Russ
Columbo


RUSS COLUMBO was born Ruggiero Eugenio di Rodolpho Colombo in Camden, New Jersy on January 14, 1908. All but forgotten today, he was a singer, violinist and actor, most famous for his signature tune, "You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love," and the legend surrounding his early death.

Russ Columbo was born in Camden, New Jersey, the twelfth child of Italian immigrant parents, Nicola and Giulia Colombo. He started playing the violin while still very young, and debuted professionally at the age of 13. He left high school at 17 to travel with various bands around the country. He sang and played violin in numerous nightclubs.

By 1928, at the age of 20, Russ Columbo began to participate in motion pictures, including a Vitaphone short in which Columbo appeared with Gus Arnheim and His Orchestra. Eventually, he did obtain some feature work in front of the camera, but he slowed down his activities in cinema to pursue other interests.

Russ Columbo tried to run a nightclub for a while, but the venture was unsuccessful. In 1931, he traveled to

New York with his manager, songwriter Con Conrad. Conrad secured a late-night radio slot with NBC. This led to numerous engagements, a recording contract with RCA Victor records, and tremendous popularity with legions of mostly female fans. The type of singing that was popularized by the likes of Columbo, Rudy Vallee, and Bing Crosby is called crooning. Columbo disliked the label, but it caught on with the general public. It gained popular credence, despite its initial use as a term of derision for the singers employing their low, soothing voices in romantic songs.

On September 2, 1934, Russ Columbo was shot under peculiar circumstances by his longtime friend, photographer Lansing Brown. Columbo was visiting him at the studio one day. In lighting a cigarette, Brown lit the match by striking it against the wooden stock of an antique French dueling pistol. The flame set off a long-forgotten charge in the gun, and a lead pistol ball was fired. The pistol ball ricocheted off a nearby table and hit Columbo in the left eye, killing him almost instantly. Columbo's death was ruled an accident, and Brown exonerated from blame. His funeral mass was attended by numerous Hollywood luminaries, including Bing Crosby and Carole Lombard.

In 1995, 61 years after Russ Columbo's death, singer Tiny Tim released an entire album in tribute to Columbo, titled Prisoner Of Love (A Tribute to Russ Columbo), which he recorded with the group Clang.

Russ Columbo is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.


Russ Columbo Film Clips

Russ Columbo from 1929 with Gus Arnheim and his Ambassadors.

That's Russ playing violin and singing- he is the dapper fellow in the middle of the trio.

Russ Columbo - Too Beautiful For Words

from the 1934 movie Wake Up and Dream

Russ Columbo - GUILTY
Russ Columbo - Prisoner of Love

Recorded for Victor on October 9th, 1931, accompanied Nat Shilkret and His Orchestra.

Russ Columbo - Let's Pretend There's a Moon

from the 1934 movie Wake Up and Dream

Russ Columbo - When You're In Love

from the 1934 movie Wake Up and Dream

Russ Columbo - Too Beautiful for Words (duet)

from the 1934 movie Wake Up and Dream


South Jersey: A 1624-1924

Russ Columbo
Hollywood's Tragic Crooner
by Max Pierce


He was "The Romeo of Song," "The Singing Valentino," and "Radio's Revelation." From 1931 until 1934, he, Bing Crosby, and Rudy Vallee were crooning rivals for the public's attention. His incredible talent encompassed recordings as a violinist and vocalist, radio, and ultimately the brink of film stardom. His records are considered musical standards of the 1930s. He was romantically linked to a former Miss Universe, a screwball comedienne, and the older sister of one of Hollywood's top stars. He was a comet in the entertainment industry for a three-year period, illuminating Los Angeles' Cocoanut Grove nightclub, Brooklyn's Paramount Theater, Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and entertainment giants NBC, RCA, and Universal Pictures. But like a comet, he passed through our universe all too quickly.

The Final Days

Russ Columbo spent most of Friday, August 31, 1934, at what would be his last session, recording the songs from Universal's Wake Up and Dream for the Brunswick label. That evening, he attended the preview of this film at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard with Carole Lombard. His best friend of ten years, portrait photographer Lansing Brown, Jr., was also in the audience, but not seated near Lombard and Columbo. After appearing in close to a dozen films, Russ finally received top billing. A Universal press release, prepared by John LeRoy Johnston ended with this quote from Columbo: "At 26, I find that I have just about everything I want from life and am pretty happy the way things have turned out for me."

