In Search of Lash LaRue
Work in progress - last updated: April 28, 2016
|Off and on over the past decade, I've tried to document the family history and early years of Lash LaRue as his real life was an enigma (at least, to me). Books and biographies on our whip crackin', B western hero have him born in Gretna, Louisiana as well as Michigan, Ohio, Texas, etc.
Can't blame past researchers for misinformation as they did not have access to all the new information available on the Internet such as old newspapers, trade publications, fan magazines, census, marriage records, etc.
In the past six months or so, I received several e-mails asking if I found any new details on Lash's family and background. There was also an e-mail about Lash playing guitar at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans. That rekindled my interest and I made a decision to devote a chunk of time for further research on our black-garbed movie cowboy. And the timing was right as 2016 marked the 20th anniversary of Lash's passing.
Happy to report that I hit the proverbial mother lode - the Coloma, Michigan Library is a few miles from Watervliet, Michigan, which is confirmed as the birthplace and childhood home of Lash. The library has free online access to the Coloma (Michigan) Courier and Watervliet (Michigan) Record newspapers. You'll find a link to the library in box 4 below.
On this webpage, there are boxes with all kinds of nitty gritty on Lash and family. For those not interested in wading through those details, I've highlighted some of the more important findings below with a .
A brief summary of my findings:
|1. The search begins here.|
The source data for the California Death Index is the death certificate. The Index has a record for Alfred Lash LaRue, Mother's maiden name of BUSSELLE, father's last name was WILSON. His birth date and location are 6/14/1917 and MICHIGAN and he passed away on 5/21/1996 in California: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VPZD-FDX
There was a 2007 interview with Lash's late son Ronald Alfred Wilson who later changed his name to Ronald Alfred LaRue: http://www.havasumagazine.com/LaRue/RonLaRue-01.htm
"Ron LaRue was born RONALD ALFRED WILSON on October 24, 1937, to parents ALFRED WILSON and WILDA CRUTHERS WILSON, in San Francisco California. Ron's parents were about 18 years old, in love, and Alfred, like Alfred's mother, was a Hairdresser. Alfred had not yet become an entertainer, and hadn't yet changed his surname to LaRue."
Lash's son Ronald Alfred Wilson / Ronald Alfred LaRue passed away in 2007 in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and following are funeral/death notices:
2. Family Trees on ancestry.com|
Where is Watervliet, Michigan?
Obtaining birth records from Michigan.
Watervliet, Michigan is located about 90 miles north of South Bend, Indiana and about 350 miles north of Cincinnati, Ohio and Clermont County, Ohio. This link to Google maps will open in a separate window/tab: https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Watervliet,+MI/Clermont,+Ohioemail@example.com,-86.8640521,8z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m13!4m12!1m5!1m1!1s0x8810b54cc6c1b4a9:0xfa655d1c9b247f4d!2m2!1d-86.2605776!2d42.1867052!1m5!1m1!1s0x8840e4b121e3d8b7:0x24865fe63393aade!2m2!1d-84.1857115!2d39.0928449?hl=en
Why not just get a copy of the birth records/certificates for Rue and Leora? The State of Michigan restricts researchers and non-family members from obtaining birth records until the birth is at least 100 years old:
"Birth records are restricted in Michigan and only a person or parent named on the record or a court-appointed legal guardian of the person named on the record may request a copy of a birth record that is LESS than 100 years old. A legally licensed representative is eligible to request a copy if he/she represents the person named on the record. Power of Attorney documents may be used, depending upon the limitations of the power of attorney order. Each will be handled on an individual case-by-case basis."
|3. Let's concentrate on Wilda Cruthers, the mother of Ronald Wilson/LaRue, and see if we can find Lash working as a hairdresser.|
California Birth Index: Ronald Alfred Wilson (Lash's son) was born October 24, 1937 in San Francisco, California and his Mother's maiden name was Cruthers: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VLNR-YRX
In that same 1939 Stockton, California City Directory is Mrs. Maude J. Reveal and her beauty shop at 38 E. Acacia, and this confirms Lash's early work as a hairdresser ... or employed at a beauty shop:
1940 census summary and census takers worksheet: Alfred Wilson and wife Wilda Wilson were lodgers residing with the Garibaldi family at 4069 Oakwood, Los Angeles. There are no details on either Alfred or Wilda and no mention of son Ronald Alfred Wilson. The census taker added the following notation next to Alfred and Wilda's names: "(Moved and took Individual Form; address unknown)": https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9CZ-9X7
|4. There's many records and newspaper accounts of father Charles, mother Louise and daughter Leora ... as well as Lash:
• Charles Wilson John / Johns was born in Ohio in 1885 or 1887.
