With her sultry look and glowing sexuality, Russell became a star before she was ever seen by a wide movie audience. The Hughes publicity mill ground out photos of the beauty in low-cut costumes and swimsuits, and she became famous, especially as a pinup for World War II GIs.
Russell made only a handful of films after the 1960s. She had remained active in her church, with charitable organizations and with a local singing group until her health began to decline just a couple of weeks ago, said her daughter-in-law, Etta Waterfield. She died at her home in Santa Maria, Calif.
"She always said I'm going to die in the saddle, I'm not going to sit at home and become an old woman," Waterfield told The Associated Press. "And that's exactly what she did . . . "
Hughes, the eccentric billionaire, put her onto the path to stardom when he cast her in "The Outlaw," a film he fought with censors for nearly a decade to get into wide release.
By that time she had become a box-office star by starring with Bob Hope in the 1948 hit comedy-Western "The Paleface." Although her look and her hourglass figure made her the subject of numerous nightclub jokes, unlike Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth and other pinup queens, Russell was untouched by scandal in her personal life. During her Hollywood career she was married to star UCLA and pro football quarterback Bob Waterfield.
Her early ambition was to design clothes and houses, but while working as a receptionist, she was spotted by a movie agent who submitted her photos to Hughes, and she was summoned for a test with Howard Hawks, who was to direct "The Outlaw."