Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2011 / 10 Elul, 5771
By Greg Crosby
I remember seeing Kurt around the lot at Disney Studios in the early 70's. I was a kid just starting in the Animation Department and he was starring in all those teenage comedy pictures like "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," and "The Barefoot Executive." He always seemed like a really nice guy, friendly and down to earth. People who worked with him had nothing but good things to say about him. Kurt was the top box office draw for the studio at that time.
The son of baseball player turned actor Bing Russell, Kurt followed in his dad's footsteps. He started acting as a child, mostly on television and even had his own series, "The Travels of Jamie McPheeters" in the early 60's. His movie career began at 10 years old when he landed a part in the Elvis Presley film, "It Happened at the World's Fair." Then Walt Disney signed him to a ten-year contract and his acting career took off.
Like his father, he took some timeout for a career in pro baseball himself, playing in the minors before a rotator cuff injury sidelined him. Before his injury, he was leading the Texas League in hitting, with a .563 batting average. The injury forced his retirement from baseball in 1973 and led to his return to acting. In 1979, he gave a classic performance as Elvis Presley in John Carpenter's TV movie for which he was nominated for an Emmy. He followed with roles in a string of well-received films: "Used Cars" (1980), "Escape from New York" (1981), "The Thing" (1982) and "Silkwood" (1983) in which he has nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role."
Working steadily through the years in films such as "Big Trouble in Little China," "Overboard," "Tango and Cash," "Backdraft," and "Stargate," his performances have never been dull or ordinary. He's always interesting to watch, and that is a hallmark of a good actor. A close friend of mine, production designer Ron Forman, worked with Kurt on "Winter People" in 1989. Although the film didn't do well at the time, I saw it recently and I found it compelling and one of Kurt Russell's best acting roles. If you've never seen it, have a look.
But my all time favorite Russell picture would have to be "Tombstone." His low key performance of Wyatt Earp is quiet and strong in the classic Western tradition of Gary Cooper and John Wayne. I read not long ago that Kurt Russell was the real uncredited director of "Tombstone." If that's true, that is quite an achievement. I consider "Tombstone" to be one of the best Western pictures of the last 20 years.
I don't know what he's up to these days, but I'd like to see him in another Western. He has the natural comfort in himself that a cowboy star requires. He also projects toughness and honesty, two important traits in a Western hero. It would be especially nice to see Kurt play a part in a film that would at last give him his overdue recognition as a serious actor.
It has long been reported that the final written words of Walt Disney were Kurt Russell's name scribbled on a piece of paper. Russell has confirmed that he had seen the paper himself, but did not know what Disney was trying to convey by it. My guess is a simple one. Everyone knows that Walt Disney had a great sense of what the public wanted to see on screen. Maybe Walt saw something in the young actor that he felt would connect with the movie-going public.
If so, then like so many other business decisions in his life, Walt was proven right again.
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© 2008, Greg Crosby