The Law of Contact

Lash LaRue

by Frank M. Roberts

I begin this look at yesteryear's western movie heroes with the question - which of those good guys was once a hairdresser? Another question - which one of those good guys taught Indiana Jones how to use that whip? The answer, of course, is Lash LaRue, a young whippersnapper who grew up to become an expert with the big whip.

His real name is Alfred LaRue. Alfred is not a name that would strike fear with the bad guys. It sounds more like a butler. Mr. L was born in Gretna, Louisiana, moving to California when he was a teener. He also lived in Louisiana and East Texas.

He was bitten by the acting bug when he was in college and, soon, got a screen test at Warner Brothers. Actor George Brent, a family friend, urged him to pursue a career in acting. Nothing happened at WB but, Universal offered him a contract at the suggestion of Deanna Durbin. He had appeared with her in small but, obviously, impressive roles.

Soon, he was cast in all types of films - except - westerns. He first saddled up in a 1945 Eddie Dean movie, "Song Of Old Wyoming." He was a hit and was quickly signed for more hoss operas, success leading to his own series in 1947 for the oft maligned studio, PRC.

His black outfit and "Black Diamond," his beautiful stallion, plus his trademark 18-foot long whip was the combination that made his initial series so successful. Western movie fans made him a box office success, especially with the younger fans.

It wasn't long before his character in the films was simply called, "Lash." In the beginning, he was The Cheyenne Kid, then he was Marshal. Working for PRC meant miniscule budgets compared to - say, Rogers and Autry. It was said that his films outdrew most of the other western stars, especially in the South, y'all.

He and PRC (yes, the company for which my pop labored) parted company, after which he made 15 films for independent producer Ron Ormond. His signature flick then, had the obvious title, "The King Of the Bullwhip" (and that's no -- ). It's considered the best of that series thanks, in large part, to a terrific whip fight which ensued over the opening and final credits.

LaRue wasn't the only 'whipster' around. Sonny Baker was his teacher and, in turn, our star taught Harrison Ford how to - technically and literally - put welts on the bad guys for the Indiana Jones series. And, there was a western movie imitator with the obvious name of Whip Wilson. Also, pro wrestler, John LaRoux referred to himself as Lash LaRoux. Well, 'tis said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Lash numero one was a most popular guy. The series did so well it set him up for personal appearance tours, especially in the South. The fans now had a screen hero they could meet. At times there were two of 'em.

In "Outlaw Country" and "Frontier Phantom" he played Lash and his twin brother. Fans acclaimed those films, particularly the first one which was especially well acted and written. That series ended in 1951.

Er - he did make another movie - porno, yet but, hold on to your hosses, there is an explanation. For one, he was fully clothed. Also, he didn't know that the scenes he filmed would be incorporated in the movie with the cleverly suggestive title, "Hard On the Trail." It was released in 1972. Our cowboy hero was shocked by that turn of events, so shocked he soon declared himself a born-again Christian. One writer duly noted, "he turned into a high-voltage evangelist in some sort of act of repentance." He also performed whip and gun stunts for the Florida-based Hollywood Western Revue -- a prayer and a lash.

There's more. LaRue was visiting the home of his daughter. He joined her minister friend, and another preacher in door-to-door evangelist visits. Her minister friend soon declared a "Lash LaRue Day" at his church. Our hero gave his Christian testimony and, according to a church spokesperson, 37 people were saved that day. Several other churches invited him and he gave his testimony in those houses of worship. Later, he worked with alcoholics.

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The cowboy star, in addition to being a hairdresser before becoming a movie star, was also a real estate agent, and a salesman. He had three wives and three children. And, he had a series of comic books about his adventures. He died in 1978 in Burbank. The cause was emphysema.

He was often told that he looked a lot like Bogie. The comic sidekick partner in most of his films was a man he referred to as the funniest man alive. It was Al St. John - known as Fuzzy. Funny? He must have been. He was one of the original Keystone Kops.

LaRue was not a singing cowboy, but he was a singer-musician. Before he 'cowboy-ed' he became a regular at jam sessions at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, using 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 heck of a guitar and was a regular guy the people liked."

After retiremen from the movies, the 'Lash' man made appearances on teevee in "Last Of the West", "The Life and Legend Of Wyatt Earp," and "Judge Roy Bean."

As is our custom, we wind up these - uh - epics with a look at some of the star's titles: Not surprisingly, we start with, "Mark Of the Lash." And, there is "Frontier Revenge," with the oft seen Peggy Stewart plus the familiar Jim Bannon. Also, Ray Bennett, the oft seen Sarah Padden, and Jimmie Martin. Another flick tells us how, "Cheyenne Takes Over," wherein, 'prairie plunderers feel the sting of the Lash." (Cheyenne was the name of Reba's daughter on her excellent show).

Another LaRue film was "Ghost Town Renegades." Michael Whalen, Noel Neill (from the Superman films), Zon Murray and Steve Haines were also in that adventure. The next title was certainly not unexpected - "King Of the Bullwhip" which also featured Jack Holt, and two performers that were no 'B' movie strangers - Tom Neal and Anne Gwynne. The ad for that 'epic' tells the story: "Desperadoes cringed when his bullwhip cracked." Can't blame the desperadoes for cringing.

This guy and his family were movie favorites. The title? "Son Of Billy the Kid," which has to do with the Kid's kid - no kiddin'. Marion Colby, George Baxter, Terry Frost, June Carr, Johnny Jones, House Peters Jr., and Clark Stevens were also in the cast.

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For those of you wise enough to keep up with all this western movie lore - you know we wind up with a quick look at some of the second banana performers, some of whom you know, some you are not familiar with. It's a safe bet that the name Julian Rivero means zilch to you but, it's also a safe bet you've seen him around.

A native Californian, he was born in 1890. He spent his early years in San Fran, apprenticing under a famed Shakespearean actor, Robert B. Mantel. His early years were spent not in front of but, behind the camera as a cameraman. In 1922 he married a Welsh girl, Isabel Thomas. It was a lifetime commitment for the two. She had been one of Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties. They had no children.

He was one of the stars of a silent film blockbuster, "The Bright Shawl." Westerns were on the way and he worked for John Ford in "The Iron Horse." Other directors for whom he worked included Raoul Walsh and Frank Borzage. Next, he made several appearances in comedies and - here it comes - westerns. He worked with Bob Steele, Buck Jones, Tim McCoy, Hoot Gibson, Harry Carey, and Tom Tyler. As you western enthusiasts realize - that's a helluva line-up.

Physically, he was short and thin. On screen, he was usually one of the bad guys. He had a memorable role in "Treasure Of the Sierra Madre" and, if you are a r-e-a-l western fan you might remember him as the barber who gave Bogey that awful haircut. He was a longtime personal friend of Leo Carrillo. He remained active in films for many years and, offscreen, according to his daughter, he was known as a character who, "drives a red T-Bird, and is a fashion plate. He died in 1985.

He had quite an acting record - over 200 films and teevee shows.

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