My guest writer for the week is Ed Howard who is finishing up Part II of the Jane Russell’s story.
Jane Russell Home in Columbus
A little about Ed Howard: I grew up in South Florida, joined the Army at age 18 and soon got my first look at this area when going through Infantry and Airborne training at Ft. Benning in 1978. During my 23 year career I spent several years at Ft Benning and decided to make it my home upon retirement in 2001. I then graduated from CSU with a BS in Education. I am now a Historical Preservation Specialist at Fort Benning. I am married with two kids I’ll look for a photo of myself for you, or if you like, you may use the one that accompanies an online article I wrote about the relationship between a military unit and a B Western movie. Go to the website. This is the story behind the story – the story about how this research and article came about. I want, first of all, to encourage everyone to pick up “Columbus and the Valley Magazine” and enjoy the local articles. In particular, look for the May / June 2008 edition and go straight to page 21 to read about one of the most popular Hollywood stars living right here amongst us in 1943! I won’t attempt to rewrite the story for you here on Sandra’s website, but I need to take the opportunity to tell the story behind the story.
The second home Ms. Jane Russell lived in while in Columbus.(1) it was a duplex (2) it was next to a huge open field and (3) it was a short bus ride to downtown Columbus. Items 2 and 3 led me to suspect it might be in the only field I could think of: Lake Bottom Park.
What inspired me to research this and write the article? But most of all, I need to express my heartfelt thanks to all those who helped me in the research and none stands out more than the woman who brings us this website: Sandra Waldrop Doolittle. Without her, what is now completed and published research would still be just a manila folder in a file drawer with a few scraps of research material in it. In the Summer of 2004 – yes, FOUR years ago – I stumbled across a newspaper article in a 1943 Bayonet, Fort Benning newspaper that peeked my curiosity. It was an article about a 21-year-old actress named Jane Russell who was living in Columbus while her soldier husband attended military training at Fort Benning. It surprised me that I had never heard of this and the first question that crossed my mind was, “Where was the house she lived in?!” Not that I envisioned this worthy of a historical marker, but I strongly felt that it should be made a matter of record. No doubt, the present home owner would have no clue and I relished the thought of being the one to uncover this! My check with all the obvious sources of local historical knowledge came up empty, so I set out to find this house and all of the accompanying facts about Ms Russell’s stay in Columbus for the sake of recording it for posterity. For the next few months I searched for and gathered every snippet of info I could about the celebrity’s stay in town, but that most vital piece of information – her house location – still eluded me. So, while I had a file of assorted bits of information, the key piece – the house – was still missing. I had run into a brick wall. This remained the case for the next 3 ½ years as I finished up college and began teaching. Every year or so I would do a leisurely Google search to see if any new information might pop up. Then one day it finally did. A woman named Sandra Waldrop Doolittle posted her childhood encounter with Jane Russell in Columbus. And better still, she lived just around the corner from her! Well, my search was back in full gear! When I contacted Sandra she was just as enthusiastic about this as was. Although she did not remember the exact house Jane lived in, she put me in contact with someone, another neighbor, who did. My long search was over and that single, most vital, piece of the puzzle was now in place! I’ll let you read the details in the magazine, but to satisfy your curiosity, the location was 445 Broad Street. Jane rented just one room of the house, which was rather common in busy WWII Columbus. I was granted special permission to tour the house, a private residence, well maintained, in the Historic District. As I had suspected, the owner had no idea about the former occupant. Luckily it was a small house, so determining exactly which room was hers was easy. But the search was not over because one of the sources of information told of Jane moving to another house in town. As before no mention was made of the address and I was left to figure out where this second house might have been. But with some clues from Jane’s autobiography, maps and photos in the CSU archives and help from many people I was able to find that house too. Jane Russell’s autobiography gave three items of description about the second house: (1) it was a duplex (2) it was by a huge open field and (3) it was a short bus ride to downtown Columbus. Items 2 and 3 led me to suspect it might be in the only field I could think of: Lake Bottom Park. But I knew the problem was that field was not THAT big. So I was hesitant to search. Then a woman who had lived in Columbus all her life mentioned to me that she heard Ms. Russell lived “behind Red Lobster”. Well that was Lake Bottom and I felt I was in the ball park! So a check with Historic Columbus Foundation got me the name of the Lake Bottom area expert. But the first thing he told me was that back in ’43 there was a huge field there and he did not mean the present park. This was a Kinnett Dairy field on 13th St. As I heard him say this, my mind went back to the Red Lobster description – Red Lobster sat right on what used to be that field! I still was not sure if this was the field or the area at all, but I felt the chances were pretty good it was. My next stop was to the CSU archives where I could check a large 1947 aerial photo of the area and some Sanborn Fire maps. Sure enough, that field was there. The 1940’s Sanborn maps show outlines of each house and again I was in luck because along the edge of that field were three houses in a row labeled “duplex”! So now I was about 99% I had the right area, but which of the three houses was hers? And with two apartments per house, I still had to narrow this down from 6 to one! I went to the site to ask around. Are any older residents still around who would remember? If not, was the story passed down? So with fingers crossed I went there to see. Two of the three houses were still there with the third having been replaced with another house. I asked a resident who happened to be outside if he had heard of a famous person living nearby back in the 40s. To my amazement he immediately pointed to one of the two remaining duplexes. Within a few minutes I was tracing the information to the source, on the phone with the man who had told him, his landlord who was a longtime resident. Within 15 minutes I had the previous owner on the phone. He confirmed it, telling me who the actress was (I had not told him the name). He had been told this many years ago by the former owner of that duplex but she was now passed away. My check with the present owner revealed that she had not passed the information on to him when she sold him the duplex apartment. That left me with the house, but which of the two apartments in that house? This last remaining bit of narrowing down fell into place when I came across another on-line testimony from a man, now living in Washington State, who was a close friend of Jane Russell and her husband and a frequent guest to the apartment. His name was “Buck” Compton, a WWII vet and chef prosecutor of RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan. I contacted Buck to find out which side (left or right) lived Jane and her husband. He remembered (even after 6 decades) the interior to a “T”. And because both sides of the duplex were of opposite floor plans, his description fit only one side – the right apartment. So now I had it – Jane Russell’s second house in Columbus was the humble apartment at 1404 Virginia St. Weracoba Heights. My article was filling out nicely, but it was turning out to be more than just a superficial “homes of the stars’ article. Thanks to testimonies from some of the great people who knew Jane Russell in Columbus, such as Sandra Doolittle, Anne Brown, John Jeffries, Tracey Mulvaney, “Buck” Compton and John H. Singlaub, I was able to tell about the side of Ms. Russell that most people did not know. Forget the pin-up girl image – she was a woman of traditional values who was not above working regular jobs and getting her hands dirty. She had a compassion for children and such a love for her husband that she was willing to put her Hollywood career on hold to be near him. Researching and writing the article was a lot of work, but truly rewarding because I was able to realize a bit of the personal side of this true American icon. And importantly, I had the pleasure of meeting these gracious and helpful people along my search for the Ms. Jane Russell home. Ed Howard
Anne C. Brown
Sandra W. Doolittle