She was working as a receptionist at a doctor’s office when discovered by producer and studio mogul Howard Hughes and director Howard Hawks. Hughes signed her to a seven-year contract at his RKO Studios and she was cast as the female lead in “The Outlaw.”
Russell followed “The Outlaw” with a number of other film roles including “The Paleface” and “Son of Paleface,” both with Bob Hope. When she starred with Robert Mitchum in “His Kind of Woman,” columnist Louella Parsons described the team as “the hottest combination that ever hit the screen.” They co-starred again in “Macao,” and she teamed with Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Some of her other films include “The Las Vegas Story,” “Underwater!” “The French Line,” “Foxfire,” “The Tall Men” with Clark Gable, “The Revolt of Mamie Stover,” “The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown,” and “Fate Is the Hunter.”
Russell has long been an advocate for children and began a mission during the 1950’s which resulted in the adoptive placement of nearly 38,000 children through her organization, WAIF. She championed the passage of the Federal Orphan Adoption Amendment of 1953, which allowed children of servicemen born overseas to be placed for adoption in the United States. Since 1981 Russell has testified before Congress and has met with over 150 senators and representatives on behalf of issues affecting children.
Russell’s autobiography, “My Path and My Detours,” was published in 1985. In James Robert Parish’s book, “The RKO Gals,” she describes her show business career by stating, “The whole thing was really an accident.”
The FLIFF continues through November 11, 2010.