On Saturday, September 1, Columbo drove to Santa Barbara for the out of town preview of Wake Up and Dream. That morning he had unsuccessfully attempted to telephone Lansing Brown, who had not given Russ his opinion of the film. Carole Lombard, exhausted from working on three productions in a row, heeded her doctor's advice and went with her secretary Madalynne Fields to Lake Arrowhead to rest. Rumors would later abound that the two had a fight, but this is not true. She and Columbo planned a late supper Sunday evening with Carole's mother, Elizabeth Peters, and brother, Stuart. Feeling a premonition of disaster, Lombard tried calling Columbo upon her arrival at Arrowhead, but found the telephone exchanges closed for the evening. They would never speak again.

Accident or Murder?

Lansing Brown returned Columbo's telephone call Sunday morning, and Russ asked to come over to Lansing's home, ostensibly to get his views on Wake Up and Dream, but there may have been more to discuss. Brown attended the Friday preview, but did not speak to Columbo afterward. It's quite possible that rumors about the two men having a falling out earlier in the month were true, and Columbo wanted to patch things up. In either case, Russ Columbo was determined to talk to his friend. According to Carole Lombard, Russ "highly valued Lansing's judgment and opinion." Columbo told Lombard, "If Lansing doesn't get back in time to call me tonight, I'm going to see him tomorrow. I want to know what (Brown) really thinks about this picture." In an interview before the tragedy, Russ described "Lansa" as his best friend - "my confidant, my advisor for ten years-no matter what I asked of him, he would never fail me. And I too-I would never fail him." Brown was a prominent photographer of film stars, and his portraits of Columbo are stunning. Russ arrived at the modest bungalow located at 584 Lillian Way about 12:30 PM and found Brown's parents there as well. The two friends talked in the "library" while the elder Browns retired to the kitchen, located in the back of the house.

It is here that the Columbo legend began, and, unfortunately, his bizarre death would obliterate all but fragments of his career and life.

Lansing Brown kept a pair of antique dueling pistols on his desk. According to statements given at the inquest, Brown was toying with one of the pistols and holding an unlighted match in his left hand. The "trick" was that the hammer would ignite the match, although Brown would later testify that he did not know why he had the match and the gun, other than a sort of odd "habit." Unfortunately, the old relic had both gunpowder and a vintage minie ball. Somehow, the match and the hammer triggered the gun powder, and the bullet was discharged. Detectives later determined that the bullet must have ricocheted off the mahogany desk between the two men, striking Russ Columbo in the left eye, lodging at the back of his brain. He slumped in the chair and immediately lost consciousness. It was 1:45 PM. Although Brown's father later testified that there was no evidence of any quarrel, and no one had been drinking liquor that afternoon, rumor claimed that "servants" heard loud voices shortly before the shot. Brown, Sr., assuming Columbo had died instantly, contacted the police. When the coroner's ambulance arrived to pick up the body, it was discovered that Russ was unconscious, but still alive. He was taken first to Hollywood Receiving Hospital, then transferred to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.

Doctors attempted to save his life by surgery, but it was too late. Carole Lombard rushed down by automobile from Lake Arrowhead after being telephoned by surgeon George W. Patterson, but it was close pal and actress Sally Blane who was at Columbo's bedside when he died at 7:30 PM. He was 26 years old.

You Call It Madness

His mother had been hospitalized with a heart ailment on the previous Thursday, and her condition was grave. Therefore, Julia Colombo was not told of her youngest son's death as doctors feared this news would kill her. Russ Columbo's story then took an even stranger twist as a card was mailed to Mrs. Colombo, wishing her a speedy recovery and signed with Russ' name. In the only detailed interview Carole Lombard would ever give about her relationship with Russ Columbo, she stated "(Julia Colombo) was told that Russ and I flew to New York suddenly, to avoid publicity, and we had been married. When I went East his family arranged wires signed 'Russ and Carole.' Presumably from New York we sailed to England on our honeymoon. Cables from London are currently being sent signed with our names."

