Jane Russell’s Hollywood debut banned over ‘shockingly emphasized breasts’
JANE RUSSELL was one of Hollywood’s biggest bombshells helped by her spectacular curves. But her film debut was banned by the censors for her “substantially uncovered breasts” and horrified rival studios complained the movie was degrading the entire industry.
Russell is probably still best known as half of one of Hollywood’s greatest double acts with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The glossy musical romcom is back on TV screens this weekend, but the raven-haired star’s own “double act” made her an instant sensation with her very first movie at just 19 – even though it was years before an eager and titillated public was able to see it.
Discovered by industrial billionaire and filmmaker Howard Hughes, Russell’s assets were front and centre during the 1940/1941 shoot of her big screen debut, The Outlaw.
Ostensibly about Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday, all the focus soon fell on her character Rio, but Hughes wanted ever more provocative shots of his young star’s assets.
He told cinematographer, Gregg Toland: “We’re not getting enough production out of Jane’s breasts.” More scenes and shots were duly devised with the actress bending over towards the camera or heaving her impressive décolletage.
Hughes was so frustrated with visible bras spoiling the fantasy, he created his own first precursor to the invisible push-up bra. Russell, however, was not impressed.
Hughes’ creation was extremely uncomfortable and the actress declared: He could design planes but a Mister Playtex he wasn’t.”
Instead, Russell, carefully covered visible wiring on her own bras with tissue paper.
Meanwhile, salacious reports were starting to spread about the movie and it’s beautiful and sultry new star. Many of which, unsurprisingly, were spread by Hughes himself.
Since it is (heavily) implied that Rio is sleeping with both men in the film, Hughes leaked details to religious and conservative groups who predictably demanded the film should be banned. This, naturally, generated enormous enthusiasm amongst the rest of the population and had cinemas scrambling to book in screenings.
But then the censors stepped in and a highly public battle erupted that would last years and go to the courts.
The Outlaw was screened for Joseph Breen, who headed the Production Code, which regulated Hollywood’s output to protect the public from anything deemed immoral or inappropriate.
Breen blasted the film as “definitely and specifically in violation of our Production Code.” He highlighted: “the inescapable suggestions of an illicit relationship between the ‘Doc’ and Rio, and between Billy and Rio; and the countless shots of Rio, in which her breasts are not fully covered.”
He went on to describe in great detail his objections to the film to his boss,
Breen wrote: “In my more than ten years of critical examination of motion pictures, I have never seen anything quite so unacceptable as the shots of the breasts of the character of Rio. Throughout almost half the picture, the girl’s breasts, which are quite large and prominent, are shockingly emphasized, and in almost every instance are very substantially uncovered.”
Hughes used his financial clout to argue in court that it was no worse than many other films of the time. He won and the film was released in May 1941 – but many cinemas would not show it without substantial cuts, so Hughes pulled it.
The US’s entry into World War II diverted Hughes’ attentions to his businesses, including major contracts with the US army and air force. It would be another two years before he tried again.
On February 5, 1943, The Outlaw officially opened at San Francisco’s Geary Theater. It was already a sensation after endless headlines and heavy promotion of Russell as he next big thing.
Hughes stunned everyone by pulling the film again before it finally opened nationwide in 1946, complete with skywriters looping enormous breasts across the heavens. Billboards screamed: “How would you like to tussle with Russell?” and “What are the two greatest reasons for Jane Russell’s rise to stardom?”
20th Century Fox president Darryl Zanuck demanded Breen do something about a film and publicity campaign he believed was tarnishing all of Hollywood.
In the end it was Hughes’ own hubris which saw the film dropped again. He promoted the film as “exactly as filmed” implying all the reported licentious shots were intact, when many had, in fact, been cut.
The Advertising Code Administration took him to court for false advertising, and won. All the major film distributors dropped the film, but local independent ones continued to play it.
It was ultimately a major hit, banking over $5million ($760million today) and Russell was on her way to being an iconic big screen bombshell.
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