Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Film siren Jane Russell and her adopted Derry son

Jane Russell is shown in a scene from the movie The Outlaw .
Jane Russell is shown in a scene from the movie The Outlaw .

Hollywood icon Jane Russell’s death has reignited interest in a scandal that almost derailed the 1950s sex symbol's glittering movie career.

Russell's ad hoc adoption of a young Londonderry woman's baby incurred the wrath of the Press and police, and sent her movie mogul mentor Howard Hughes apoplectic.

Details of the tale were unearthed by Derry historian Willie Deery who, following extensive research in the British Library, discovered that in 1951 Hannah McDermott, who was living in dire financial circumstances with her husband and three young children in London, responded to a newspaper article expressing Jane Russell's desire to adopt a baby.

The Derry woman arranged a meeting with Russell at the Savoy Hotel, bringing her son Thomas.

Russell's fame ensured she was able to pull strings that would enable the baby to be taken to the US straight away.

But Hannah's London home was besieged by reporters and protesters outraged that she had “sold” her baby to the actress, while Russell was hounded by |the Press across America.

Mr Deery said: “Hannah came in for a lot of criticism, but I think what she did was out of love for her child.

“And the adoption caused Jane Russell all sorts of grief. Howard Hughes thought all the bad Press would finish her and he ordered her to return the boy, but she stood her ground and refused to give up the child.”

The furore resulted in a prosecution in London where Hannah was charged with breaching adoption laws, but Russell hired a top-notch barrister and she received a conditional discharge.

Thomas was finally legally adopted, made a US citizen and still lives in Arizona today.

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