John Russell; Hero, Villain in Westerns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Russell, the ruggedly tall, dark and handsome second lead in several motion pictures, a menacing heavy in many more but best known as television's "The Lawman," has died.

His son, John James Russell, said Tuesday that his father was 70 when he died in a Los Angeles hospital Saturday of the complications of emphysema.

Russell, a native of Los Angeles, was a decorated Marine lieutenant in World War II and became a supporter and spokesman for the corps. His first films date to war's end.

At 6 feet, 4 inches, he had had to remove the heels from his shoes to evade the Marine Corps' maximum height requirement, but his physique and stern demeanor proved an asset in screen tests.

He was spotted by an agent shortly after he was discharged in 1944 because of the malaria he contracted while in the South Pacific.

In 1945, he made "A Bell for Adano," and a year later "Somewhere in the Night." Among his other pictures in a 40-year career were "Forever Amber," "Yellowstone Kelly," "Cannon for Cordoba" (as Gen. John Pershing), "Undertow" and, in 1989, "Under the Gun."

Russell became a member of Clint Eastwood's unofficial stock company in the 1970s, portraying Eastwood's commanding officer in "The Outlaw Josey Wales." He also had character roles in "Rio Bravo" and "Pale Rider."

Although he had begun in films when actors were either stereotyped as "good guys" or "bad guys," Russell earned a comfortable living in both camps. "Always featured," he proudly told The Times in 1985.

His most celebrated credit, however, was in television, where from 1958 to 1962 he was the taciturn and fatherly Marshall Dan Troop in "The Lawman," a Sunday night fixture on ABC.

His was the long arm of the law that snared an assortment of bad men at a time when Westerns filled the small screen.

There were too many of them, he said in 1985.

"I go to these Western film fairs," Russell once said. "At one of them a researcher told me there's been 150 Western series on television. . . . They just wore out their welcome."

Russell also appeared on television in "Soldiers of Fortune," portraying one of two rugged guns for hire. And when the "Maverick" brothers spoofed "Lawman" in one of their periodic satires, Russell was on screen for that good-natured abuse.

A widower, Russell is also survived by two daughters, two brothers and two sisters.

The family asks donations to the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°