25 Facts About Famous Female Sex Symbols That I Wish I'd Known Much Earlier

    Jane Russell was like, "No, Howard Hughes, I will not wear your weird bra invention."

    It may seem obvious to say that traditionally beautiful women are also human beings with, like, multiple skills and complex lives, but we as a people pretty much always like our hot women to just shut up and be hot. So here are 25 facts about famous women "sex symbols" that I wish I'd known much sooner.

    1. Farrah Fawcett did her own hair and makeup and wore her own bathing suit for the photoshoot that produced the best-selling poster of all time.

    The poster of Farrah Fawcett smiling in a red bathing suit next to the bathing suit

    Fawcett also made a deal where she got to choose the final image, and nothing else from the shoot would be used.

    Fawcett in a picture from a photoshoot

    2. Elizabeth Taylor literally saved Montgomery Clift's life after he was in a car accident.

    Elizabeth Taylor taking a portrait wearing a green dress

    One version of the story states that when Taylor noticed Clift was choking on two of his teeth that had gotten lodged in his throat, she literally put her hand down his throat and pulled the teeth out.

    Elizabeth Taylor sunbathing during a shoot

    3. Rihanna, one of the best-selling singers in history, never had any vocal training until she was recording her third album.

    Rihanna looking in a compact an an event for her company Fenty Beauty

    She said, "I've never had vocal training, so when I'm in the studio, [Ne-Yo]'ll tell me how to breathe and stuff. And I'm like, 'What?' Like he'll call out these big fancy words: 'OK, I want you to do staccato.' And I'm like, 'OK, I don't know what that is.'"

    Rihanna performing on a stage

    4. Kathleen Turner has been chair of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board of Advocates.

    Turner getting out of a car in the film Body Heat

    In 2002, Turner said, "Reproductive choice is a pivotal issue of the times. It is a basic right — that of when to have a child. ... We are a country that stands for freedom. We are fighting a war to defend that freedom right now. Without the right for reproductive choices, we are liars."

    Turner speaking on stage recently

    5. When MGM removed Lena Horne from its World War II USO tour after she filed a complaint with the NAACP because Black American soldiers were required to sit in the back of the audience, behind German prisoners of war, Horne financed her own tour so she could entertain Black troops.

    Horne singing

    Once, when Black service members were not allowed to attend a USO concert, Horne stayed and performed a second, different show exclusively for Black service members.

    Horne sitting and posing in a garden

    6. Cameron Diaz sued a photographer who tried to blackmail her with topless photos from a shoot they'd done when she was 19, and she won.

    Cameron Diaz in a photoshoot

    In 2003, 11 years after the photos were taken, photographer John Rutter offered Diaz the pictures in change for $3,500,000, saying he would sell them to others if she did not take the deal. Diaz filed a civil lawsuit against him. Rutter was ultimately convicted of forgery, attempted grand theft, and perjury. Diaz did not attend his sentencing.

    Cameron Diaz smiling at an event

    7. Marilyn Monroe sat next to Jane Fonda in Lee Strasberg's acting classes.

    Marilyn Monroe posing for a photo

    Fonda said, "She and I would sit in the back of the room, and she was ... She'd have no makeup on and dark glasses and a scarf around her head, and looking very scared, and apparently was always too scared to ever get up and do anything. And I kind of felt that way, too; I was too scared to get up and do anything."

    Marilyn Monroe smiling while stepping into a car

    8. Priyanka Chopra Jonas worked with Bumble as a "partner, advisor, and investor" in bringing the company to India.

    Chopra Jonas smiling on the red carpet at the premiere of The Matrix Resurrections

    Bumble co-founder Whitney Wolfe Herd said of Chopra Jonas, "She is our partner in this. Priyanka invested in it. She's been on all the phone calls. She's actively evolved."

    Chopra Jonas on the red carpet for the BAFTAs

    9. Jean Harlow spent six months of 1934 writing a novel called Today Is Tonight, but it wasn't published until 1965 — 28 years after her death.

    A portrait of Harlow

    When Today is Tonight was published, at least one press outlet stated at the time that Harlow wrote the book with "technical assistance" from scriptwriter Carey Wilson.

    Harlow on a phone call in a film

    10. As of 2014, Paris Hilton sometimes earns over $1,000,000 for one DJ set.

    Hilton working as a DJ

    Hilton has said, "I am working a lot as a DJ and getting paid very well and having a ball. ... I don't want to be bragging, but it's great to be paid well for what you love doing."

    Hilton on the red carpet at the MTV Movie and TV Awards

    11. Brooke Shields put her acting and modeling career on hold to attend Princeton. She majored in Romance language and literatures, focusing on French literature, and graduated with honors in 1987.

    Her senior thesis was titled, "The Initiation: From Innocence to Experience: The Pre-Adolescent/Adolescent Journey in the Films of Louis Malle, 'Pretty Baby' and 'Lacombe, Lucien.'" A 12-year-old Shields starred in Pretty Baby.

    Brooke Shields in a photoshoot, smiling in a chair

    12. Dorothy Dandridge was the first Black woman nominated for Best Actress. The ceremony took place in 1955.

    Dorothy Dandridge posing for a photo while starring in the mirror

    Dandridge was nominated for Carmen Jones. Here she is posing in front of a Carmen Jones poster at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

    Dorothy Dandridge posing for a life size billboard near her

    13. During a trip with UNICEF to Sierra Leone, Salma Hayek Pinault breastfed a baby whose mother was not able to produce milk.

    Hayek Pinault on the red carpet at the premiere of House of Gucci

    Hayek Pinault later said of the moment, "This 15-year-old girl is sobbing and shaking with a newborn baby, and she said, 'Please help me. I need milk.' We had so many things, but we didn’t have milk, except I remembered that I had milk because I was weening my daughter. I just weened my daughter from breastfeeding not long ago, and I said, 'I got milk.…' I sat down and I breastfed this baby."

