Who considered portraying singer Russ Columbo in a biopic movie? Try George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Perry Como, for starters…

by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo).51gcwn4yjsl

Who wanted to portray Russ Columbo either in a movie or in a television musical? George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Tony Curtis, Perry Como for starters… Some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars and singers considered taking on the challenge of portraying the well-liked handsome singer, violin virtuoso, and gifted songwriter, who had been engaged to marry film actress Carole Lombard.

Russ Columbo left a big imprint on Hollywood upon his death in 1934, with his handsome good-looks, velvety smooth baritone voice, and wonderful romantic songs, which he had made famous on-stage, radio, and in the movies. Upon his death, Russ left behind thousands of fans, including some emerging Italian-American singers and Latin actors who looked at him as a role-model to follow.

In 1945 Paramount Pictures considered casting Andy Rusell as Russ Columbo for a bio-picture about him. Andy was born in Mexico as Andres Rabago and he received his stage name from orchestra leader Gus Arnheim, who had worked with Russ Columbo at the Cocoanut Grove. Gus was Andres’s  legal guardian, as he was underage when he started working in the orchestra. The young Andres performed as a drummer and solo vocalist. Gus suggested Andres change his name in order to draw a bigger audience and to avoid discrimination as a Latin. Gus told Andres,  “I used to have a singer, a famous singer fella that  took Bing Crosby’s place years ago. His name was Russell Columbo, one of the famous singers of the era. I’m gonna call you Russell–Andy Russell.” (Wikipedia) And so, Andres’s name was changed to Andy Rusell. He, unfortunately, was not chosen for the star role in the movie.


Andy Russell

Singer Perry Como had met Russ in Chicago at the Golden Pheasant Club in 1933, while Russ was performing there promoting songs for motion pictures he was co-starring in. The experience of meeting his idol left a big impression on the young Perry and it was well-known that being a first generation Italian-American himself, Perry styled himself to be like Russ.

In 1946 Perry Como’s recording of Prisoner of Love, which Russ had co-written and made famous, went #1 on the billboard charts. He tried to take on the role of a Russ in a bio-picture, but it did not come off.


Perry Como


1950’s Heartthrob Johnny Desmond (born: Giovanni Alfredo De Simone),  the singer who had made a “White Suit Coat and a Pink Carnation”  popular, had also recorded one of Russ’s biggest hits, “Guilty”, on his record label. Johnny, it was reported, had planned to make a musical out of The Russ Columbo Story and wanted to perform it on Broadway, and then turn it into a movie with a Hollywood production company. His plans fell apart when he disputed with NBC who claimed the rights and were planning a TV series based on Russ’s life. Johnny as late as 1975 still planned to do a movie about Russ.  He was interviewed by The Chicago Tribune at the Playboy Club’s living room and told the reporter, “I think the movie is going to be done. I had always planned to play Columbo, but now I think I should play his brother Fury. (He meant Fiore, Russ’s older brother). I’d like to do the voice over for Columbo (singing).” To my knowledge he never did. He passed away in 1985, not having achieved his goal  to portray Russ’s life.

Don Cornell had a smooth baritone voice like Russ’s and was born into a large Italian-American family in Bronx, NY, as Luigi Valaro. Don changed his name during World War II, Americanizing it, so he would be more acceptable to audiences and in order not be booed off the stage  due to anti- Mussollini sentiment when they said his name, which had previously occurred during his performances. Don had several billboard hits that went to the top of the charts in the 1950’s  and also was rumored to have been considered for The Russ Columbo Story.


Singer and actor Tony Martin, the husband of famous actress Cyd Cherisse, had his own television show during the 1950’s and a long musical film career to back his ambitions. One of them was to portray Russ Columbo in a biopic movie musical. Tony went so far as to approach one of Russ Columbo’s sisters about the possibility of obtaining the rights to Russ’s life story, but once again the production of another Russ Columbo Story fell through.


Movie actor Tony Curtis also had set his sights in the 1950’s on making a musical about Russ Columbo  for NBC, which was to be aired for a one hour program on television. The planned production went as far as rehearsals, but for various reasons, including a dispute with Johnny Desmond about the rights,  the show fell apart and was not aired.


