In Search of Lash LaRue
September 20, 2018 - added death certificate info which is in Section 9., near the bottom of this webpage.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
|Off and on over the past decade or so, 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 information available on the Internet such as old newspapers, trade publications, fan magazines, census, marriage records, etc.
A few years ago, 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.
I hit the proverbial mother lode with online information at the Coloma, Michigan Library. Coloma is a few miles from Watervliet, Michigan, 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 Section 4 below.
In 2018, I obtained a copy of Lash's 1996 California death certificate ... and with it was a surprise. There was a second document - an amended / corrected death certificate which was filed in 2002. The death certificate info is in Section 9, which is the at the bottom of this webpage.
In 2019, I obtained Lash's birth certificate from the State of Michigan. "Reu Alfred Wilson" was born June 15, 1917 in Watervliet, Michigan. The birth certificate info is in Section 10, which is the at the bottom of this webpage.
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 tidbits below with a .
A brief summary of my findings:
|1. The search begins here.|
Lash is listed in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) and California Death Index, and I've capitalized several names to highlight them:
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 is a 2007 interview with Lash's late son Ronald Alfred Wilson who later changed his name to Ronald Alfred LaRue: https://bobbiholmes.com/ron_larue/
"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?
Subscribers to Ancestry.com can build family trees and include additional items such as photos and comments. Several family trees on ancestry identify Lash as "Alfred Larue Wilson", born June 14, 1917 in Watervliet, Berrien County, Michigan.
Lash's father: Charles Alfred Wilson (1885 or 1887 - 1957) ... he was born Charles Wilson John / Johns and his parents were Ezra John / Johns and Melinda / Malinda / Linda Troy.
In box 4 below, there are many details on Lash and family. Soon after their 1913 marriage, Charles Wilson and Louise Busselle Wilson moved from Ohio to Watervliet, Michigan. They had two children - daughter Leora A. Wilson was born July, 1914 and son La Rue Alfred Wilson / Alfred La Rue Wilson was born June 14, 1917 ... and his nickname was "Rue". The marriage was short-lived. Between Charles' World War I draft registration in 1918 and the 1920 census, Charles and Louise were in Berrien County, Michigan but living apart. They divorced. And in late 1920, Charles married Gertrude Berndt in Berrien County, Michigan. Circa 1930, Charles had married again and was operating his own business in Chicago. Louise also married again - she was visiting or living in Ohio in 1927 and tied the knot with Henry Sykes.
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
|3. Let's concentrate on Wilda Cruthers, the mother of Ronald Wilson/LaRue, and see if we can find Lash working as a hairdresser.|
1920 census summary and census takers worksheet: living in Carbon County, Montana are 29 year old William Cruthers (born Pennsylvania; occupation "foreman - coal mine"), 23 year old wife Louis [sic] (born Alabama, no occupation), and 2 year old Wilma [sic] (born Montana): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M83F-PHT
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.
Clermont County, Ohio birth register (not the birth certificate) for Charles Wilson John, born December 17, 1885 in Clermont, Ohio to Ezra John and Linda Troy. Their home is Locust Corner, Ohio, an unincorporated community in Pierce Township, Clermont County, Ohio: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X6F5-GXV
"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 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 Wilson from the Charles Wigents vacationing in Florida. Reu, 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://18.104.22.168/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 is "Nope!"
Many sources have Lash's birth location as Gretna, Louisiana and many newspaper death notices on Lash mention Gretna (along with other misinformation). Am unsure when and how that came about. Excerpt from the May 31, 1996 death notice on Lash from the New Orleans Times Picayune newspaper:
"... 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: Earl Palmer's Story by Tony Scherman, there's mention of 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."
However, there's a different take about Lash in an interview with Red Tyler and Earl Palmer - quote from that:
"I remember a time the cowboy singer and guitar player, Lash LaRue came in here one time and I don't know why they didn't bust him because maybe they didn't know whether he was black or white, but they sure should have seen them boots. No blacks around here were wearing boots and he was bombed out of his bird, man. I mean he sat over at the bar and listened to the music all night long and wanted to play his guitar and we wouldn't let him."
Regardless of those guitar playing claims, Lash being a musician 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 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."
