Neil Oliver Russell
May 5, 1926
Brattleboro, Vermont, U.S.
|Died||April 8, 2003 (aged 76)|
|Occupation||Actor, owner of the Portland Mavericks|
|Children||4, including Kurt Russell|
|Relatives||Matt Franco (grandson)|
Wyatt Russell (grandson)
Neil Oliver "Bing" Russell (May 5, 1926 – April 8, 2003) was an American actor and Class A minor-league baseball club owner. He was the father of Hollywood actor Kurt Russell and grandfather of ex–major league baseball player Matt Franco and actor Wyatt Russell.
Russell was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, the son of Ruth Stewart (née Vogel) and Warren Oliver Russell. He always wanted to become an actor and studied drama at Brattleboro High School. He grew up around the New York Yankees’ spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Florida, in the 1930s and 1940s, where his father ran a floatplane service. As a result, he was an unofficial mascot of the New York Yankees, and became friendly with players including Lefty Gomez and Joe DiMaggio.[unreliable source?] When Lou Gehrig was weakened by illness, he gave Russell the bat he used to hit his last home run before retiring.[unreliable source?]
Russell graduated from Dartmouth College with a business degree.
Russell made his debut in the film Cavalry Patrol, and had some uncredited roles in his early career.
Best known as Deputy Clem Foster on Bonanza (1959) and Robert in The Magnificent Seven (1960), he guest-starred in episodes of many television series, including Playhouse 90, Highway Patrol, Wagon Train, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, The Loretta Young Show, Johnny Ringo, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Rifleman, Maverick, Zane Grey Theater, Route 66, Rawhide, Ben Casey, The Untouchables, Hazel, The Andy Griffith Show, The Twilight Zone, The Donna Reed Show, The Munsters, Gunsmoke, Combat!, Branded, The Fugitive, The Monkees, I Dream of Jeannie, Ironside, The Big Valley, Death Valley Days, Adam-12, The Virginian, Alias Smith and Jones, The Mod Squad, Mannix, The Rockford Files, The Streets of San Francisco, Emergency!, and Little House on the Prairie.
In 1963, he was cast as John Quigley, a Chicago mobster, in the episode "Five Tickets to Hell" of Jack Webb's CBS anthology series, GE True. In the storyline, Quigley travels to Chihuahua, Mexico, where he robs the mint of $500,000 and kills seven men in the commission of the crime. Police Lieutenant Juan Garcia (Carlos Romero) tracks down Quigley and his three accomplices. BarBara Luna also appears in the episode.[unreliable source?]
In another 1963 appearance in the episode "The Measure of a Man" on the syndicated Western series Death Valley Days, Russell plays the outlaw Burt Alvord, who is promised a lenient sentence if he will surrender and reveal the location of the notorious bandit Augustine Chacon (Michael Pate). Rory Calhoun was cast as the Arizona Ranger Burt Mossman who convinces a reluctant Alvord to set a trap to catch Chacon. Mossman has Chacon handcuffed and orders Alvord to toss away the key. Chacon is hanged thereafter for a past conviction of which he had escaped.[unreliable source?]
Russell appeared in the original pilot (filmed in November 1965) for The Monkees TV series as Rudy, a record store owner and the group's manager; after the show was greenlit by NBC, the concept of a manager was discarded and Russell's character was not retained. An edited version of this pilot, in which Russell appears, was broadcast as a regular episode of the first season, and is part of the show's syndication package to this day.
Russell much later played Vernon Presley to his son Kurt's Elvis Presley in the television movie, Elvis (1979). Kurt, as a child actor, had appeared with the real Elvis in the film It Happened at the World's Fair, and in a later interview recalled the singer-actor, professing to be a fan, asking to meet Bing, who had accompanied his son to the set.
Russell owned the Portland Mavericks, the only independent team in the Class A Northwest League. Russell kept a 30-man roster because he believed that some of the players deserved to have one last season. His motto was fun. He created a park that kept all corporate sponsorship outside the gates, hired the first female general manager, Lanny Moss in professional baseball, and named the first Asian American GM/Manager. His team set a record for the highest attendance in minor league history, but lost the 1977 pennant to the Bellingham Mariners. Subsequently, Major League Baseball regained interest in Portland and resurrected the Class AAA Portland Beavers minor league franchise. The Portland area was recovered but was forced to pay $206,000 to Russell after he took the matter to arbitration; it was the biggest payout in baseball history for a minor league territory. Ex-major-leaguers and never-weres who could not stop playing the game flocked to his June try-outs, which were always open to anyone who showed up. The team and archival footage of Russell were featured in the documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014).
In 1945, while working at Teddy's Restaurant in Newport, New Hampshire, a coworker introduced Russell to his future wife, Louise "Lulu" Crone. Russell and Crone married in 1946 and had four children together, including actor Kurt Russell.
Russell died from complications of cancer on April 8, 2003, in Thousand Oaks, California.
In 1974, the Sporting News named Russell minor league executive of the year.
In 2020, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.