Jane Russell, The Legend (We’ll Miss You, Honey!)

I couldn’t let the passing of Jane Russell go by unacknowledged. Not only was she a beautiful, feisty, smart, sexy woman, but she was a comedic queen who could hold her voluptuous own with Marilyn Monroe.

If you grew up in the 70s, like I did, you may not have met Jane in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; you may have first been introduced to a more matronly Russell via her commercials and advertisements for the Playtex 18-Hour bra and girdle and/or the Cross-Your-Heart Playtex bras, promoting the structural advantages of the foundation garments for “full-figured gals.”

However, as you can imagine, Jane was no stranger to bras — and in fact, the lady has her own special place in lingerie — and film — history.

In 1941, during the filming of The Outlaw, director Howard Hughes felt the camera was unable to capture the fullness of Jane’s ample proportions (her bra size was purported to be 38D). While I’m sure the camera wasn’t the only one with such regrets *wink* Hughes had another problem: the bra’s visibility. Not only were the straps inconvenient, but the seams of her bra were plainly visible, ruining the desired effects of a perky (un)natural braless Jane in the hay.

Armed with the desire to showcase Jane’s bustline in the film, and armed with access to plenty of engineering design knowledge, Hughes set out to create a bra that would be seamless yet lift and separate — as well as allow a generous amount of bosom to be exposed.

Below each breast, Hughes sewed rods of curved structural steel into the garment, connecting to the bra’s shoulder straps — Volila! Underwires! This allowed the breasts to be pulled upward, seamlessly, even when the shoulder straps were moved away from the neck.

Later, in her autobiography, Russell later she did not wear the “ridiculous” uncomfortable contraption during filming. Instead she wore her own bras, adding a layer of tissue paper over the cups to eliminate unsightly lines. Hughes, apparently, never knew the difference. (The bra ended up in a Hollywood museum.)

However, Hughes’ lavish attention to lingerie detail did give us the underwire bra (love it or hate it, it’s now an option!).  And Hughes lavish attention to Russell’s lush curves also helped bring about the end of the Hay’s Code aka The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930.

The release of The Outlaw was delayed for three years because the film was an ode to Jane’s figure, and as such the film could not pass the Hollywood censors. But Howard Hughes released the film anyway, without the motion picture Seal of Approval. Despite troubles with distribution, The Outlaw went on to achieve box office success — due in no small part to Russell’s large, lifted & separated, up & out, breasts. This was a significant loss to the censorship’s stranglehold on the film industry.

I can only imagine what it would be like to be so beautiful in face and form that a man (albeit an eccentric one) would so buck the film system and risk such financial and legal problems just to showcase me on the silver screen…

But I thank the beautiful, busty, gutsy Jane Russell for her wonderful roll in the hay, fabulous film work, and for being such an inspiration in so many ways.  Bounce on in heaven, Jane.

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