The family would later decide to tell Julia that Russ' European tour had been extended, and they continued sending her cards, gifts, and a monthly check (actually Columbo's life insurance dividends). She and her husband were moved from Russ' mansion back into the family home at 1322 Tamarind, the balance of the mortgage having been paid by their dead son's insurance policy. Julia Colombo was 68 at the time of her son's death, and this charade would continue for 10 years, outliving daughter Anna (who died in 1940), husband Nicholas (whose 1942 death was made known to Julia, thank goodness), and Carole Lombard (killed in January 1942). Lombard's 1939 marriage to Clark Gable was headline news, but not at the Colombo home. Newspapers that featured articles with such sensational titles as "Russ Columbo's Mother Still Doesn't Know" were carefully edited before passing into her hands. Nearly blind, Julia Colombo died peacefully on August 30, 1944, at the family home.

From Camden to Hollywood

Russ Columbo was born January 14, 1908, in Camden, New Jersey, the twelfth child of Italian immigrants Nicola and Giulia (aka Nicholas and Julia). He was christened Ruggiero Eugenio di Rodolpho Colombo. Legend places his birth in San Francisco or Philadelphia, but his death certificate states New Jersey. The Colombo family moved back to Philadelphia when Ruggiero was about five years old, and when he was eight headed west to California, residing in the San Francisco and Calistoga areas before moving to Los Angeles. All news accounts identify the young Ruggiero Colombo as a child prodigy, mastering the violin at the age of five, and his family's frequent movement was said to allow Ruggiero the opportunity to continue his violin studies under the tutelage of Alexander Bevani. At the age of 13, "Russ" made his professional debut at the Imperial Theater in San Francisco. The abbreviated "Russ" came from a childhood friend's inability to fully pronounce Italian. In 1931 the second "o" in his last name was replaced with the more phonetic "u." This gave rise to the legend that Russ was a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus.

In 1925, at the age of 17, Russ Columbo left Belmont High School in Los Angeles (where he had been first violinist in the school orchestra). He began traveling as a paid musician with various orchestras, as well as performing "atmospheric" music on the set of silent films. Russ met exotic film star Pola Negri in this fashion, and stated in an interview, "fell head over heels for her." In 1932, he would sing "Paradise" at the premiere of Miss Negri's film A Woman Commands, her first talking picture, and one of her last roles. A popular legend has Negri bestowing Columbo with a bizarre Oriental ring, which had belonged to Rudolph Valentino and imbued with a curse. Valentino had supposedly bought the piece in San Francisco, where the jeweler warned him the opal stone had a history of disaster. He wore it while filming The Young Rajah, which turned out to be one of his few box office disasters (and today, a lost film). Valentino was rumored to have not worn the ring again until making Son of the Sheik, which would be his final screen appearance before his death in 1926. Negri received the ring as a keepsake after Valentino's death and presented it to Columbo, intoning "From one Valentino to another." In her 1970 autobiography, Pola Negri never mentions Russ Columbo. Perhaps the ring's curse extended to her memory as well.

Columbo traveled the local ballroom circuit, appearing at the Mayfair Hotel, opening the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood with the Professor Moore orchestra in 1927, and ultimately Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel where, in 1928, Columbo became a member of Gus Arnheim's Cocoanut Grove orchestra. Ironically, Russ Columbo would later replace Bing Crosby as the featured vocalist when the latter went to New York to pursue a radio and recording career. Russ Columbo would follow, but not until 1931.

Star Struck

About 1928 Columbo began to be involved in the movies (although one fan magazine would later place him as a child actor in Mack Sennett comedies: this is untrue). His first feature film role was in Paramount's Wolf Song starring Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez. Columbo appeared in the film, and his singing voice substituted for Cooper's, performing the title song. He then moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer with Cecil B. DeMille, the director of Dynamite. In an unbilled role, Columbo plays a Mexican prison inmate singing "How Am I to Know," one of 1929's best remembered songs. Next, his singing voice doubled for that of Lewis Stone in MGM's Wonder of Women. Russ also appeared in two films as part of the Arnheim orchestra that year: in one, Columbo's amazing violin talent is heard, but it was Betty Compson who was seen fiddling on screen as The Street Girl. The summer of 1929 was marred by tragedy; in July, Russ' older brother Fiore, manager of the family restaurant and also an actor, was involved in an automobile accident and killed. He was only 25 years old.

In 1930, Russ Columbo composed the music for the James Cruze production of Hello, Sister, which featured Olive Borden and Lloyd Hughes. Next, Columbo was in front of the camera as a "Singing Cowboy at Campfire" in The Texan, starring Gary Cooper. He teamed again with Cruze for Tiffany Studios' Hell Bound, composing the song "Is It Love" (credited under the name of Russell Colombo). This film was released in 1931.

