Monday, November 14, 2011

Lafayette H. ( Reb ) Russell.

Born Lafayette Russell on May 31, 1905, "Reb" Russell grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas. A superb athlete all through his school years, he was a star running back on the University of Nebraska football team, and gained even more fame when he switched to Illinois' Northwestern University, where he played fullback and was named an All-American in 1930.

It was inevitable that a big, good-looking, famous football star would be courted by Hollywood, and Russell was eventually given small parts in a few films at Fox Pictures, but nothing really came of them. However, he did sign a contract with independent producer Willis Kent to star in a series of low-budget westerns. He made nine of them, with titles like The Man from Hell (1934), Lightning Triggers (1935) and Blazing Guns (1935), for Kent during 1934 and 1935, and "low-budget" is perhaps a charitable description of them. For all his athletic prowess, riding ability and good looks, Russell just wasn't much of an actor, but even if he had been he wouldn't have been able to overcome the threadbare production values, lame and trite scripts and overall shoddiness of the films themselves. They were distributed through the states-rights syndication system, which meant that basically not a whole lot of people saw them, and Russell never really made an impression on either fans or Hollywood itself. By 1935 he and Kent had parted ways. He left Hollywood and toured with several traveling circuses during the rest of the 1930s. In the 1940s he returned to Coffeyville, married and raised a family. He bought several ranches, becoming somewhat of an expert on livestock breeding. He died in Coffeyville of a heart attack in 1978.

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