She was the voluptuous pin-up girl who set a million male hearts to pounding during World War II, the favorite movie star of a generation of young men long before she'd made a movie more than a handful of them had ever seen.
Such was the stunning beauty ofJane Russell, and the marketing skills of the man who discovered her, the eccentric billionaireHoward Hughes.
Russell, surrounded by family members, died Monday at her home in the central coast city of Santa Maria. Her death from respiratory failure came 70 years after Hughes had put her on the path to stardom with his controversial Western "The Outlaw." She was 89.
Although she had all but abandoned Hollywood after the 1960s for a quieter life, her daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield said Russell remained active until just a few weeks ago when her health began to fail. Until then, she was active with her church, charities that were close to her heart and as a member of a singing group that made occasional appearances around Santa Maria.
"She always said 'I'm going to die in the saddle, I'm not going to sit at home and become an old woman,'" Waterfield told The Associated Press on Monday. "And that's exactly what she did, she died in the saddle."
It was an apt metaphor for a stunningly beautiful woman who first made her mark as the scandalously sexy and provocatively dressed (for the time) pal of Billy the Kid, in a Western that Hughes fought for years with censors to get into wide release.
As the billionaire battled to bring the picture to audiences, his publicity mill promoted Russell relentlessly, grinding out photos of her in low-cut costumes, swimsuits and other outfits that became favorite pinups of World War II GIs.
To contain her ample bust, the designer of the "Spruce Goose" airplane used his engineering skills to make Russell a special push-up bra (one she said she never wore). He also bought the ailing RKO film studio and signed her to a 20-year contract that paid her $1,000 a week.