Looking Back

Lash LaRue: The cowboy who taught Indiana Jones

Larry Bowers Banner Staff Writer
Posted 5/6/15

My early growing-up years were filled with excitement. It was before my father purchased our first TV, which showed up at our home as a surprise in the early 1950s.

When I was a kid, we played all …

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Looking Back

Lash LaRue: The cowboy who taught Indiana Jones

Posted

My early growing-up years were filled with excitement. It was before my father purchased our first TV, which showed up at our home as a surprise in the early 1950s.

When I was a kid, we played all types of outdoor games, such as kick the can, antly over and, one of our favorites, dodgeball.

Dodgeball can get pretty intense when you use green apples, or water-soaked corn cobs, instead of an inflated ball. I suffered plenty of red welps on my noggin.

The highlight of our play week, and drudgery of going to school, was Saturday morning, when we went to the movie theater to watch our favorite Western actors. The old Charles Theater was located about four miles away from my boyhood home in Maryville, and we would ride our bikes and spend the day.

Admission was only 50 cents, and usually they had a double feature. With $2, you could spend the day, gorge on snacks, and watch the movies over and over.

When thinking about those Saturdays, and the old Charles Theater, there is one tragic event that crowds my memory. My mother took me and my younger brother to the theater one Saturday morning, and she was involved in a horrendous crash on her way home.

Injuries from the accident caused her to have vision difficulties for the remainder of her life, and she never drove an automobile again.

As I’ve mentioned, the Saturday films featured our favorite Western actors, such as Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry and “The Cisco Kid.” One of my favorites is seldom mentioned today, and his notoriety of yesteryear has dimmed since his death in 1996.

Alfred “Lash” LaRue appeared on the silver screen before the Cisco Kid, and he could do tricks with a bullwhip that would make others blush. He was popular in the 1940s and 1950s, and retained his skills with the whip throughout his life.

A few decades ago, he taught Harrison Ford how to use a bullwhip for Ford’s “Indiana Jones” movies.

LaRue was also one of the first recipients of the prestigious Golden Boot Awards in 1983 for his bullwhip skills.

Pat Buttram, who played a popular sidekick to several Western stars, came up with the idea for the Golden Boot Award about 30 years ago.

It is given not only to cowboy stars, but also to the writers, directors, character actors and stunt people who contributed to the development and preservation of the Western tradition in film and TV.

From the first presentation to Bob Steele of a fancy belt buckle embellished with a golden boot, the idea has grown into a gala celebrated every year, “The Golden Boot Awards.” The annual event raises thousands of dollars for the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

LaRue did not have a Western upbringing. According to various Internet sites, he was born in Watervliet, Mich., and was reared in various towns throughout Louisiana. While in his teens the family moved to Los Angeles, where he attended St. John's Military Academy.

He began acting in films in 1944 as Al LaRue, appearing in two musicals and a serial before being given a role in a Western film that would result in his being cast in a cowboy persona for virtually the rest of his career.

He was given the name Lash because of the 18-foot long bullwhip he used to help bring down bad guys. The popularity of his first role as the Cheyenne Kid, a sidekick of singing cowboy hero Eddie Dean, paved the way for LaRue to be featured in his own series of Western films. He not only brandished a whip, but used it expertly to disarm villains,

After appearing in all three of the Eddie Dean Cinecolor singing Westerns in 1945-46, he starred in quirky B-Westerns from 1947 to 1951, at first for Poverty Row studio PRC, then for Eagle-Lion when they took over the studio.

He developed an image as a cowboy hero dressed all in black. He inherited from Buster Crabbe a comic sidekick in the form of "Fuzzy Q. Jones," played by Al St. John.

He was a contrast from “clean-cut, nice-guy”cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry of the era. Dressed in black, he spoke with a "city tough-guy" accent somewhat like that of Humphrey Bogart, whom he physically resembled.

His use of a bullwhip, however, was what set him apart from bigger cowboy stars and made him popular with young viewers like me.

His influence was felt throughout the dying medium of “B movie” Westerns. For example, he had an imitator, Whip Wilson, who starred in his own brief series, and even Roy Rogers started picking up and using a bullwhip in some of his Republic Studios Westerns made during those years.

He also made frequent personal appearances at small-town movie theaters showing his films during his heyday of 1948-51, a common practice for cowboy stars in those days.

Although he never visited Maryville’s Charles Theater, stories of his skillful displays with his whip convinced young Western fans like me that there was at least one cowboy hero who could do in real life the same things he did on screen.

His fame graced the pages of Lash LaRue comic books from 1949 to 1961, and he was featured on the “Gabby Hayes” TV series, the 1956 TV Western “Judge Roy Bean,” “Gangbusters,” and the film “Guns Don’t Argue.”

After decades of popularity, interest in Westerns faded and Lash LaRue was forced to make a living from appearances at conventions for Western film buffs. Sometimes he was an evangelist on the rodeo and country-music circuit.

During his final years he lived in obscurity, but I’ll always remember how he thrilled me as a youngster with his bullwhip tricks. The outlaws he faced never had a chance!

Stories are that in late life he often dropped in at the popular “Dew Drop Inn” in New Orleans, to play his guitar for the mostly black audiences.

He was one of several people injured by a tornado while in attendance at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Mo., on Aug. 20, 1952.

Lash LaRue died of emphysema at St Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, Calif., on May 21, 1996. He was cremated at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif., a final resting place for several cowboy stars such as Gabby Hayes, Gene Autry and Lee Van Cleef.

There are 119,116 gravesites in the cemetery, and hundreds from the entertainment and sport industries.

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