Searching old records is difficult because of missing data as well as spelling variations and issues with birth dates and birth locations. Lash's father Charles left a confusing trail:
Charles Wilson John / Johns was born December 17, 1885, and his birth location is either Ohio or at sea. Circa early 1900s - and before he married Lash's mother - Charles Wilson John / Johns dropped the Johns last name and became plain ol' Charles A. Wilson. My research indicates that he was married four times - marriage number two was to Sarah Louise Busselle, the mother of Lash. By the 1930s, he and fourth wife Dollie Ellis Wilson were in Chicago, and Charles had his own business. Charles and Dollie moved back to Michigan sometime in the 1950s. He passed away in 1957 and Dollie passed in 1967.
"We went to see Scott Busselle and family. What was our suprise to learn that our dear old friend, Louise Wilson, was in Los Angeles. We were invited to a Halloween party at Scott's and Louise's sister's home. The entire Busselle and Tewell family are here so there were 12 people at the party whom we had known."
1930 census summary and census takers worksheet for Leora Wilson, about 15 years old, born in Michigan, and her mother was born in Canada. Leora is a roomer living with the George and Selma Dorner family in Long Beach, California: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJP-ZTK
1930 census summary and census takers worksheet for Virginia who has re-married. 28 year old Menard Harp (born Michigan; occupation Fireman), 30 year old wife Virginia (born Iowa), a son and stepson are living in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XC89-TZ9
Louise's brother Scott Busselle, his wife and son are also living in Long Beach, California at the time of the 1930 and 1940 census:
1930 census summary and census takers worksheet for 36 year old Scot [sic] W. Busselle (born Wisconsin), 36 year old wife Harriet B. (born Kansas), and 7 year old son Scot W. (born California). They own their home at 5917 Cerritos Avenue, Long Beach, California. Scot's mother was born in Ohio and his father was born "Aboard American Ship". His occupation is "Head-light Adjuster - Automobile", and he's a World War I veteran: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XCJP-YPG
As noted in the 1928 newspaper article above, the three Busselle siblings had moved to California. Also re-locating to California were Louise's mother and step-father, Jennie Clark Doggett Tewell and C. L. Tewell:
1940 census for the widowed C. L. Tewell (about 66 years old; born Kentucky) who is renting in Downey Township, Los Angeles County, California: https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=75&query=%2Bsurname%3Atewell&collection_id=2000219&residence_place1=10%2CCalifornia
By the time of the 1930 census, Lash's father Charles Wilson Johns / Charles Wilson was in Chicago and had re-married to a woman named Dolly / Dollie:
1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - 42 year old Charles Wilson (born United States) and his 42 year old wife Dolly (born Tennessee) are renting at 5809 Hermitage Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. His occupation is "Erector - Steel Goods", and he was a World War I veteran: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XSL2-VH5
August 3, 1941 marriage license in Duval, Florida for 25 year old Carl E. Gill (born Iowa) to 27 year old Lee Hughlett (born July 14, 1914 in Watervliet, Michigan). His address is the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida and she is divorced and resides in St. Augustine, Florida: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:9392-MJ9C-LV?mode=g&i=326&wc=32KP-YWL%3A145392901%3Fcc%3D1803936&cc=1803936
"Dark and evil days have come to a former resident of Watervliet, one Lash Rarue [sic]. If that name doesn't ring a bell to jog your memory, perhaps someone will remember Reu [sic] Alfred Wilson. (someone had) sent a clipping from the Tampa Tribune concerning him and his fallen fortunes.
There was a follow-up in the February 24, 1966 issue of Watervliet (Michigan) Record newspaper. Excerpts:
"More news of Reu [sic] Wilson from the Charles Wigents vacationing in Florida. Reu [sic], better known as Lash LaRue, lived in the Martin house across from the Wigent farm on Red Arrow highway, just this side of the Midway Baptist Church, when he was a little boy and Mr. Wigent remembers him well.
Link to the Coloma, Michigan Library and their online archive of the Coloma (Michigan) Courier, Watervliet (Michigan) Record, and Tri-City Record newspapers.: http://220.127.116.11/colomas.html
|5. Wasn't Lash born in Gretna, Louisiana?|
What about Lash playing guitar at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans?
The answer to both questions appears to be "Nope!"
"... known as Alfred LaRue, the son of Charles and Sarah Louise LaRue of Gretna. After his father was killed in World War I, his mother moved the 10-year-old boy and an older sister to Ohio, then to California, where he began working in pictures."
I checked both Family Search and Ancestry.com for any trace of the following:
Charles Larue with a wife named Sarah or Louise; residing somewhere in Louisiana in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 census; and with a son named Al, Alfred, Rue, etc. born circa 1910-1920.
