Jane Russell, age 89 when she died last Feb. 28, was the second choice of Howard Hughes to star in “The Outlaw,” a western he was preparing to film in the early 1940s.
His first choice was Margaret Huntley, an 18-year-old Pasadena Junior College student. She had been selected to be the queen of the 1940 Tournament of Roses Parade.
Photos and stories about Margaret that appeared in the press drew Hughes’ attention to the 5-foot-8 beauty, and he sent an aide to advise her of his interest.
Meeting at a Rose Parade rehearsal, the scout informed Margaret that Hughes wanted to cast her in the role of Rio, the female lead in the movie he had scripted. He told her that she and her parents would become well off financially if she accepted. Margaret replied that she was flattered but wasn’t interested in movie stardom.
The following week, Hughes sent the scout to the Huntley home in Pasadena to ask Almore and Helen Huntley to encourage their daughter to accept his boss’ offer. Mr. Huntley said the decision was Margaret’s to make. She declined again.
A black limousine parked in front of the Huntley residence the next week. The chauffeur opened the door for a tall, nattily dressed man who strode to the porch, rang the bell and was admitted by Mr. Huntley.
Margaret recalls that she was sitting on a bench, listening to the radio. Hughes went directly to her, took her by the hand and exclaimed: “Your skin is absolutely flawless!” Several blandishments later, he told her that she and her family would never want for anything if she would agree to star in the movie he was undertaking.
“I’m very flattered,” Margaret stated, “but I have no interest in going to Hollywood.” (At the time she was secretly engaged to Robert Main, whose father was pastor of the Hollywood Baptist Church, where they had met in Sunday school.)
Hughes’ incredulity was apparent, Margaret said. Here was a young woman turning down an offer from the man who had propelled Jean Harlow to stardom in his 1930 film, “Hell’s Angels.” But this blue-eyed beauty — with dark brown hair whose 36-21-36 figure fit the image of the temptress he wanted to portray in “The Outlaw” — stuck by her decision.
Hughes departed graciously, Margaret remembers. And when she and Bob were married on Aug. 10, 1940, he sent them a pair of silver candlesticks.
“I still have them and use them often,” she says.
Editor’s note: The Mains moved from their home in Surprise in 2006 to Auburn, Calif., to be near their son. Bob died in 2007, and Margaret, who turned 90 in June, keeps active, visiting friends and relatives and presenting programs for her church. Lloyd Clark retired in June 2010 as a Daily News-Sun columnist. He and his late wife, Jean, were neighbors of the Mains in Sun Village, Surprise.