When reading Karina Longworth’s Howard Hughes book, I came away wanting to learn more about Jane Russell. She seemed like a fish-out-of-water person from the era: a sexpot who rejected the label, a right-wing Christian who stuck to her views, a living contradiction who leaned into her personality. Researching when I was done, I was surprised to find that the only book on Russell was her autobiography, published in the 1980s.
Months later, I was at the library and remembered, at last, to pick it up. Only when I did, I saw another book about her, a biography published this past June. Eagerly, I snatched it up. While I have all the respect for folks willing to put their life story on paper for consumption, I always prefer an objective look when learning about someone’s life.
This one is good enough, I suppose. As far as the “marketing of a Hollywood legend” aspect, Christina Rice gets that down well. She talks about how Russell’s body and image were packaged and sold to play off the male gaze, anger censor boards in order to goose sales, and gave her plenty of attention, mostly unwanted. I learned most of this in Longworth’s book but it’s still an important read for how Hollywood chews women up and spits them out.
Unfortunately, when she examines Russell’s life, it doesn’t go nearly deep enough. Russell seemed like a really sweet person. But Rice does little in examining her relationships. What was she like as a mom? What was she like with her brothers? How did her relationship with her mom evolve over the years? There’s not nearly enough. Russell wasn’t a star on the lines of Marilyn Monroe or Ava Gardner so there are probably fewer things to document. But she still lived a fascinating life off the screen. I’d have loved to learn more about it.
Still, if you’re curious about Jane Russell, this is an essential read.