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Young Rene Russo: Cosmopolitan/Vogue Cover Girl Turned Actress, Then And Now

Entertainment | February 17, 2021

Rene Russo on the cover of Cosmopolitan's November 1978, March 1975, March 1977, and October 1980 issues. Source: Pinterest

Rene Russo was a modeling sensation, shooting cover after cover for Vogue and Cosmopolitan, long before she made her screen debut in the 1989 sports comedy Major League. She may not be destined to win an Oscar, but film is a second act (so to speak) for Russo, who was 35 years old when her first movie opened. 

Russo was an instant hit in the modeling profession. "The fashion industry fell in love with her cutting cheekbones and wide set eyes," reads a description from Marie Claire. "Brooke Shields once described her as 'the most beautiful thing that ever walked the face of the earth.'"

Along with Shields, Lauren Hutton, and Cybill Shepherd, Russo is one of the most successful models-turned-actress in Hollywood. Surprisingly, her life of glamor and fame contrasted with the stereotype her classmates associated her with growing up, but it seems she has proven herself against her childhood peers.

Russo Was Bullied As A Teen

Source: Vogue

Russo experienced a rough upbringing that forced her to mature at a young age. Born in Burbank, CA on February 17th, 1954, her father Nino Russo abandoned the family when she was just two years old leaving her mother to raise her and her sister Toni on her own. Russo was diagnosed with scoliosis in junior high school, and had to wear a full-torso brace every day, which led to insults and mockery from her peers. They teased her for her height as well and called her by the nickname “Jolly Green Giant.” The bullying became so severe that she struggled to maintain good grades and ended up dropping out of high school her sophomore year. 

The Future Cover Girl Worked Typical, Unglamorous Jobs As A Teenager

Source: Vogue

Her family struggled with finances so Russo picked up multiple part-time jobs to provide some money for her mother. She wasn’t even paid for some of all of these jobs as she was willing to just enjoy some of the free benefits that came from some of her work. She worked at a movie theater for free movie tickets, as a restaurant hostess for free food, as a cashier at Disneyland for free admission, and eventually landed a full-time job at an eyeglass factory. 

Russo Was Discovered At A Rolling Stones Concert

Source: Vogue

During a Rolling Stones concert in 1972, 17-year-old Russo finally got the lucky break that would change her entire life forever. John Crosby, who was a scout for International Creative Management, spotted Russo and was very intrigued with her beauty. Crosby approached the teenager and convinced her to consider modelling, which had never crossed Russo’s mind especially because of the bullying she endured growing up. Russo decided to take the chance and Crosby took some sample photos of her for a starter portfolio. Shortly after, Russo signed a contract with Ford Modeling Agency and was immediately photographed all over the fashion world. 

Russo Was Recognized For Her Elegance And Grace

Source: Pinterest

In just a short time frame, Russo was considered one of the most successful American models. Some of her finest moments came from being photographed for the cover of Vogue multiple times along with numerous other high-fashion magazines. She was known for her sophisticated poise and availability along with her versatility. One might find a photo of Russo wearing a designer business suit in a conference room or shot by famous fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo in a fancy fur coat, and the next day see her posing in a bikini on the beach. Whatever she was posing for, she did so with class and composure that kept drawing high-end designers to scout her out. Once the 1980s began, she began hitting the screen in frequent television commercials. 

The Appeal Of Rene Russo In The '70s

Russo on the cover of the October 1974 issue of Vogue. Source: Pinterest

Every top-tier model acquires a reputation that goes beyond her looks -- the industry comes to appreciate the personality, range and professionalism she brings to a job. A writer for Vogue.com explained Russo's formula for success:

In the ’70s, Russo stood for a sexiness that was both accessible and aspirational: She could vamp it up with the best of them, posing for Francesco Scavullo in decadent furs, or swathed in Versace for Richard Avedon, but Russo wasn’t your average pinup. The poise she brought to her images made her the first choice for editorial shoots that demanded models with tenacity, whether she was bound for the boardroom in a power suit or posing on a beach with Tony Spinelli.

Once She Was Too Old To Model, Russo Began Acting

Once Russo turned 30, her modeling career began to wind down, which is typical for the modeling world where “senior citizen status” begins after your twenties. At this point, she decided to leave modeling behind and begin a new route taking theater and acting classes. Instead of top high-fashion magazines, Russo could now be found acting in small theater performances around Los Angeles and the entire state of California. Her first television appearance occurred when she played a supporting role on the minor series Sable in 1987, and her feature film debut was she played the girlfriend of a baseball star in the 1989 sports movie Major League. From there, she was often typecast as the girlfriend or wife of one of the main characters, but her pivotal acting moment was her role of an internal affairs detective in Lethal Weapon 3 in 1992. She gained much more respect as an actress as she was able to shine against some of her male co-stars that included major celebrities like Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, and Pierce Brosnan, and despite her late start she quickly became a regular in big-budget mainstream movies such as In The Line Of Fire, Outbreak, Tin Cup and Get Shorty. Russo married screenwriter Dan Gilroy in 1992 and they have one daughter Rose. Her more recent roles have been in the Marvel Universe as she acted in Thor (2011), Thor: The Dark World (2013), and Avengers: Endgame (2019).  

Tags: Ladies | Models | Rene Russo | Then And Now

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.