Christina Rice is the Senior Librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, a position she has held for twelve of her sixteen years with the library. She is the author of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood's Forgotten Rebel. She lives in North Hollywood with her husband, writer Joshua Hale Fialkov and their daughter. Her new book is Mean…Moody…Magnificent! Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.
What was your inspiration for Mean…Moody…Magnificent?
My first book, on Ann Dvorak, was published in 2013 after fifteen years of tears and toil. At the time, I figured I only had that one book in me, but soon had a change of heart, though I wasn’t sure who to write about. My publisher, University Press of Kentucky, suggested Jane Russell and since the only book on Jane was her 1985 memoir, I decided to dive in!
How long did it take you to do the necessary research and then write Mean…Moody…Magnificent?
I started researching Jane in early 2015 and submitted the manuscript in April 2020, so it took about five years, which is a third of the time Ann Dvorak took. Maybe the next one will only take two or three years!
What was the most interesting or surprising thing that you learned about Jane Russell and/or her work/career during your research?
After experiencing many frustrations in trying to adopt, Jane eventually founded an organization called WAIF which raised money for International Social Service for many years and also sought to ease restrictions on international adoption through legislation. WAIF was not something Jane just slapped her name on but was an organization she was very active in and promoted for well over forty years. The Social Sciences, Philosophy, & Religion Department at Central Library actually has an adoption vertical file which was a treasure trove of information on WAIF that was very helpful for writing about that part of Jane’s story.
Was there something interesting or unexpected you discovered about someone else?
I was actually surprised at how much appreciation I developed for Howard Hughes and his ability to effectively market Jane, even though it was often over the top. The Outlaw finished filming in 1941 but took years to come out, yet he managed to keep Jane and the film in the press for years. His film career may not have always been successful and he ran RKO into the ground, but when it came to Jane his publicity usually paid off.
Are there any stories, or events that were lost in the process of writing the book that you wish had made it to the published version?
I gave The Outlaw four chapters in the book because there is so much there and it’s such a big part of Jane’s story, but I could have probably written an entire volume just on that film. I didn’t devote as much time to Jane’s radio and recording career as I would have liked. There were some primary source documents I accessed through Twentieth Century-Fox which detailed a man suing the studio for what he claimed was patent infringement because of the curtains used in the opening scene of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It was kind of a ridiculous claim that I found amusing, but it was so peripheral to Jane’s story that I needed to leave it out.
Jane Russell died in 2011. Did you have the chance to talk to her during your research? If you had the chance to ask or tell her something now, after completing your research and writing the book, what would it be?
Jane passed away a few years before I ever thought of writing a book on her. I once saw her at a Hollywood Collector’s Show in Burbank but was kind of intimidated, so I just admired from a distance instead of getting her autograph. Jane was always so honest and forthcoming about her own life, so I guess I would want to know if I have done her justice with this book.
Do you have a favorite of Russell’s movies? Other performances?
Hands down my favorite is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I’ve probably seen that film 100 times and never get tired of it because it is pure joy. Jane and Marilyn Monroe are magical together. Jane is also great opposite Robert Mitchum in His Kind of Woman and Macao, but the two films I was introduced to while researching the book that I really enjoyed were Foxfire with Jeff Chandler and The Tall Men with Clark Gable.
What’s currently on your nightstand?
The Day the Stars Stood Still: A Memoir About Logan Fleming, the Former Top Wax Artist of Movieland Wax Museum by Suzanne Sumner Ferry
Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?
I’m a big non-fiction reader, so these days I tend to seek out subjects more than authors. For the two biographies I’ve written, the bios that really influenced me as sterling examples of great Hollywood writing are The Bennetts: An Acting Family by Brian Kellow, Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow by David Stenn, and Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince by Mark A. Vieira. When I was younger a read a lot more fiction. In middle school I loved Lois Duncan and S.E. Hinton, in high school I was all about Stephen King and Anne Rice, and in college Edgar Allen Poe and Tennessee Williams were my favorites.
What was your favorite book when you were a child?
For Christmas one year, someone bought me a Judy Blume set that had Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Then Again Maybe I Won’t, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Blubber. I loved all of them and constantly rotated through them. On the weekends I might read one of them in a day. Of the bunch, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret was probably the most well-worn title.
Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?
I was REALLY into the Sweet Valley High series in middle school, and was kind of embarrassed to admit it, but the publishing of those books outpaced my school’s ability to get them, so I finally came clean because I wanted my folks to buy them for me. My mom still likes to tease me about my passionate Sweet Valley High phase.
What is a book you've faked reading?
I really did not care for my 4th Grade teacher and my grades suffered. I know there was a book report I tried faking my way through without reading (I think I tried to get by on the movie version), without success. That was so traumatic, I don’t remember what book it was.
Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?
Gosh, I can’t think of any.
Is there a book that changed your life?
When I was in the 8th Grade, I read Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers for a class assignment. I had been a classic film fan since I was really young, but this was the first Hollywood biography I ever read. I was amazed that such detailed books about movie stars existed and from then on, I wanted to one day write one myself.
Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?
Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood by Andrew A. Erish. William Selig is such an important figure in film history, but he is not well known. Anyone remotely interested in American filmmaking should read this book!
Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?
This probably sounds silly, but the first time I read Stephen King’s Christine, it scared the hell out of me. I finished it in the dead of night when everyone was asleep, and I just remember a chill going up my spine. I can’t think of another book that has caused a reaction like that!
What is the last piece of art (music, movies, tv, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?
I love watching great dialogue-fueled acting performances, particularly by women. In the last couple of weeks, my husband and I finished watching the TV shows Hacks and Mare of Eastown. Seeing actresses like Jean Smart and Kate Winslet get lead roles that they can sink their teeth into and run with is an absolute joy.
What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?
In a perfect world, Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park would still exist, so I could spend the day there with my husband and daughter and given them my guided tour. Afterwards, we’d head over to the Chicken Dinner Restaurant at Knott’s Berry Farm for a big slice of boysenberry pie.
What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked, but never have been? What is your answer?
How many times have you seen Guns N’ Roses in concert? The answer is 21!
What are you working on now?
A heck of a lot of publicity on for the Jane Russell book, but I am really hoping there is a publisher out there who is interested in a book on Movieland Wax Museum!