Jane Russell, the voluptuous actress at the center of one of the most highly publicized censorship episodes in movie history, the long-delayed release of the 1940s western "The Outlaw," died on Monday at her home in Santa Maria, Calif. She was 89.
The cause was a respiratory-related illness, her daughter-in-law, Etta Waterfield, said.
Ms. Russell was 19 and working in a doctor's office when Howard Hughes, returning to movie production after his aviation successes, cast her as the tempestuous Rio McDonald, Sheriff Pat Garrett's girlfriend, in "The Outlaw," which he directed.
A movie poster — which showed a sultry Ms. Russell in a cleavage-revealing blouse falling off one shoulder as she reclined in a haystack and held a gun — quickly became notorious and seemed to fuel movie censors' determination to prevent the film's release because of scenes that, by 1940s standards, revealed too much of the star's breasts. The Roman Catholic Church was one of the movie's vocal opponents.
Although the film had its premiere and ran for nine weeks in San Francisco in 1943, it did not open in New York until 1947 and was not given a complete national release until 1950. Critics were generally unimpressed by its quality, but it made Ms. Russell a star. The specially engineered bra that Hughes was said to have designed for his 38D leading lady took its place in cinematic history, although Ms. Russell always contended that she never actually wore it.
She went on to make some two dozen feature films, all but a handful of them between 1948 and 1957 and many of them westerns.
In the western comedy "The Paleface" (1948), she played Calamity Jane opposite Bob Hope, with whom she also starred in "Son of Paleface," the 1952 sequel. In the musical comedy that she called her favorite film, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (1953), she starred with Marilyn Monroe as one of two ambitious showgirls. Her numbers included "Two Little Girls From Little Rock," one of several duets with Monroe, and the comic lament "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?" Two years later she starred with Jeanne Crain in "Gentlemen Marry Brunettes," a sequel of sorts, set in Paris.