Reb Russell

Active - 1934 - 1935  |   Born - May 31, 1905   |   Died - Mar 16, 1978   |   Genres - Western, Action

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Few sports stars manage to make the transition from playing field to silver screen and Reb Russell -- whom Knute Rockne once called "the greatest plunging fullback I ever saw" -- was not one of them. With several other football stars and a group of famous coaches, Russell (born Lafayette Russell) appeared in The All-American (1932), a pigskin melodrama starring Richard Arlen and filmed at Universal. Also filming there was Tom Mix, who befriended the husky newcomer and reportedly introduced him to independent producer Sol Lesser, in need of someone to star in a new series of low-budget Westerns. Russell supported lovely Marion Shilling and a Rin Tin Tin wannabe named Captain in something called Fighting to Live (1934) but the proposed series never materialized. Determined to succeed, Russell instead signed with Willis Kent, a penny-pinching producer several notches below Lesser in status. The resulting series, produced 1934-1935, was about par for low-budget independent Westerns, devoid of music but containing plenty of action and peopled by the likes of Yakima Canutt, Al Bridge, Fred Kohler, and George "Gabby" Hayes, stalwart B-Western players who had been around for years and could somewhat make up for Russell's awkwardness. And although Russell cut a fine figure on his horse Rebel, he was perhaps the least accomplished actor in a field not exactly known for thespian prowess. Visibly uncomfortable with dialogue and in the clinches with his leading ladies, Russell opted to leave Hollywood after little more than a half dozen oaters to tour with several Wild West Shows. He later operated a cattle ranch near Coffeyville, KS, and in 1964 ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket, losing narrowly to the incumbent.