitate adoptions of more than 40,000 children from overseas.

She made hundreds of appearances for WAIF and served on the board for 40 years.

We learn about some of her personal tragedies, including a bitter divorce and long struggles with alcohol:

She was able to rebound from troubles by relying on lessons she learned from her Bible-preaching mother.

“Without faith, I never would have made it,” she commented a few months after her third husband’s death. “I don’t know how people can survive all the disasters in their lives if they don’t have any faith, if they don’t know the Lord loves them and cares about them and has another plan.”

The funeral service will be held at an Assembly of God church in Santa Maria. Donations are requested for the Care Net Pregnancy and Resource Center of Santa Maria. All very interesting.

The New York Times also had an interesting obituary, albeit one more focused on social or political issues than religion. The first religion mention there was that “The Roman Catholic Church was one of the movie’s vocal opponents.” Not entirely sure what that means. Late in the piece we learn:

Ms. Russell was very public about her religious convictions. She organized Bible study groups in Hollywood and wrote about having experienced speaking in tongues. In her memoir, “My Path and My Detours” (1985), she described the strength she drew from Christianity.

A higher power was always there, she wrote, “telling me that if I could just hold tough a little longer, I’d find myself around one more dark corner, see one more spot of light and have one more drop of pure joy in this journey called life.”

If you’re interested in this facet of Russell’s life, this interview over at Christianity Today is full of good questions and answers about the role religion played in her life.

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  • Julia

    “The Roman Catholic Church was one of the movie’s vocal opponents.”

    I’m 66 now and was going to her movies in my high school years. I don’t remember any criticism by the Catholic Church of her in particular. There was a Legion of Decency in those days that rated movies and I recall that it condemned her movie The French Line because of the implied activities in various bedrooms, but it was not directed specifically at Jane Russell. I saw the movie recently on TCM and it now seems tame compared to what is in movies these days. I think the Legion of Decency gave up, folded its tent and disappeared.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Thanks for this post, Mollie.

    It’s always interesting to hear of the turbulent lives of people and how the Lord grabs a hold of them and won’t let go.

    I pray that Jane Russell is in the arms of her Loving Savior, never to suffer again.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Mollie,

    I just read your bio. (on this site)and found out that you are a Lutheran.

    Whenever I find out someone is a Lutheran I am always pleasantly suprised, for our views on matters of faith are pretty radical.

    Anywho, glad to meet you, fellow Lutheran!

    – Steve M.

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    I read a few of those obits as well, and am still not sure of what, to some readers at least, is an important fact about Jane Russell. In which church, exactly, did she “remain active”?

    You naturally assume it is the AoG parish where her funeral will be held, but that’s just an assumption. It could be that her actual parish doesn’t have a large enough nave, and so the family made alternative arrangements.

    Do any of the obits you read actually spell it out?

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    (And by “you,” I don’t mean Mollie. I mean “one”. Sorry.)

  • Dave

    Why is it a surprise when a female public figure with enormous sex appeal turns out to be religious?

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    Mayben because it’s outside the norm.

  • J

    I thought you were going to take the media to task for not mentioning her stance against abortion, though you alluded to it with the donations requested.

    http://www.lifenews.com/2011/03/03/abc-ignores-jane-russells-pro-life-views-mentions-abortion/

  • http://roqqbottom.bolgspot.com roQQboTTom

    Bob Waterfield prefers Jane Russell.


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