William Russell

Active - 1912 - 1929  |   Born - Apr 1, 1886   |   Died - Feb 1, 1929   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Crime, Western, Comedy

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Biography by Hans J. Wollstein

Although largely forgotten today, virile-looking, six-foot, two-inch William Russell was one of the most popular stars of early American films. A former lawyer turned stock company juvenile, Russell worked briefly for the pioneering Biograph company before switching to Thanhouser, a leading independent. Excelling in playing robust action heroes, he reached an early peak as Robin Hood in 1912. But Russell disliked New York and three years later he was in California starring opposite Lottie Pickford and future director Irving Cummings in the gigantic 30-chapter serial The Diamond From the Sky. Russell later founded his own production company but his career was on the wane when he played the tough sailor Matt Burke opposite Blanche Sweet in Anna Christie (1923). A rather surprising comeback for an actor who had spent the greater part of his career in mindless programmers, the role did little for him in the long run and Russell was back starring in B-movies before succumbing to pneumonia at the young age of 42. He was survived by his second wife, actress and future publicist Helen Ferguson and a brother, actor/director Albert Russell.