This Hollywood star was much more than just another sex symbol. She was the sassy brunette to Marilyn's blonde bombshell, and went on to campaign for changes in US adoption laws.
Born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell, she worked as a chiropodist's receptionist and a photographic model before turning to acting, when her 38-inch bust came to the attention of Hollywood.
The daughter of a former actress, she studied at Max Reinhardt's Theatrical Workshop, under Maria Ouspenskaya.
Her big break arrived in the most dubious of forms, when the director, Howard Hughes, selected her as the winner of a nationwide chest-hunt for a suitably-figured leading lady for a new film.
The resulting movie, 'The Outlaw', for which Hughes designed a special bra to showcase her "talents", was shown briefly in 1941, and again in 1943, but, due to great controversy, did not receive an official release until January 1950. Russell never actually wore the famous bra, claiming it was too uncomfortable, but padded her own with tissues instead to create the same effect.
Voluptuous Miss Russell soon became notorious for her assets - Bob Hope once introduced her as "the two and only, Miss Russell".
However, Russell was to go on to prove herself as a talented actress in a variety of roles throughout her career. Her stock character was as the cynical, experienced dame, and one of her most enduring roles was opposite Marilyn Monroe, in 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', in 1953.
Before appearing in the movie, which was full of comedy and toe-tapping musical numbers, she had starred in films such as 'Young Widow', 'His Kind of Woman' and 'Double Dynamite' in 1951. Roles in thriller 'The Las Vegas Story', western comedy 'Son of Paleface', 'Montana Belle' and 1952 comedy 'Road to Bali' also helped to prepare her for her memorable role in the 1953 smash.
Following 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', Russell continued wowing fans with performances in 'The French Line' (1954), as well as 'Underwater!', 'Foxfire' and 'The Tall Men', which were released in 1955. The same year also saw her star in musical film 'Gentlemen Marry Brunettes', which was based on the novel 'But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes' by Anita Loos, author of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'.
Over the course of her career, Russell appeared in 29 titles, including 'The Revolt of Mamie Stover' in 1956 and 'The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown' in 1957, as well as 'Fate Is the Hunter' (1964), 'The Born Losers' (1967) and 'Darker Than Amber' (1970). Her projects were not just restricted to the silver screen. In 1970, she took the lead in the Broadway musical, 'Company', replacing Elaine Stritch. Moving into television advertising, she was prominent as the face of Playtex bras in the mid-1970s.
Throughout her career, Russell was an advocate for children's charities. She campaigned to get the Federal Orphan Adoption Amendment of 1953 passed and from 1981, she testified before Congress and met over 150 senators and representatives, including President George Bush Sr.
Russell had three husbands, including football star Bob Waterfield, actor Roger Barrett, who sadly died three months after their wedding, and real-estate broker John Calvin Peoples. She was married to the latter from 1974 to 1999, when he passed away.
In 2011, Russell's daughter-in-law Etta Waterfield announced that the actress had died at her home in Santa Maria, California, on 28 February following a respiratory-related illness, at the age of 89.