Tony Curtis


In the early 1990’s  Tom Cruise and Michelle Pfeiffer are at the top of their movie careers. Michelle Pfeiffer’s ethereal beauty and comedic timing is being compared in the newspaper movie reviews to that of legendary 1930’s comedian Carole Lombard.  Michelle and Tom have both won Golden Globe Awards for their outstanding performances  as actors in film. There begins a rumor that they should be paired together as a movie couple up on the screen. Michelle as Carole Lombard, and Tom as her singing love interest Russ Columbo. It would have made a great motion picture, however a biopic does not develop and the idea is dropped.

Golden Globe Awards Pfeiffer Cruise 1990

Michelle Pfeiffer and Tom Cruise


George Clooney

George Clooney, the famously handsome actor/director, who owns a villa in Italy, had also considered making a movie about Russ Columbo based on the book Crooner Mystique by Dennis Penna.


Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby

George’s favorite aunt was the well-known singer Rosemary Clooney, who had once lived in the same house Russ Columbo had rented on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills at the time of his death. The house had been built by actor Monte Blue in the 1920’s and had been lived-in by the song composer George Gershwin. Rosemary lived there with Jose Ferrer, raising her children and doing radio shows. It was said Bing Crosby came one day there to do a  show with Rosemary, wrongly thinking that Russ had died in the house, he refused to step a foot into the den. He shouldn’t have worried. Russ had  been shot and killed by his friend Lansing Brown in Brown’s parents’ home, not there.

Rosemary’s children, a bit frightened by the idea that someone had died in their house, used to call out as they went downstairs at night. “Hello Russ, we’re coming down!” Sadly in 2005 the house was torn down and George had by then moved on to other projects. The other house, the Outpost Drive house, which Russ owned and lived in with his parents, still remains in existence.

The only singer to complete a project  and sing with the title: The Russ Columbo Story, was singer Paul Bruno, who released an album in 1960, where according to Billboard Chart, Paul “warbled tunes associated with Russ Columbo,” and  the album cover featured several pictures of  Russ. For more information about Russ Columbo read my free blog:So how famous was Russ Columbo?



How Russ Columbo became The Valentino of The Radio

by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Russ Columbo and Carole Lombard)

Russ Columbo’s connection to Rudolph Valentino was a genuine one. He worked when he was a young man for Pola Negri (Valentino’s last lover). He was a recognized violin virtuoso who played both classical, as well as contemporary music. This ability brought him to the attention of silent movie star Pola Negri, who was looking for a violinist.


Russ Columbo.

Russ was performing one evening in the ballroom where the Mayfair Ball is held at the Biltmore Hotel when Pola walked in and saw him. The resemblance between her lover Valentino and Russ was striking. She hired him on the spot, asking him to report to her set the following day to play background mood music. This was the era of silent film and live music was played during filming to help set the mood for the actors.

Russ was a young eighteen years old and had been looking for a way to work in motion pictures. He worked for Pola playing violin music and occasionally she found him work as an extra, working as an unnamed actor on films. For two years Russ worked for Pola and played his violin. During this time she was involved with Rudolph Valentino with whom she performed in movies.


Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri

In August of 1926, news was brought to the movie set that Rudolph Valentino had died in New York from complications due to an appendicitis surgery.Valentino was only 31 years old. Russ was in the middle of performing Dvorak’s Humoresque while a love scene was in the process of being filmed. A messenger whispered to Russ, “Valentino has collapsed into a comma and died.”

Stunned by the news, Russ suddenly ceased playing.


Rudolph Valentino and Pola Negri

Noticing that Russ had stopped and now wore a bereaved expression on his face, Pola asked, “What is the matter with you? Why did you stop playing right in the middle of a scene?”

“Rudolph Valentino is dead,” Russ responded.


Pola Negri at Valentino’s funeral

The movie star fainted, and Russ later vouched for the fact that it was not an act, but from genuine shock. For days Pola was inconsolable over the loss of her lover.

Russ went on with his career and worked with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra playing the violin and singing. It was at The Cocoanut Grove that he was discovered during a performance by the songwriter Con Conrad who became his manager and brought him to New York City where he found stardom on the radio and stage. He won the hearts of thousands of young girls and listeners who heard his velvety baritone voice on the radio. The songs he composed such as,  You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love, Prisoner of Love, and Too Beautiful For Words, became  billboard charted hits.

Years later Russ returned to Hollywood, after breaking up with his manager, Universal Pictures considered having him star in a biopic about Rudolph Valentino, but it did not come to fruition.


