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Lash LaRue, from the cover of Lash LaRue Western #2 (Fawcett Comics, Nov. 1949)
June 15, 1917
Gretna, Louisiana, United States
|Died||May 21, 1996
|Other names||Al LaRue|
Alfred "Lash" LaRue (June 15, 1917–May 21, 1996) was a popular western motion picture star of the 1940s and 1950s. He had exceptional skill with the bull whip and taught Harrison Ford how to use a bullwhip in the Indiana Jones movies. LaRue was one of the first recipients of the Golden Boot Awards in 1983.
Early life and education
Born Alfred LaRue in Gretna, Louisiana, he was reared in various towns throughout Louisiana, but in his teens the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where he attended St. John's Military Academy. However, California death records show his father's last name as Wilson and that he was born in Michigan. He also attended the College of the Pacific.
He began acting in films in 1944 as Al LaRue, appearing in two musicals and a serial before being given a role in a Western film that would result in his being cast in a cowboy persona for virtually the rest of his career. He was given the name Lash because of the 18-foot (5.5 m)-long bullwhip he used to help bring down the bad guys. The popularity of his first role as the Cheyenne Kid, a sidekick of singing cowboy hero Eddie Dean, not just brandishing a whip but using it expertly to disarm villains, paved the way for LaRue to be featured in his own series of Western films. After appearing in all three of the Eddie Dean Cinecolor singing Westerns in 1945-46, he starred in quirky B-westerns from 1947 to 1951, at first for Poverty Row studio PRC, then for Eagle-Lion when they took over the studio, and later for producer Ron Ormond. He developed his image as a cowboy hero dressed all in black and inherited from Buster Crabbe a comic sidekick in the form of "Fuzzy Q. Jones" played by Al St. John.
He was different from the usual cowboy hero of the era: dressed in black, he spoke with a "city tough-guy" accent somewhat like that of Humphrey Bogart, whom he physically resembled. His use of a bullwhip, however, was what set him apart from bigger cowboy stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. His influence was felt throughout the dying medium of B-westerns; for example, he had an imitator, Whip Wilson, who starred in his own brief series, and even Roy Rogers started picking up and using a bullwhip in some of his Republic Studios Westerns made in the same period.
He also made frequent personal appearances at small-town movie theaters that were showing his films during his heyday of 1948-51, a common practice for cowboy stars in those days. However, his skillful displays of stunts with his whip, done live on movie theater stages, also convinced young Western fans that there was at least one cowboy hero who could do in real life the same things he did on screen.
Lash LaRue Western
Lash LaRue Western comic books were published first by Fawcett Comics and later by Charlton Comics between 1949 and 1961. They were among the most popular Western-themed comics of the era, running for more than 100 (usually monthly) issues.
For a time he was married to Reno Browne, a B-western actress, who together with Dale Evans was one of only two Western actresses ever to have their own comic book fashioned after her character. He later married Barbara Fuller, who was an accomplished actress of radio (Clauda on One Man's Family), motion pictures and television, having played opposite Charles Boyer.
Lash LaRue comic books sold over one million copies each around the world, and many of them featured Lash and Barbara's godson, J.P. Sloane.
In the later 1950s, LaRue was featured in archival footage numerous times on the children's program The Gabby Hayes Show. He appeared several times too on the syndicated television series 26 Men, true stories of the Arizona Rangers. He appeared seven times in different roles in the 1956 TV Western Judge Roy Bean, starring Edgar Buchanan in the title role, with Jack Buetel and Jackie Loughery. One of his roles on Judge Roy Bean was as the outlaw John Wesley Hardin. He portrayed another real-life criminal, Doc Barker, in the TV series Gangbusters, which was later recut into the film Guns Don't Argue.
LaRue and Steve Brodie shared the role from 1959 to 1961 of Sheriff Johnny Behan in Cochise County, Arizona, on ABC's The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian. LaRue appeared five times; Brodie, nine times.
After decades of popularity, interest in westerns faded and he was forced to make a living from appearances at conventions for western film buffs and sometimes as an evangelist on the rodeo and country-music circuit. Problems with the Internal Revenue Service made it difficult for him to work.
A role as the villain in a pornographic western, Hard on the Trail in 1972, led him to repentance as a missionary for ten years, as he had not been informed of the adult nature of the film and would not have consented to appear in the film. He did not actually appear in any of the pornographic scenes. The film was later released without the pornographic scenes and retitled Hard Trail to eliminate the double entendre.
Late in his career, he appeared in two low-budget horror films shot in North Carolina in 1985, Alien Outlaw and The Dark Power. In the latter, he plays a park ranger who makes extensive use of the bullwhip to battle wild dogs and attacking zombies.
LaRue often returned to Louisiana and East Texas, where he grew up. He became a regular at the jam sessions at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans and clubs in the Dallas area under the name Lucky LaRue. In his autobiography, Backbeat, drummer Earl Palmer recalls:
- "Lots of white people wanted to come to the Dew Drop. Most were turned away, but they let a few in. Every time the cowboy actor Lash LaRue came in town, he came by. He played a hell of a guitar and was a regular guy that people liked."
He was a born-again Christian who was baptized at Shreveport Baptist Tabernacle by pastor Jimmy G. Tharpe. Tharpe initially met LaRue in Alexandria, the seat of Rapides Parish, when LaRue was visiting the home of his daughter. He and another minister, Don Chelette of Alexandria, were proselytizing door-to-door when they met LaRue and his daughter. Tharpe thereafter declared a "Lash LaRue Day" at his church at which LaRue gave his Christian testimony: "He came, and we had a wonderful service in our gymnasium. There were thirty-seven people saved in the gym that day. He cut paper from the mouth of Debbye, my daughter, with his whip. We all rejoiced over Lash LaRue and his testimony. I introduced Lash to others, and several churches invited him to give his testimony, and he accepted."
He was one of several people injured by a tornado while in attendance at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Missouri, on August 20, 1952.
LaRue died of emphysema in 1996 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, and was cremated at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. He was survived by his wife, Frances Bramlett LaRue, three sons and three daughters.
In popular culture
His name was mentioned in the 1973 song "Childhood - 1949", which was written and recorded by Bobby Goldsboro as the B-side to his hit single "Summer (The First Time)".
LaRue is seen on the 1986 Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings duet album Heroes (Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings album). LaRue holds the lash on the front cover and on the back cover of the album, LaRue is standing with Jennings and Cash.
Notes and references
- Ernest N. Corneau (1969), The hall of fame of western film stars, p. 254
- "Bullwhip-cracking cowboy star of 40, Lash LaRue, dies May 21 in California". The Gaffney Ledger. May 31, 1996. p. 6. Retrieved July 10, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Lash LaRue, 79, Western Star With a Whip". The New York Times. May 31, 1996. Retrieved 11 July 2015.
- "Lash LaRue". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 10, 2013.
- Hardy, Phil (editor). The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: The Western, Aurum Press, 1983. ISBN 0-906053-57-9.
- Jimmy G. Tharpe, Mr. Baptist, Springfield, Missouri: 21st Century Press, 2003, pp. 74-76.
- Lash LaRue, the King of the Bullwhip, by Chuck Thornton and David Rothel (Empire Publishing, NC, 1988). ISBN 0-944019-06-4.
- The King of the Bullwhip: Lash LaRue, the Man, not the Legend, by Charles M. Sharpe (Sharpeco, NC, 1996). ASIN B0006QS5T6.