And I found nothing.
"Lash Larue" and "Dew Drop" during the years 1950 - 1990.
And nothing was found based on those search combinations.
Some Lash biographies (such as Wikipedia) have our western movie hero as a guitar playing wizard. That reference is due to drummer Earl Palmer, who played on 1950s recordings in New Orleans. In his autobiography titled Backbeat, Palmer recalled Lash performing at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans:
"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 La Rue came in town, he came by. He played a hell of a guitar and was a regular guy."
But Lash playing guitar doesn't ring true. He attended many nostalgia / film conventions in the 1970s and 1980s so I sent off e-mails to folks who coordinated / ran some of those nostalgia conventions or attended same. Heard back from Ray Nielson, Tommy Hildreth, Minard Coons and Bill Sasser. In summary, none recalled Lash singing ... or playing a guitar ... or playing any musical instrument. One mentioned seeing Lash doing public appearances: "I saw his stage show 2 or 3 times and he never sang or attempted to play any instrument."
|6. Wasn't Lash born and/or raised in Ohio? Wasn't born or raised there, but he spent time in Ohio with the family of mother Louise after her divorce.|
|7. Lash arrives in Hollywood circa 1944 ... and a few more tidbits.|
(From Old Corral image collection)
|There's very little on LaRue in the tradepapers during 1944-1945.
The "Hollywood - The news roundup" piece in the November 20, 1944 issue of Film Daily has tidbits on various people including Al: "... "U" has handed a termer to Alfred LaRue ..." (meaning Universal has given LaRue a term contract). That Universal contract was brief, and Al's next Film Daily mention is an August 22, 1945 review of SONG OF OLD WYOMING (PRC, 1945).
Left is an Al La Rue biography from the pressbook for SONG OF OLD WYOMING (PRC, 1945) and is more hype than truth. Note the mention of him doing radio, writing and producing amateur plays, and his father was a real estate broker.
He gets more coverage (as Lash LaRue) in 1946 Film Daily editions as the star of a new eight film series at PRC with Al 'Fuzzy' St. John.
Ye Old Corral webmaster has newspaper articles about the funeral service arrangements for Lash. When his wife (and/or family members) went to Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California to prepare for his funeral service, she (or they) discovered he had been cremated. There were lawsuits - or threats of lawsuits - and I'm not sure if and when anything was ever resolved. If anyone wants copies of the newspaper articles, shoot the Old Corral webmeister an e-mail.
| Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) has information on Lash LaRue: http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0479017/
In the 1980s, Jerry Whittington was working with Sunset Carson on a possible TV series. Jerry filmed Sunset chatting with many B western performers, including Lash. This link will open in a separate window/tab and Lash has positive comments on his mother ... and notes that she was a widow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPk4gx0MCbE
It's always interesting to click through excerpts of newspaper headlines and clippings at the Google newspaper archives at: http://news.google.com/newspapers
The Los Angeles Times newspaper has an obituary on Lash: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-05-31/news/mn-10514_1_lash-larue
The New York Times newspaper has an obituary on Lash: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/05/31/arts/lash-larue-79-western-star-with-a-whip.html
|8. How many times was Lash married - some sources speculate that he had a dozen wives. Am unsure of the real number, but there's magazine and online references to marriages/divorces involving six women:|
The January, 1953 issue of Screenland Plus TV-Land magazine had a "Hollywood Facts of Life" article about 1952 romances, divorces, etc. There was a mention that in June, 1952, "Barbara Fuller (Claudia of 'One Man's Family') divorced Western star Lash LaRue."
Ancestry.com had 1960 and 1961 Long Beach, California City Directories: Lash LaRue (actor) and wife Pattie are living at 857 Lime Avenue, Long Beach, California.
Family Search and Ancestry had a marriage index record (not the marriage license): 40 year old Alfred W. LaRue married 37 year old Josephine R. Clarke (this is actress Reno Browne/Blair) on January 10, 1962 in Placer, California: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/V66V-Y2L
Family Search and Ancestry had the California Divorce Index: Lash Larue divorced wife Alice B. Larue on March 20, 1979 in Orange County, California: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/VPP7-95K
The Gaffney (South Carolina) Ledger newspaper has the 2010 funeral notice/obituary on Frances Ida Coyle Bramlett La Rue: http://www.gaffneyledger.com/news/2010-09-06/Obituaries/Frances_La_Rue.html
(Courtesy of Bill Sasser)
Above- Lash was re-united with ex-wife Reno Browne (Reno Blair) at the 1987 Charlotte Film Fest.
Browne was a great rider and made a batch of films at Monogram in the 1940s with Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, others.
She is ill from the cancer that would ultimately claim her life in 1991.