Although Howard Hughes finished producing The Outlaw in February 1941, it would not be widely released until 1946 because of censorship problems over Jane Russell’s breasts. How much of the censorship was real and how much was hoopla manufactured by Hughes is hard to tell.
Russell’s breasts weren’t particularly large, but Hughes had lighted the sets and staged scenes to make gratuitous use of her assets. Wanting to accentuate her cleavage, Hughes reportedly designed an underwire bra to push everything up. However, Russell repeatedly said in interviews that she wore her own bra, with padding. There are no existing designs or patents for this underwire creation that I can find. A couple of articles say the original design is in a ‘Hollywood Museum’, but never cite which one (presumably the Frederick’s of Hollywood Lingerie Museum.) Russell said his bra was uncomfortable, suggesting she had tried it on and it did exist, but this is the only evidence beyond hearsay reports.
Although the industry censors, guided by the Hays Office known as the Production Code Authority (PCA), approved the film for release in 1941 (after a half minute cut), many state censors apparently wanted further revisions to reduce gratuitous cleavage scenes. Hughes shelved the film for two years but released it in early 1943 in San Francisco amidst an orchestrated flurry of opposition he incited to help sell tickets to his mediocre film. After a week, the film was pulled and shelved again. United Artists distributed the film when it was released again in the spring of 1946.
Victorians had banned cleavage as a feature of fashion and it remained mostly hidden until the early 1960s. Instead, the ‘sweater’ girl look of the late 1940s and early 1950s with the identifiable torpedo-shaped breasts was the bust-line silhouette of the day – a silhouette often attributed to Howard Hughes influence. However, the real bullet bras were usually circle stitched to create a cone effect without the use of wires or padding. Underwire brassieres were not common until cleavage came back in style in 1963/64 (the film Tom Jones lead the way) and the Wonderbra was first marketed. Even the fashion doll Barbie looked out of step with styles when fashion moved away from the bullet shape bustlines.
The bullet silhouette: late 1940s – early 1960s: