Buck Waterfield remembers going grocery shopping one day with his mom, Jane Russell, when he was a kid. “A gal came up to her and said, ‘Are you Jane Russell?’ and she said, ‘Not today, sweetheart!’” Buck exclusively recalled to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now, with a laugh. “She would deliberately dress really strangely when she went out to the store or to do something normal just so people wouldn’t recognize her.”
Despite her popularity as one of the world’s sexiest women, Jane kept her public persona and her private life separate. “She would say, ‘You have to turn it on when you’re out and turn it off when you go home,’” Buck shares. “She was actually real and not Hollywood.”
Jane was born in Minnesota, but her family moved to Southern California, where she studied acting and music and ultimately found work as a model. Director Howard Hughes cast her in the 1943 Western The Outlaw, which brought her worldwide fame as a pinup, even though the film wasn’t widely released for five years because it was considered too risqué.
Also in 1943, Jane married Bob Waterfield, who would go on to play quarterback in the NFL. She was unable to have children due to a botched abortion she’d had earlier in her life, so Jane adopted three kids with Bob: Buck as well as his sister, Tracy, and brother, Thomas.
Even as she continued to make movies like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes with Marilyn Monroe and The Tall Men with Clark Gable, Jane always put her family first. “When she was shooting [1955’s] Underwater! in Hawaii, the director, John Sturges, wanted them to keep working through Christmas, and my mom said, ‘No, we’re shutting down and I’m going home!’” says Buck. “Sturges finally caved into her, which most people did with my mom.”
Conflict also permeated Jane’s marriage to Bob, which lasted until 1968. “Some people are like fire and ice, but they were both like fire,” says Buck. “They were headstrong people, but they passed away madly in love with each other.”
Shortly after Jane’s divorce from Bob, she married actor Roger Barrett, but he died of a heart attack almost three months later. “I know her Christian faith carried her through that,” says Buck. “She was an extremely strong Christian woman.”
Jane married real estate broker John Calvin Peoples in 1974 and stayed with him until his death in 1999. A few years later, she went into rehab for alcoholism, a problem she had battled for decades. “There was an intervention,” Buck reveals. “It was amazing — when she got out, she was happy and telling everyone it’s a disease. It was a pretty good transformation.”
When Jane died at 89 in 2011, she didn’t want to be remembered for her career in showbiz. “She thought that was a big bore,” says Buck. “She hated the red carpet. Hollywood was just a job. She wasn’t into the glamour and the lights. That really wasn’t her.”
Instead, Jane felt her greatest accomplishment was founding the World Adoption International Fund, or WAIF, in 1955. Thanks to the organization, “over 50,000 children were adopted who probably never would’ve been,” says Buck. “People would call her a sex symbol and glamorous and she was just like, ‘Yeah, whatever!’ She always had a strong faith, and she carried that with her until her last day.”
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