5B. Gretna, Louisiana, Part II
Sevilla Finley was a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. She began a friendship with Lash LaRue in the 1980s when she wrote several articles on him for the paper. Sevilla and ye Old Corral webmeister connected in early 2019 and I asked for her remembrances of Lash ... and his ties to Gretna, Louisiana. Sevilla writes:
"It was in the 1950s, and I was a young girl of 12 or so, when I attended Lash's stage appearance at the Tower Theater on Huey P. Long Ave. in Gretna. The theater was filled with Gretna youth and Lash advertised that he was one of us - a Gretna native son. Wow - a cowboy movie star from our home town! He entered the theater from the back thru the middle isle dressed all in black leading his white horse and cracking a long bull whip. His old sidekick cowboy joined him on the stage. I was stunned, thunder-struck, as they say; it was love at first sight. I had never witnessed anyone so handsome. His image became indelible in my memory.
(Courtesy of Sevilla Finley)
Above - Sevilla Finley and Lash ... and Lash's Caddy convertible in the background.
6. Wasn't Lash born and/or raised in Ohio? Nope!
He wasn't born or raised there, but he spent time in Ohio with the family of mother Louise after her divorce.
Circa 2000, I was contacted by a friend of Lash's who said that Lash was raised with a family in Ohio (in the 1920s) after his parents split. He mentioned that Lash's real name was Rhew Alfred Wilson and he had a sister named Lee.
|7. Lash arrives in Hollywood circa 1944 ... and a few more tidbits.|
(From Old Corral collection)
|Above is LaRue doing an early movie role in the thirteen episode serial THE MASTER KEY (Universal, 1945) which was released in April, 1945. From left to right are Milburn Stone (who later portrayed 'Doc' in TV's GUNSMOKE), LaRue, and Dennis Moore. In this, he is billed as Alfred La Rue and plays "Migsy", the street smart leader of a group of teenagers helping Stone, Moore and heroine Jan Wiley outwit Addison Richards.
Universal signed Al to a (brief) term players contract. He had a minor role in the Deanna Durbin LADY ON A TRAIN (Universal, 1945) which was released in August, 1945. By then, he was gone from Universal and playing "The Cheyenne Kid" in the Eddie Dean Cinecolor SONG OF OLD WYOMING (PRC, 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 issues as the star of a new eight film series at PRC with Al 'Fuzzy' St. John.
Rick Albright did some detective work and found A. Larue, age 20, in the 1937 class roster for Pasadena Junior College. No gender given, but the age works for Lash.
Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has information on Lash LaRue: https://www.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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPk4gx0MCbE
|8. How many times was Lash married - some sources speculate that he had a dozen or more wives. Am unsure of the real number, but there's magazine, online references, and other info sources on several marriages / divorces:|
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 radio's '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: https://www.gaffneyledger.com/articles/frances-la-rue/
Marion Larue was Lash's last wife, and she is the informant on his death certificate.
(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.
9. Lash's death, cremation, death certificate, amended death certificate, etc.
78 year old Alfred Lash LaRue was born June 14, 1917 in Michigan to Charles A. Wilson (birth location unknown) and Sara Louise Busselle (born Michigan). His residence was 10050 Toluca Lake Avenue, Toluca Lake, Los Angeles County, California; he was married; a self employed actor; and informant was wife Marion LaRue who resided with him at the Toluca Lake address. Lash passed away May 21, 1996 at St. Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, California. Immediate cause of death was shock, along with cardio myopathy, coronary artery disease, and atherosclerotic cadiovascular disease. Other conditions included Severe COPD and Renal Failure. Also listed is a March 1, 1996 coronary artery bypass operation. Funeral director was Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
Amended (corrected) death certificate:
About six years after Lash's death, there was an amended (corrected) death certificate. Dated February 22, 2002, the change was to Box 40. Place of Final Disposition of Lash's cremains:
If anyone wants copies of the original and amended death certificates, e-mail the Old Corral webmeister.
10. Lash's birth certificate.
He was born Reu Alfred Wilson on June 15, 1917 in Watervliet, Berrien County, Michigan.
|In June, 2019, I sent for Lash's Michigan birth certificate, and below is a crop from the full page document.|
He was born Reu Alfred Wilson on June 15, 1917 in Watervliet, Berrien County, Michigan. Parents were 22 year old Sara Louise Bussell (born Canada) and 31 year old Charles A. Wilson (born High Seas).
Gut feel is that his "Reu" first name was misspelled, and it should be "Rue". But no one filed for a correction.
If you'd like a copy of the full page birth certificate, shoot ye Old Corral webmeister an e-mail.