Jane Russell, a Hollywood icon of the 1940s and 50s, passed away today in her Santa Maria, California home from a respiratory illness. She was 89 years old. Russell, who was first discovered by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, was not only one of Tinseltown’s leading ladies, she was also among its more memorable sex symbols of all time, turning heads with sultry performances in classics like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
But Russell was so much more than a talented actress and sex symbol. She was also a loving wife and mother of three, as well as a pioneer in the world of adoption.
Russell was unable to have children. For that reason, she and her first husband, Bob Waterfield, adopted and raised a daughter and two sons. Taken aback by adoption’s inefficient paperwork requirements, and amazed at how long the process took, Russell spent much of her downtime finding ways to make adoption easier.
In 1952, Russell founded the World Adoption International Fund (WAIF) to do just that. The group eventually facilitated more than 50,000 adoptions. In 1953, she testified before Congress in support of the Federal Orphan Adoption Bill which allowed for foreign children who were fathered by American soldiers while abroad to be adopted by American parents. In 1980, she was an integral part of the lobbying efforts for the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act which served to reimburse parents for the medical expenses they incurred by adopting handicapped children.
As most Americans mourn the passing of this beautiful icon, they will do so while reflecting upon her film career. But as I mourn her, I’ll be thinking of her parenting career as well as the incredible impact she had on countless children via her tireless efforts within the world of adoption.
Rest in peace, Jane. You’ll be missed.