Birthday: May 5, 1926
Died At Age: 76
Sun Sign: Taurus
Also Known As: Neil Oliver Bing Russell, Neil Oliver Russell
Born in: Brattleboro, Vermont
Famous as: Actor
Height: 5'11" (180 cm), 5'11" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Louise Julia Russell (m. 1946 – his death. 2003)
father: Warren Russell
mother: Ruth Stewart Vogel
children: Jill Russell, Kurt Russell
Died on: April 8, 2003
place of death: Thousand Oaks, California
U.S. State: Vermont
Cause of Death: Cancer
Who was Bing Russell?
Bing Russell was a former professional baseball player who also had a four-decade-long acting career, during which he appeared in hundreds of films and television shows. Best recognized for his appearances in westerns, he worked on John Sturges' 'The Magnificent Seven' (1960) and later became popular for portraying Deputy Clem Foster on the television series 'Bonanza' (1961-73). Some other TV shows that he was a part of include 'The Fugitive', 'The Guns of Will Sonnett', 'The Big Valley', 'Death Valley Days', 'The Virginian', 'Gunsmoke', 'Mannix', and 'Emergency!' He was close to several renowned New York Yankees players, and had in his possession the last bat pitcher Lou Gehrig used to score a home run. It was later auctioned off by his daughter Jill Franco in November 2011. He owned the independent Class A Northwest League team Portland Mavericks, which registered the highest attendance in minor league history, but lost to Bellingham Mariners in 1977. Archive footage of him and his team was featured in the 2014 documentary 'The Battered Bastards of Baseball'. He is the father of Golden Globe-nominated actor Kurt Russell and grandfather of former major league baseball player Matt Franco.
Rise to Stardom
Bing Russell, who was interested in acting since childhood, studied drama at Brattleboro High School. He made his acting debut with the film Cavalry Patrol. In 1951, he started working in a 12-part miniseries called, 'The Living Christ Series', in which he appeared as Lazarus in three episodes. This was followed by a series of uncredited roles in a number of films and a few television series, following which he portrayed various characters on the TV show 'You Are There' (1953-55).
During 1955-56, he appeared in a few episodes of 'Cavalcade of America' and served as an assistant director for a few episodes of 'Schlitz Playhouse'. In 1956, he made his film debut with the television movie 'Cavalry Patrol', which was again followed by a series of uncredited roles. By 1957, Russell began appearing regularly on television and also had occasional film appearances, most important of which was the role of Robert in the western film 'The Magnificent Seven' (1960). However, he got his big break in 1961, when he was cast as Deputy Clem Foster on the popular western television series 'Bonanza', a role that he portrayed for 55 episodes of the series during 1961-72.
He later portrayed several outlaw characters, including his role as Chicago mobster John Quigley in the 'Five Tickets to Hell' episode (1963) of the CBS anthology series 'GE True' by Jack Webb. His other notable role was that of a criminal called Burt Alvord in the 'The Measure of a Man' episode (1963) of the syndicated Western series 'Death Valley Days'.
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When Bing Russell was seven years old, he reportedly met New York Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez outside the spring training field in Florida while he was trying to defend a stray fly ball that he had caught from a gang of kids. Soon after, he became an unofficial mascot for the Yankees. When Russell was 12, Lou Gehrig, Yankees first baseman, gave him the bat that he used to hit a home run before his retirement. Two years later, Russell’s family moved to Dartmouth, following which he played Class D pro baseball for the Carrollton Hornets of the Georgia-Alabama League for over a year prior to beginning his acting career. Later in the mid-1970s, he became the owner of Portland Mavericks, which was the only independent team in the Class A Northwest League. With 'fun' as his team’s motto, he accepted everyone in his open try-outs, including ex-major league players and new aspirants, later maintaining a roster of 30 men. He also hired the first female general manager in professional baseball, Lanny Moss.
Family & Personal Life
Neil Oliver 'Bing' Russell was born on May 5, 1926 in Brattleboro, Vermont, United States to Ruth Stewart (née Vogel) and Warren Oliver Russell. His father was an aviator who ran commercial seaplane airbases in New England and St. Petersburg, Florida. While Russell studied drama at Brattleboro High School in Vermont, he also took time out to watch Yankees’ spring training at their Florida camp.
He once worked in the 'Teddy's Restaurant' in Newport, New Hampshire, where a co-waitress introduced him to his future wife Louise Julia Crone in 1944. The couple began dating soon after and got married two years later on October 5, 1946. They remained together until his death from cancer on April 8, 2003, in Thousand Oaks, California. They had four children together, Jill, Jamie, Jody, and Kurt. His daughter Jill's son Matt Franco played baseball for Westlake High. Russel’s son Kurt played for the Portland Mavericks, and later became a famous actor. The father-son duo have worked together in the television movie 'Elvis' (1979), in which Kurt portrayed the legendary singer, Elvis Presley, while Bing portrayed his on-screen father Vernon Presley.