Jane Russell, the dark-haired siren whose sensational debut in the 1943 film "The Outlaw" inspired producer Howard Hughes to challenge the power and strict morality of Hollywood's production code, died Monday at her home in Santa Maria, Calif. She was 89.
Russell, who would later turn her sexy image to comic effect in films with Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and other major stars, had respiratory problems and died after a short illness, her family said.
Russell's provocative performance in "The Outlaw" - and the studio publicity shots posing her in a low-cut blouse while reclined on a stack of hay bales - marked a turning point in moviedom sexuality. She became a bona fide star and a favorite pinup girl of soldiers during World War II. Troops in Korea named two embattled hills in her honor.
She went on to appear in 18 more films in the 1940s and 1950s and, though only a few were memorable, she remains a favorite from the era for her wry portrayals of sex goddesses who seem amused by their own effect.
"Such droll eroticism is rare in Hollywood, and we are lucky that she was allowed to decorate so many adventure movies," film historian and critic David Thomson wrote of Russell, whom he called "physically glorious."