Rudolph Valentino in The Son of The Sheik.


Russ Columbo


Dressing Carole Lombard, her clothing designers and my book.

by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Russ Columbo and Carole Lombard). Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo by Beverly Adam

Dressing Carole Lombard for my book Two Lovers is one of the enjoyable tasks I had as an author. Carole was a stunningly beautiful movie star in the 1930’s and one of the most photographed women in Hollywood, having posed for photographers over 42,000 times by 1938.



Travis Banton with Carole Lombard




Gown by Travis Banton


Travis Banton was the head costume designer at Paramount Pictures, the studio where Carole was under contract during the 1930’s. Carole paid him as well to create street clothes for her, mostly pencil skirts with matching tailored jackets. She had to look polished on and off the set.

A young emerging star, Carole was twenty-five years old  in 1933, and had been gradually working her way up the entertainment ladder and that required looking glamorous. Travis Banton liked her and had a very friendly working relationship with Carole. He once was having such a good time chatting with her during a fitting that he arrived almost an hour late to a dinner party that he was supposed to be hosting.


Italian designer Elsa Schiaperelli  had arrived in California in the 1920’s. The daring designer was a noted rival of Coco Chanel


Elsa Schiaparelli

and her surrealistic elements transformed Hollywood style, with her cloche hats, broad double breasted jackets and artistic notes of whimsy. Paramount took note and copied her style.



Carole wearing Juliet cap. Drawing by Charles Sheldon.

Irene Maud Lentz was a twice nominated costume designer who freelanced at several studios in Hollywood, working at one point for Paramount in the 1930’s

Irene Gibbons

Irene Maud Lentz

and early 1940’s. She designed clothes for Carole for the films Mr and Mrs Smith and To Be Or Not To Be. Irene was known to have originated the dressmaker suit and her clothing  was popular at Bullocks. The actor Gary Cooper was reported to have been Irene’s lover and many believe she committed suicide when he died.

Carole wore on a date with her own lover, Russ  Columbo, one of Irene’s designs.


Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo




“We would have married,” said Carole Lombard about her romance with Russ Columbo.

by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo).

“We would have married,” said Carole Lombard during her interview with magazine writer Sonia Lee for Move Screen Magazine in 1934. Russ had been killed and Carole revealed that she had been planning to marry the famous singer whose movie and radio career she had been guiding.

Carole and Russ were young, the same age (twenty-five years old), and very much in love. Carole helped run his career and was guiding him to film stardom. If any couple could be called soulmates they were. They were known to have premonitions about each other before they actually occurred.


Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo









Carole Lombard’s and Russ Columbo’s Death Connection



Hollywood Magazine


by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo)

Carole Lombard’s unexpected death, as in life, was connected in the press to Russ Columbo’s.

“To account for her son’s prolonged absence, Mrs. Columbo was told he was in London, making movie pictures with Carole. In the course of her romance with Russ, Carole naturally had grown close to Mrs. Columbo. Thus, to keep the heartbreaking news from her, Carole wrote weekly letters full of gay chit-chat and news of their activities, which were supposedly postmarked London and read to the blind mother.” Hollywood Magazine.

 8829304249b63e3b4c319d7878989accBoth Russ and Carole died young. It is a sad twist of fate that they both had premonitions  that they would do so. Yesterday, January 14th, was Russ’s birthday.

When she sang the National Anthem on January 15th she must have thought of him. If Russ were alive how proud he would have been of her standing there singing her heart out, leading the audience. He had been the one, after all, who gave her voice lessons early on in their romance. And she in turn had encouraged him to consider a career singing  opera.

Carole knew she would die young. When she told her friend Alice Marble, the tennis-pro replied, “Did the fortune-tellers tell you that?”

“Yes, they did, but it’s more than that. It’s a feeling I have,” Carole said. Original source:  Courting Danger by Alice Marble.

Russ had had a premonition that he too would die young. When he did his family decided he would be placed in the vault opposite his brother Fiore’s, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. When Carole made her last will and testament, the first instruction she wrote down was her desire to be interred in a modest crypt at the same cemetery, dressed wearing her favorite white gown.

The flowers that were laid on her burial casket were identical to the ones she had laid on Russ’s and the large heart shaped wreath display she had sent to Russ’s funeral signed with his pet name for her, Angel.

