When your celebrity crush doesn’t share your political and social values.
When I was a kid, my favorite movies were Some Like It Hot and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I chalk that up to being an only child. With thanks to my dad for enduring The Care Bears movie, most of the time I was outnumbered.
Jane Russell, co-star to Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, passed away last week and I was instantly saddened. At a young age, I was well aware that I was never going to be a Marilyn, but certainly I could aspire to be a Jane. She was known for playing saucy, smart, forward-thinking ladies with just a hint of alpha flirt (her character in Gentlemen hits on an entire Olympic swim team), and her breasts’ appearance in The Outlaw appalled the Roman Catholic Church so thoroughly, they fought the movie’s release. Yet despite her sex appeal, she was attainable, the Dorothy to Rue McClanahan’s Blanche, if you will.
But I’ve since learned that Jane Russell the woman wasn’t much like the characters she played. My fascination with Jane started in my tender years, well before the likes of Gawker, E! and Perez. Today, we know more than we want to know about our favorite – and least favorite – celebrities, and sometimes choose to admire them more for their off-camera work than for what they do onscreen. We can pick our favorites based on how they align with our own conscious values. We can easily see who supports what charity, who donates and who doesn’t – or who thinks global warming is a conspiracy.
To wit: I am forced to like Pamela Anderson now because of her work with PETA. I still find it a little surprising, this admiration. And while I’ve never even seen Dawson’s Creek (or most of her acclaimed movie roles since then), I love Michelle Williams. First, she’s a fellow short-hair. But more importantly, she recently started a non-profit to provide free yoga – complete with babysitting – to single mothers.
Then there’s Cyndi Lauper. It is without irony and with pride that I say I have seen her in concert three times during this decade. Yes, I still like her music, but I love what she’s about. She started The True Colors Fund, which advocates for homeless Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth, and this year is helping to open The True Colors Residence offering permanent housing for LBGT youth in New York.
Then there’s Jane. After a botched abortion before she married, Jane Russell became a vocal opponent of choice. And according to her obituary in the New York Times, she said the following to an Australian newspaper in 2003: “These days I’m a teetotal, mean-spirited, right-wing, narrow-minded, conservative Christian bigot, but not a racist.” Bigotry, she added, “just means you don’t have an open mind.”
It’s clear that Jane and I wouldn’t have seen eye to eye.
As a kid, I naively assumed that people I liked on screen agreed with me and that we’d be friends if we met. But it’s also reflective of a world without the internet, a world in which no matter how hopped up on pills she may have been, I never would have seen Marilyn Monroe’s crotch in a limo.
Had I known about Jane Russell’s politics before I met the character Dorothy Shaw, would that have taken something away from the movie that I cherish so much? Maybe knowing more about her beliefs tarnishes a bit of the love, but when I hear her name I will always think of her eyes flashing as she unleashed my favorite line: “Nobody chaperones the chaperone. That’s why I’m so right for this job.” She was feisty to be sure, but I know now that I wouldn’t have liked much of what she had to say outside of a motion picture.
There’s both good and bad that comes with knowing what your favorite celebrities are up to in their personal and political lives. Unlike some who hold that celebrities should just can it (usually applied to celebrities holding views opposite their own), I love that so many people use their fame to speak out about their beliefs. But I do miss my six-year-old’s assumption that after the double wedding at the conclusion of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, my hero Jane Russell and her BFF Marilyn Monroe went home and lived happily ever after.