Like Jarvis, former actress Jane Russell is also a California champion of the comfortably endowed—she draws $100,000 a year for endorsing Playtex 18-hour bras. But when she speaks about her bust these days, she isn’t always talking anatomy. Last March, during a midmorning drive less than two blocks from her beachfront home near Santa Barbara, Russell steered her Mercedes into the side of a truck. Cited for violating probation on a previous drunk-driving charge, she was eventually bundled off to jail for four days and lost her driver’s license for a year.
“I wasn’t drunk, and no one was hurt,” protests Jane, 57. “I had a drink the night before, but I wasn’t drunk at 10:30 in the morning.” Not like two years ago, anyway, when police stopped her driving to a liquor store. “I was drunk then. I admit it,” she says. “I even told the officers, ‘Please take me to jail. I’ve had a horrendous battle with my husband.’ ”
Since her inviting décolletage made its debut in the 1941 Howard Hughes film The Outlaw, Russell has prospered financially. A 20-year $1 million contract with Hughes expired just two years ago, and she has received a $50,000 advance for an in-progress autobiography (“I write every day; now I’m up to age 19”). Philanthropically, she founded WAIF, the national organization for placing orphans. Domestically, however, her life has been turbulent. In 1968 she divorced former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Bob Water-field after 25 years. Three months after her second marriage the following year, her husband, Roger Barrett, died suddenly of a heart attack at 47. “At that point I didn’t give a damn whether I lived or died,” she recalls. But in 1973 she married real estate developer John Peoples and all was well until last year, when Russell’s 22-year-old son, Buck, served nine months for manslaughter after a shooting incident.
Although Russell, a born-again Christian, admits to periodic bouts with the bottle in the past, she insists she has sworn off for good. “I’ve stopped now and I won’t touch it again,” says Jane. “I find that my husband, John, and I get along better without it.” She blames her latest troubles on over-zealous Santa Barbara police, who have dramatically increased their drunk-driving arrests. “They have a van to perform on-site blood and urine tests,” she complains. “I don’t think it’s me they’re after. It’s anybody. They just wait outside bars and restaurants to pick up customers.”
“Miss Russell’s right; we’re tough and we’re trying to reduce accidents,” concedes Sgt. Charles Calkins, head of the town’s four-member Drinking Driving Team. Adds Santa Barbara Police Chief A. W. Trembly: “We’ve even arrested a city councilman and a judge’s son.” Jane’s husband was on a business trip to Los Angeles when he learned of his wife’s arrest, and he didn’t take any chances. He made the 100-mile trip home by taxi. “I’d been drinking,” he explains, “and I didn’t want to drive through Santa Barbara that way.”
Sobered by her stint in the slam, Jane philosophizes that her recent woes are probably just punishment for unredeemed sins in her past. “I guess that’s the way I have to look at this,” she muses. “Four days in jail, two years probation and no driver’s license for a year—all because of those other times.” As for would-be visitors to sunny Santa Barbara: “Don’t even have two beers,” she warns. “They’ll get you.”