Columbo apparently grew tired of being more of a movie voice than a movie face and returned to the hotel circuit. His brothers and sisters operated a successful Italian restaurant on Western Avenue near the Central Casting Office, so Russ tried his hand at running a nightclub, and opened the Pyramid Cafe on Hollywood Boulevard, just around the corner from the family business. The club, managed by older brother Albert, was not a threat to the larger venues of the time and closed by the end of 1931.

Romeo of Radio

In spring of 1931, Russ Columbo met Con Conrad, the man who would share responsibility for co-writing one of Russ' most famous songs, "You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love." Conrad heard Columbo performing one evening and immediately saw a diamond in the rough. He convinced the young singer to head east where Bing Crosby was making a name for himself. "Madness" was rumored to have been written on the train from Los Angeles to New York, where Conrad planned to make Russ a star. Later, it became Columbo's theme song. After being panned at both Flo Ziegfeld and Earl Carroll's offices, Con Conrad would successfully sell his protege to NBC, which gave Russ the less than optimal time slot of 11:30 PM, Tuesdays, to perform. But it worked, and soon Columbo was being sponsored by Maxwell House Coffee and later Listerine at $2500-$3000 weekly. It was Con Conrad who came up with the idea of a rivalry between Bing and Russ, dubbing it "The Battle of the Baritones," as Crosby appeared on the rival CBS network. Adding to this pretend battle were competing engagements. Bing at the Paramount Theater in Times Square and Russ across the East River at the Brooklyn Paramount. Columbo appeared to a packed house for ten weeks beginning in November 1931.

Conrad also got Columbo an audition with Victor Records, and he was quickly signed to a contract. Almost all of Columbo's extant recordings are under this label (famous for its "His Master's Voice" slogan) and were recorded between September 3, 1931, and November 23, 1932, at the Victor Studios on 25th Street. He would not record again until two days before his death. On the day of his final Victor session, and in keeping with the prestige of a new singing star, the remains of brother Fiore Colombo were moved from Los Angeles' Rosedale Cemetery into the more fashionable Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn. Fiore's nameplate was also altered to reflect the new spelling of Russ' last name.

Although Russ Columbo's singing style is considered crooning, Columbo took umbrage at that term and compared his vocal style to his early musical influence. He stated, "I'm not a crooner or a blues singers or a straight baritone. I've tried to make my phrasing different, and I take a lot of liberty with the music. One of the things (audiences) seem to like best is the voice obbligato on repeat choruses-very much as I used to do them on the violin." But the popularity of crooners, the romantic sway they held over the fairer sex and supposed threat to average men, became the basis for a song directed at "three public enemies"-"Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee" which was penned by Al Dubin and Joe Burke in 1931. It was later utilized in a "Merrie Melodies" cartoon short.

Columbo's name was now linked with Follies Showgirl and former Miss Universe, Dorothy Dell. Magazine articles proclaimed a hot romance and impending marriage, something the powers that be did not want to happen. As "The Romeo of Radio" as well as "The Valentino of Song," a Russ-Dorothy marriage supposedly would spoil Columbo's romantic image. Con Conrad and publicist Paul Yawitz had created the romance and now were placed in charge of breaking it up. Clever newspaper items stated that Dorothy Dell gallantly agreed to step aside for Russ Columbo's career. Looking back 60 years, the romance and breakup seem an obvious fabrication. In a 1934 interview, Russ refers to a romance with Hannah Williams, who would marry boxer Jack Dempsey, but does not mention Dorothy who died in a horrific night time auto accident in Pasadena, California, a few months before Columbo in 1934. After Dorothy Dell, a detailed account of an affair between Russ and Greta Garbo circulated, but this was more publicity hype created by Yawitz, probably to combat rumors of Columbo's "confirmed bachelor" status. Conrad and Columbo, who had formed a corporation (Rusco Enterprises), would have a falling out in the latter part of 1932, and permanently part ways. Some wags speculated that it was related to the entire Dorothy Dell episode.