Bing Crosby and Carole’s brother, Fred Peters,  were pallbearers at Russ’s funeral.


The last song Russ ever sang and recorded was Two Lovers by Allie Wrubel and Mort Dixon:27fab803b23bbdce0de3cd10eb669463

I see two lovers on the moonlit sand,
Standing face to face,
And as he takes her little trembling hand,
They slowly embrace.

I see two lovers in a world apart,
Heart to heart, what bliss!
And in my loneliness, I see them start
One heavenly kiss.


Russ Columbo, Happy Birthday from Your Angel, Carole Lombard

by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo)

“Carole Lombard  and Russ Columbo were the gayest of gay and continued to dance the rumba long after everyone had gone home…” Silver Screen Magazine reported on the charming couple’s partying in 1934.



Looking back at their romance, I can write they were truly two people who were destined to meet and fall in love. And oh how they enjoyed each other’s company and that of others!


Russ had once hosted at the height of his radio and theater career in the early 1930’s  a party at the famed  Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York city, hosting over 200 reporters to celebrate his success at the local Paramount Brooklyn Theater. His musical variety shows were sold-out, five shows a day. He set a record that would not be broken for a quarter of a  century at the theater.


The gifted singer and songwriter Russ  Columbo grew-up in show business, and performed as a child  as a violin prodigy. He was born into a large Italian American family  on January 14, 1908, in Camden, New Jersey  and had taken the radio airwaves by storm as “The Valentino of The Radio,” making all the young girls’ hearts flutter with his velvety voice and handsome profile.

And then one fateful night at the Cocoanut Grove his eyes met Carole’s, and they started an unforgettable romance. She told reporters, “His love for me was the kind that seldom comes to any woman.” In another interview she said, “I have married, divorced, and loved again.” This was in 1934. She showed her love both in action and words, and sometimes by the gifts she gave Russ, which were noted in newspapers and by the inventory of his estate.

What kind of gifts would you give a male Hollywood star on his birthday? We know that Carole Lombard gave Russ an Alaskan malamute puppy.


And Carole, according to the accounting of Russ’s estate, gave him a silver platinum cigarette case with his initials set in small diamonds. It may have looked something like this (see below).


The silver cigarette case Carole gave Russ probably looked something like this, but with Russ’s initials on top set in small diamonds.




Russ Columbo wearing the ring Carole gave him. It was featured with the magazine article where  Carole stated she had “loved” Russ.

53bdffd362c600ea5d2c72ef0cc9788fListed among the other items Carole was known to gift Russ was a Cartier watch inscribed from her to him  and a ring, which he faithfully wore on his wedding finger, with an inset solitaire diamond.


1933 Cartier watch.






Happy Birthday Russ!

Love, your Angel,

Carole Lombard





Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo. Their Friends. Part Two.

By Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo).

“Carole was crazy about him,” Bing Crosby said during a televised interview on the Joe Franklin Show, and he wasn’t referring to Clark Gable.  He was talking about the greatest love in Carole Lombard’s life, Russ Columbo, with whom Bing had been both friend and rival  during the early 1930’s.

Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo were both twenty-five  years old  and very much in  love in 1933.  Their studios, however, weren’t happy. They wanted the couple to  be seen as  single. And if Carole was to be in love, Paramount wanted it to be with George Raft, her co-star in Bolero, not the handsome crooner.  A lot of money and publicity had been invested to make that impression. .


Carole Lombard and Russ, notice what finger the ring is on?


Advertisement for Bolero

 Sally Blane, sister of Loretta Young, had met Russ four years before, during a break when he was performing at The Cocoanut Grove. Sally, Russ, and his friend Lansing Brown, the photographer,


Lansing Brown

were close friends, and the threesome  were often seen about Hollywood at different parties and at Russ’s performances.




Sally Blane



Dixie Lee with her husband Bing Crosby and their newborn, Gary

In September of 1933, the publicity department was working overtime putting out the rumor that Russ Columbo was afraid to meet Bing Crosby on the set of We’re Not Dressing, where his girlfriend Carole Lombard was performing  on Catalina Island.  

Russ and Bing Crosby had been friends and had worked together with  the Gus Arnheim Orchestra before then, and Russ “had always hated the idea” of being rivals with Bing Crosby. They soon would bury the hatchet.