Betsy Russell – A look back at the star of Private School & Saw

If you ask any b-movie buff over the age of forty who was the hottest actress in the 1980s they will invariably place Phoebe Cates in the top three. But there was one actress who stole the saw from the brunette beauty queen…Betsy Russell.

Phoebe Cates or Betsy Russell?

She acted opposite Cates in the sex comedy “Private School” and frankly, steals every scene that she’s in. Russel plays a character named “Jordan Leigh-Jenson” and the name is apt…She’s the unattainable snotty rich girl that everyone has a hard-on for.

Russell was born in San Diego and looks to have come from a relatively well-to-do family. her father was a stock analyst (quite a well known one) while her maternal grandfather was the journalist Max Lerner.

“My grandfather, Max Lerner, was more famous at the time than my father,” Russell said in an interview with Hollywood Chicago. “When I went to see my grandfather’s lectures, he was more well known, he lived at the Playboy Mansion. He was much more high profile than my Father. Hugh Hefner would drop to my grandfather’s feet when he told his stories. He was brilliant. I never realized how famous my Dad was becoming, because my parents were divorced and down-to-earth, and my sister, mother and I lived in a church she had bought, which was basically a commune. So I wouldn’t say I was running around saying my life was great, and I’m so spoiled because my Dad is a famous economist. There was a lot of times where he would predict something would happen, and he was wrong.”

A mischievous beauty…

Betsy would eschew finance and go a different career route, wanting to be an actress since the second grade when she began acting in school plays. By high school, she had booked a Pepsi commercial before moving to Los Angeles.

The jobs came almost immediately. She landed roles in television shows such as T.J. Hooker, Family Ties, and The Powers of Matthew Star. In 1983, she got the aforementioned big break starring with Phoebe Cates and Matthew Modine in Private School gaining considerable notoriety for her beauty and a topless scene while riding a horse.

“When I said I would do the topless scene,” Russell said. “Because it wasn’t in the original script for Private School. I remember thinking I’m 19 years old, my body is great and for the rest of my life I’m going to have something on film that the people will say, ‘yeah, she’s topless but that is my Mom, that was my Grandmother, that was my Great-Grandmother’s first film.’
I remember thinking this is kind of cool, why not? Just to have it out there now in the ‘anything goes’ era, with Playmates becoming TV stars and the like, I am proud of it, I’m proud of my body and I’m proud of the sort of free feeling that my character had in that movie, not inhibited whatsoever. It’s more of a European-type feeling, that the body can be a beautiful thing. There is no reason to hide it.”

A sequel to “Angel” would follow as Russell would replace the Donna Wilkes character in “Avenging Angel”. But her hairstyle was different than before and the poofy 1980s hair didn’t hold a candle to her timeless look from Private School.

“The most that ”Avenging Angel” has to recommend it are costumes and sets that spell out everything, sometimes to comic effect,” a review in the New York Times reported. “The wealthy villain, for instance, turns up in a silk dressing gown and sips from a flowery china teacup. Miss Tyrrell snorts a lot and really does give the impression of wearing army boots. And Miss Russell appears in outfits that are the ultimate in tartiness, though somehow they backfire. Even at her most street-wise, she manages to suggest a modern-day, modelly version of Little Bo Peep.”

Just say ‘no’ to 80’s goofy hair…

Misfires like Avenging Angel aside, Russell continued to find work in some b-movies like Tomboy and Cheerleader Camp.

She would marry and retire for some time from the business to presumably raise her two sons. A few years later and now divorced, Russell would revitalize her career with repeated roles as “Jill Tuck” in the Saw horror film series, Jigsaw’s wife.

That shit that only opens in sex comedies….

“Jigsaw has definitely played the most important role in all of the Saw films,” Russell said in a Movieweb interview. “Jigsaw is our leader. Having him be a part of the entire franchise has been beneficial to all of us. The fans love him. Tobin Bell is a great actor. He is a great human being. I love him as my husband in the movie, and as a character. I don’t love what he has chosen to do, or the way he’s chosen to carry out these things that he has been doing. Putting people in traps. As I have said before, his intentions are to make people appreciate what they have on this planet. Their life! When he feels they are taking advantage of it, he gives them a situation to do the wrong or the right thing, to take a chance in the moment and figure out, “What can I do to correct the things I’ve done in the past? How far would I go to make amends.” I think this offers a great moment for all of us. It allows us to sit back and say, “What would we do in that situation?” It allows us to reflect a little bit and say, “Hey, what has my life been all about? Am I really appreciating everything I can appreciate at the moment.” We have it pretty darn good. Most of us do, anyway. And even those who find their life to be terrible can find something to appreciate. For Jigsaw’s character to be able to make us stop and think, and say, “Hey, you know, this is a crazy way to make me think, but at least I am trying to figure things out.” For that, I think the character of Jigsaw is pretty incredible.”

The film still that we’re still talking about…over thirty-five years later…

In addition to acting, Russell now works as a certified hypnotist and life coach.

Meanwhile, check out our latest crime thriller, THE LIONESS.