This seems to have been a low period in Columbo's life. He left NBC in 1933 after Listerine suspended its broadcasting program. He went from the Waldorf-Astoria's Empire Room to the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, then Conrad pulled him after a salary dispute. Russ next appeared at the opening of the Woodmansten Inn in Pelham, New York. After dissolving his partnership with Conrad, Columbo traveled around the country with his own orchestra, which included drummer Gene Krupa and, briefly, Benny Goodman. But Hollywood and fate would soon call him home.

Before leaving New York, Russ appeared in That Goes Double; released by Warner Bros., a short film that spoofs Columbo the radio star. Based on the title, it's a given that RC played a double role; himself and a nebbish accounting type who resents, but accepts money to impersonate the Real McCoy. After returning to Los Angeles in the summer of 1933, Russ signed at fledgling 20th Century Pictures (before its merger with Fox Films) to appear with Paul Kelly and Constance Cummings in Walter Winchell's Broadway Thru a Keyhole. Winchell was one of the most powerful journalists in America. Keyhole has everything: musical stars, gangsters, a New York to Miami locale, and Russ portraying a cowardly singer. The film came and went out of local theaters fairly quickly, and is more famous for the punch that Al Jolson gave Walter Winchell before production began as Keyhole was supposedly based on Jolson's real life romance with actress Ruby Keeler. Russ Columbo sang several tunes in the film, and his reviews indicated the critics felt he had potential, but needed a lot of polish. This film also marked the last appearance of Broadway star Texas Guinan.

Back in Hollywood, the modest family home on Tamarind Avenue was no longer suitable for Columbo's status as a film, radio, and recording personality. Columbo explored what was called the "B" circuit: Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and Bel-Air. He first leased a large, Spanish-style home at 1019 North Roxbury Drive, as far away in feeling from the Tamarind bungalow as one could get. This house has had an amazing musical pedigree. After Columbo, later tenants included composers George and Ira Gershwin and songstress Ginny Simms. In 1953 actor Jose Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney, newly married, bought the home, and after their divorce, Clooney retained the property where she lives today. In her autobiography, as well as a March 1997 interview, Clooney maintains that Columbo killed himself in her den while cleaning a gun, and, more interestingly, that his spirit haunts her home. She told the interviewer, " ... right here where we are sitting is where Russ Columbo killed himself. The bullet ... ricocheted off of three walls. When the kids were young, they wouldn't come down here at night unless I was standing at the head of the stairs. And even then, they'd walk into the room, switch on all the lights, and say, 'Excuse me, Mr. Columbo, I'm just coming in for a minute to get something' and then dash out as quickly as they could." While Russ Columbo may haunt her Roxbury Drive house, the rest of Ms. Clooney's information regarding his death is completely inaccurate.

Perhaps the Roxbury Drive house was haunted when Columbo lived there, as he didn't stay long. He next rented a one-story home in Beverly Hills at 509 N. Crescent Drive. His landlady at this address was Charlotte Shelby, better known as the mother of silent star Mary Miles Minter and a key figure in the 1922 unresolved murder of director William Desmond Taylor. Again, Russ lasted only a short time and would move to his final residence in January 1934. In contrast to his image as a singing sex symbol, Julia and Nicholas Columbo continued to live with their devoted son.

1934 began with Russ Columbo appearing as himself in a brief sequence of Moulin Rouge, which starred Constance Bennett and Franchot Tone, a fairly standard entry in the movie musical category. He was then signed by Universal's "Junior" Laemmle to a contract. His first film in this contract was a backstage musical called Castles in the Air, later retitled Wake Up and Dream. Columbo wrote three songs for the film and also signed a recording contract with Brunswick. Pleased with what he was seeing, Laemmle began planning a remake of Show Boat, with Russ Columbo pegged to portray Gaylord Ravenal. Columbo also began a new radio program, which was broadcast by NBC from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and featured gossip columnist Jimmie Fidler.

Columbo was now romantically linked with Carole Lombard, divorced the prior year from William Powell, and he was also rumored to be dating old friend Sally Blane, more famous as Loretta Young's older sister. All three would deny any attachment other than friendship. Lombard described Columbo as "a rare and unusual person. I loved Russ not only as a man but as a mother loves a child." In 1992, Sally Blane Foster told me she, Russ Columbo, and Lansing Brown were "three pals who would run around together." Hardly the stuff of heartbreaking romance, particularly given Russ Columbo's tragic death.

