YMRT #18: The Many Loves of Howard Hughes, Chapter 4: Jane Russell / by Karina Longworth

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Our long-running series on the women in the life of the infamous aviator/filmmaker continues with a look at Hughes’ professional and personal relationship with Jane Russell, which began in 1940 when Hughes randomly pulled a photograph of the 19 year-old out of a pile, and lasted for most of her film career. As the center of the ingenious five-year pre-release publicity campaign for The Outlaw — Hughes’ proto-exploitation Western, whose censorship struggles with the Hays Office would help to loosen the strictures of the Production Code — Jane Russell became mega-famous, one of the top pin-ups of World War II, through still photos alone, long before anyone ever saw her in a movie. She was a fascinating bundle of contradictions — a born-again Christian conservative who cheerfully became the pre-sexual revolution’s icon of a fantasy of freedom through sex, if not exactly sexual freedom — and her relationship with Hughes was unlike any other in the billionaire’s increasingly troubled life. Also in this episode: Hughes’ tortured affair with 15 year-old Faith Domergue, on whom he cheated with Ava Gardner; his aviation disappointments of the 1940s, exemplified by the Spruce Goose; the undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder which would emerge during — and complicate — the extended production, post-production, censorship battles and delayed release of The Outlaw; and the four page memo Hughes wrote and sent to Josef Von Sternberg in regards to Russell’s boobs. 

Show Notes!!!

If you’re new to the podcast, here’s a brief guide to our previous Howard Hughes episodes. In Chapter One, we detailed the arranged marriage that got Hughes to Hollywood, the affair with the silent film star that broke that marriage up, Hughes’ discovery of Jean Harlow and the movie, Hell’s Angels, that transformed Hughes from a rich hick into a major Hollywood player. In Chapter Two, we talked about Ida Lupino, who dated Hughes when she was a teenage starlet in the 1930s, and then directed films for his RKO Studios nearly 20 years later. Chapter 3 outlined Hughes romance with Katharine Hepburn, the deterioration of which sent Hughes into the arms/beds of Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and basically every and any famous actress he could find. This episode picks up in 1939, more or less where Chapter 3 ended. I’m planning at least one more episode about Hughes after this, but I will probably not get to it for awhile, definitely not this season. 

Jane Russell’s autobiography My Path and My Detours is fun, funny, relatively frank — and out of print. It was a valuable resource for me, as were a number of obituaries/articles published around the time of Russell’s 2011 death. This is also a great, late interview with Russell, by Lynda Lee-Potter, published in the Daily Mail in 2003.

Howard Hughes: The Untold Story continues to be the richest resource I can find when it comes to stories about his relationships with women/in Hollywood, although it seems like Russell’s book was the main source for its sections regarding her. 

Special thanks to Noah Segan, for reprising his role as Howard Hughes. 


Preludes for Piano @ by George Gershwin

“Make a Wish (For Christmas) by Lee Rosevere

“Dances and Dames” by Kevin MacLeod

“The Wrong Way” by Jahzzar

“Phase IV” by lo-fi sci-fi

“Gagool” by Kevin MacLeod

“I’m Not Dreaming” by Josh Woodward

“Fiery Yellow” by Stereolab

“Cylinder One” by Chris Zabriskie

“All of the Lights (Interlude)” by Kanye West

“All of the Lights” by Kanye West

“Love Lockdown” by Kanye West

“Welcome to Heartbreak” by Kanye West

“Moonlight Saving Me” by Blossom Dearie

“There’s Probably No Time” by Chris Zabriskie

“Divider” by Chris Zabriskie 

“Exlibris” by Kosta T

“Rite of Passage” by Kevin MacLeod

“Vivre Sans Temps Mort” by Double Dagger

“Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” performed by Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

“Ghost Dance” by Kevin MacLeod

“Monte” by comounjardin

“Gymnopedie No. 2” by Eric Satie, performed by Kevin MacLeod

“I Can’t Get Started,” performed by Jane Russell