The Outlaw: Jane Russell’s Breasts and Howard Hughes’ Quest to Build a Better Bra

Jane Russell’s breasts—mad billionaire Howard Hughes was absolutely fascinated by them. The film, The Outlaw, was a testament to his fascination. It featured taglines like “What are the two great reasons for Jane Russell’s rise to stardom?”, which angered the MPAA for obvious reasons. The film was made in 1943, smack dab in the middle of the production code, which was administered by the MPAA appointed Wil Hayes, and was one of the most erotically-charged film in quite a long time.

Hughes had experience making films, or, more appropriately, throwing money at people to get films made. Starting in 1927 with the film Everybody’s Acting, Hughes strung together decent success with Hell’s Angels, The Front Page and Scarface. The problem was, for some of them, the films were Hughes’ play toys and he wasn’t going to let them go until he was satisfied. Several times, Hughes took over control of a picture and tinkered with them, sometimes for years on end. Hell’s Angels was a prime example. Principal photography began in 1927, but it wasn’t until 193o that the film was finally released. One reason was the oncoming of sound. Hell’s Angels was originally conceived as a silent film, but Hughes made the decision to jump on the talkie bandwagon and incorporate some scenes with sound. Combined with the endless tinkering of the aerial scenes, the budget ballooned to a gaudy $3.5 million, this being in the late 1920s.

The funny thing about The Outlaw is that it is not a very good movie. In fact, it is decidedly boring and would be relegated to the cinematic junk pile had it not been for Jane Russell’s breasts and Howard Hughes fascination with them.

Scenes were specifically staged to show off what Howard Hughes wanted to show off:  Jane Russell’s assets. Of course, Hughes was of the opinion that the camera was not doing Russell’s assets justice, so, being the engineer he was, Hughes designed what would essentially become the underwire bra.

Wikipedia says about the bra –

“He employed his engineering skills to design a new cantilevered underwire bra to emphasize her assets. Hughes added curved structural steel rods that were sewn into the brassiere under each breast cup. The rods were connected to the bra’s shoulder straps. The arrangement allowed the breasts to be pulled upward and made it possible to move the shoulder straps away from the neck. The design allowed for a larger amount of bosom to be freely exposed.”

Jane Russell didn’t like the outcome of Hughes work and used her own bra, with padding, to satisfy Hughes and never wore the bra he designed.

The film was completed in 1941, but Hughes ran into a brick wall:  The production code.

Cleavage was a big no-no as far as the production code was concerned and Russell’s breasts probably should have had their own agent they were featured so much in the movie. The Hays office demanded cuts of scenes where Russell’s breasts were most featured and Hughes reluctantly complied.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox wanted no part of the controversy and cancelled their distribution deal with Hughes to release The Outlaw. Hughes stood to lose a lot of money.

Ever the resourceful businessman, Hughes schemed to create a public outcry for HIS FILM TO BE BANNED. He had his people call ministers, women’s clubs and housewives telling them about the ‘lewd picture’ Hughes was about to release starring Russell. The public played into Hughes’ hands and a play to have the film banned was made. It created a buzz for the film to get released for a week in 1943, but it was pulled due to production code violations. The film was finally widely release in 1946, when it became a box office hit.

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