He and his parents had settled into their rented Spanish-style home at 1940 Outpost Circle, a few blocks from Grauman's Chinese Theater, and close to Carole Lombard's French Normandy house on Hollywood Boulevard. He was named in a number of lawsuits, including one by former mentor Con Conrad. Officially, Rusco Enterprises filed breach of contract against Russ Columbo for $60,000, claiming he owed the corporation one-third of his net earnings from 1933. Not satisfied with his incredible vocal talent, Columbo had also begun taking singing lessons, with the idea of pursuing an operatic career, under the guidance of voice teacher Pietro Cimini. His recordings from Wake Up and Dream revealed a new maturity in his voice, the "bah-bah-bah-boo" of crooning forever behind him.

An Act of God

His body would lie in the Delmar Smith Mortuary for three days. Jack Pierce, Universal's makeup master responsible for the look of Boris Karloff's Frankenstein and The Mummy, repaired the damage done by Brown's pistol. Columbo's service was arranged, and a coroner's inquest was held Wednesday, September 5. Virginia Brissac, Columbo's devoted secretary and also an actress, testified first and had the gruesome task of identifying Columbo's body, which was in an adjacent room. A tearful Brown took the stand after his father and reiterated "We were friends ... he was my best friend ... I didn't know there was powder and a slug in it ... there was a noise ... and Russ was slumped in the chair ... I put ice on his head ... he couldn't speak to me ..." It was next revealed that the mate to the death weapon also had gunpowder but no bullet. The powder was estimated at having been in the guns for over 50 years. Carole Lombard later stated, " ... Lansing, Russ, and I had looked down the barrel of those guns a hundred times, and only saw cobwebs." The jury then left to view Columbo's body and begin deliberations. They returned shortly and the foreman announced, "... we find Lansing V. W. Brown, Jr. accidentally fired the fatal shot, but exonerate him from all blame ..." From all reports, the tragedy was considered "an act of God" by the surviving Colombo siblings: Albert, John (also known as Jack), Anna DeBenedetti, Carmela Tempest, and Tony, who lived in Philadelphia.

Russ' requiem mass was held before 3000 mourners at Hollywood's Blessed Sacrament Church at 10 AM on Thursday, September 6, 1934. In tribute to their fallen star, Universal Studios observed a five-minute silence. Hundreds of fans gathered outside the church on Sunset Boulevard to pay respects and to glimpse the pallbearers: Bing Crosby, Walter Lang, Stuart Peters, Gilbert Roland, Sheldon Callaway, and Zeppo Marx, a last minute replacement for Keyhole director Lowell Sherman. Nicholas Colombo was confined to bed, but Carole Lombard and her mother sat with the Colombo family. Lombard provided a blanket of gardenias-Russ' favorite flower-that covered the bronze casket. While the choir sang "Lead, Kindly Light" a cappella, Lansing Brown was spotted alone at the back of the church; he remained on his knees throughout the service, crying and trembling. The casket was then returned to the mortuary, while the family debated telling or withholding the tragic news from Julia Colombo. Its next stop would be Hollywood Cemetery, where the casket was stored in a temporary vault. On October 18, a full seven weeks after his death, Russ Columbo was finally interred at Forest Lawn, in the Sanctuary of the Vespers of the great Mausoleum, near his older brother Fiore.

Wake Up and Dream quietly opened where Russ had attended the preview, at the Pantages Theater, on Friday, September 14, although it was now part of a double bill with Two Heads on a Pillow. Columbo's final performance and the film itself were given generally good notices. Viewed today, the plot is uninspired and predictable (a romantic triangle between vaudeville performers, guess who wins the girl), but it is Russ Columbo's screen presence and lush vocal talent that linger in memory after the picture ends. Legend maintains that Universal re-edited the film after Columbo's death, retaining the musical numbers but eliminating most of everything else.

When cousin Alberto Colombo, a music director for RKO, was found dead in his car in 1954, the mob was implicated. This gave rise to the rumor that Russ had been killed by the mob as well. For the next several years, magazine articles would proclaim forthcoming films based on Columbo's life linking singer Johnny Desmond or actor Tony Curtis to the projects. In 1992, Tom Cruise and Michelle Pfeiffer were slated to play Columbo and Lombard, but the project quietly fell through. The surviving Colombos also made headlines, alternately suing each other, the press, or both. One lawsuit stated that Carole Lombard's "secret diary" was part of Russ Columbo's estate.

