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football player-turned western actor
Lafayette H. Russell was born in Paola, Kansas, on May 31, 1905, and grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas. He attended Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Missouri, where he was an All-State football player, and where he earned the nickname "Reb" (short for "Rebel"); he graduated in 1924. A star running back at the University of Nebraska in 1928, Russell made the All-Big Six Team. He transferred to Northwestern Univeristy as a fullback in 1929, but was not eligible to play there until after the 1930 season started. In the 17 games he ultimately played in, Russell averaged six yards per carry and helped his team earn a total of 320 points (versus just 76 for their opponents). He was named an All-American in 1930, and played in the East-West Shrine Bowl in 1932 (for the East). His professional football career began and ended in 1933, when he played for the New York Giants -- 32 rushes for 96 yards; 2 receptions for 32 yards -- and then the Philadelphia Eagles.
Russell's football career ended because in 1932 he was asked to appear in the movie The All-American. Although he had majored in physical education while in college in hopes of becoming a coach, his first foray into acting interested him enough that he opted to go into movies instead. Between 1934 and 1935 he appeared in ten or so low-budget B-grade westerns and gained a minor reputation as an accomplished horse rider who could also do many of his own stunts. He never achieved anywhere near star status, however, and by 1936 had left the movie business. After touring with his horse Rebel in two different circuses for a few years, Russell retired from show business altogether.
Russell returned to Coffeyville in the early 1940's and took up ranching. He married Julia Stephens in 1943, and the couple ultimately raised one son and one daughter. After developing a plan for high-yield agriculture, he spent much of the 1960's lecturing on his approach to farming. In 1964 he won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost to the incumbent in the general election.
Lafayette "Reb" Russell died of a heart attack on March 16, 1978, and is buried in the Coffeyville Cemetery.
Fighting to Live (1934)
This page was last updated on 03/15/2017.