    Hayek Pinault at the Oscars some years ago

    14. Donna Summer's first performance, in church at 10 years old, only happened because the person who was supposed to sing didn't show up. The priest knew from her parents that Summer loved to sing, so he asked her to, not knowing he was about to hear such a voice.

    Summer performing on stage

    Summer later said of the moment, "I started crying, everybody else started crying. It was quite an amazing moment in my life, and at some point after I heard my voice come out, I felt like God said to me, 'Donna, you're going to be very, very famous.' And I just knew from that day on I was going to be famous."

    Summer performing later in her career

    15. Madonna was interviewed by Carrie Fisher for the 8th of her 23 Rolling Stone covers — the most of any female artist.

    Madonna performing on stage

    In one paragraph, Fisher wrote, "[Madonna] has [a] quality that I've always enjoyed in some people, mainly public ones: She will answer any question because she is genuinely interested in her own reply. A conversation or an interview, then, can become an opportunity for self-discovery, or just discovery. It's a hearty mix of self-consciousness and self-confidence. It's a type of courage, a free fall into the perplexing public now."

    Madonna walking on stage in the 1980s

    16. Pam Grier had this to say of her status as a sex symbol, delivered very casually: "They kept saying, 'Oh, she’s so pretty, she’s so sexy' because I was thin."

    Grier sitting in a photoshoot

    Grier also said, "Because I was thin, [says her exact weight at the time, which this writer has redacted because she feels weird about including it], and I became this brand, this very successful brand."

    Grier sitting in a car in a picture from a photoshoot

    17. Marlene Dietrich was openly bisexual, and she allegedly slept with Anna May Wong, Claudette Colbert, Greta Garbo, and other famous actresses.

    Marlene Dietrich posing for a photo wearing a midnight blue outfit

    Dietrich referred to the woman she slept with as her "Sewing Circle."

    Marlene Dietrich walking with a group of people around her

    18. Lucy Liu has been a UNICEF Ambassador for 18 years.

    Liu holding chain and posing in a promotional shot for Charlies Angels

    In 2008, Liu won the Danny Kaye Humanitarian award, "in recognition of her ongoing dedication and service on behalf of the world's most vulnerable children."

    Liu sitting at an event recently

    19. Jane Russell was supposed to wear a sort-of push-up bra designed by Howard Hughes in the 1943 film The Outlaw, but she thought the bra "ridiculous" and decided to pad her own bra with tissues instead. Howard Hughes had no idea.

    Russell posing by laying in hay and holding a gun

    Christina Rice, author of Mean... Moody... Magnificent!: Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend, told Entertainment Weekly, "Legend has made it sound like [Howard Hughes] was trying to design some kind of aerospace dynamic [bra], but according to Jane, he just wanted to do something that was seamless, so that under her clothes it didn't look like she was wearing a bra."

    Russell reading a script on a set

    20. Skims, the shape-wear line Kim Kardashian co-founded, is worth $3.2 billion as of January 2022.

    Kardashian on the red carpet at the premiere of The Kardashians

    Kardashian is still Skims's biggest shareholder, and she and Jens Grede, her business partner, control a majority stake in the company. Kardashian's current net worth is estimated to be $1.8 billion.

    A billboard for Skims with a picture of Kardashian on a Paris building

    21. Lana Turner's abusive boyfriend was killed by her teenage daughter, and her daughter never went to trial because it was deemed a "justifiable homicide."

    Lana Turner posing for a photo against an orange background

    Turner's daughter, Cheryl Crane, said, "I went upstairs to do a book report, and mother came in and said, 'I'm going to ask John to leave. I don't want you to come downstairs, but if you hear us arguing, that's what it's about.'" When Crane heard John Stompanato Jr. threaten to disfigure Turner and destroy her family, "I ran down the stairs into the kitchen. I don't know what I was looking for, but I found a knife. I ran back upstairs, the door burst open, and mother was there looking at me, and John was coming toward me. I stepped through the door, and he literally ran into the knife."

    Lana Turner with her young daughter

    22. Legendary singer and actor Eartha Kitt once allegedly had a threesome with James Dean and Paul Newman.

    Eartha Kitt having her photo taken

    Kitt said of the tryst, "White boys are so delicious."

    Eartha Kitt smiling for a photo wearing a green sparkly one piece

    23. At one point, Betty Grable's legs were insured for one million dollars.

    Grable posing in a chair wearing shorts

    This probably coincided with Grable being the top box office star of 1943, the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, and the highest-paid woman in the United States.

    Grable getting her makeup done

    24. Tyra Banks was the first Black woman alone on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the first Black woman on the cover of the Victoria's Secret catalog, and the first model and Black woman to appear on the cover of GQ.

    Banks smiling at an event for Sports Illustrated many years ago

    In 2019, at 45, Banks also became the oldest woman to grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

    Banks at a recent event for Sports Illustrated

    25. And 1960s fashion icon Julie Christie said years later, "Even in the sixties, especially then, I was always deeply anxious. I never felt that I was cool enough, or that I was dressed right. Silly things. I was fearful. I did all the things you do; it wasn't that I didn't try lots of things. But I could never quite get away from this anxiety all the time."

    Christie smiling at an event

    Christie also said in 2007 that she does not like being interviewed because "people are cross somehow, underneath, that I am not the person that I was. They feel like I am letting them down in some way. I sometimes feel they dislike me for appearing with all my lines and wrinkles. As a culture we seem unable to embrace change in people without being harsh about it..."

    Christie sitting next to her Oscar