Lansing Brown, by all accounts, was a broken man, devastated by his part in Russ Columbo's death. At the end of the inquest when he was offered his pistols back by Detective Joseph Page, he adamantly refused, stating, "I never want to see those things again! Keep them!" He immediately vacated the Lillian Way bungalow, and for the next year lived with his parents at 916 North Genessee Avenue. Brown served in the Army during World War II as an instructor of photography. At the time of his death, in February 1962, he still maintained his studio ta 3305 Wilshire Boulevard, but it was generally rumored that extensive traveling had taken precedence over portrait photography. Never married, Lansing Brown's last home was an elegant Victorian mansion at 637 S. Lucerne in the affluent Hancock Park section of Los Angeles, later used in William Castle's 1964 horror film, The Night Walker, with Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor. His ashes reside in an unmarked crypt at Forest Lawn near Anna, Julia, and Nicholas Colombo. The contents of Lansing Brown's will remain sealed and unavailable to the general public.

Postscript

Columbo's secretary, Virginia Brissac, returned to acting and had character roles in Warner Bros. Dark Victory, the 1940 version of Paramount Pictures' The Ghost Breakers, and 20th Century-Fox's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, among others. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1979. Con Conrad died in 1938. Brothers Albert Colombo died in 1946; Anthony Colombo in 1965; and sister Carmela Tempest in 1986, on what would have been her youngest brother's 78th birthday. Sally Blane married director Norman Foster in October 1935, had two children, and died in Los Angeles in 1997, immediately preceding the 63rd anniversary of Columbo's death. Bing Crosby had an extensive career, and in 1977 died while golfing in Spain. After Broadway Thru a Keyhole, Constance Cummings' career continued to thrive, encompassing film and stage, and has spanned nearly seven decades. Today she resides in London, England. Belmont High School is one of the largest in Los Angeles, and has expanded several times. The Ambassador Hotel and the famous Cocoanut Grove where Columbo appeared with Gus Arnheim, and as a solo performer, closed in 1989, and primarily is used for special events and location filming but faces an uncertain future. The Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood was restored in 1988, and has a small museum on its mezzanine, but Russ Columbo's association with the hotel is not mentioned. The building that had housed the Pyramid Cafe was demolished after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. RCA is now part of BMG, and the 25th Street studio in Manhattan where Russ recorded was torn down in 1997. The Brooklyn Paramount, with many of its Art Deco features intact, is part of a university, and the auditorium where Russ performed is now the school's gymnasium. The Hospital of the Good Samaritan, where Russ Columbo died, also saw the 1937 death of Jean Harlow and in 1968 Robert F. Kennedy. Universal delayed filming Show Boat until December 9, 1935, and even then began production without a male lead. Allan Jones ultimately portrayed Gaylord Ravenal, a role originally intended for Russ Columbo. Show Boat was also the final production for the Laemmle family. They sold their interest in the studio in 1936. Today, Universal Studios is a division of Canadian liquor conglomerate Seagram's Ltd. The Pantages Theater, home to the Academy Awards in the 1950s, now hosts live theater and concert engagements. Russ Columbo's last home on Outpost Circle looks pretty much the way it did when he left it in 1934, as does 584 Lillian Way, the former Brown bungalow. Carole Lombard's old home on Hollywood Boulevard has been reported as haunted, and one psychic claimed to have seen her spirit "descending the stairs in a red gown and greeting a dark-haired man." We know, of course, that she is keeping her "late supper" date from September 2, 1934.

RCA, where Columbo recorded on the Victor label from 1931-1932, repackaged his biggest hits and periodically reissued them in the '40s, '50s, and '60s. In 1976, a handsome tribute album was released featuring a 12-page booklet of photos and biographical notes. Other rare and re-releases appeared in the late '70s on the Pelican label and others, and in the 1990s Columbo's work was released on CD's from two different companies. None of Russ Columbo's film appearances are currently available on commercial video, though the Three Radio Rogues imitate him in the 1933 MGM film Going Hollywood, which stars Bing Crosby. Dynamite occasionally turns up on Turner Classic Movies. An Internet website, dedicated to Russ Columbo, was created in April 1998.

Through these technological advances, Russ Columbo will be remembered more for his extraordinary talent and charisma than for the bizarre aspects of his untimely and tragic death.


RETURN TO CAMDEN'S INTERESTING PEOPLE PAGE

RETURN TO DVRBS.COM HOME PAGE