Quantcast

"AND THE SPLENDID BOHO GOES TO..."- EPISODE ONE- HAROLD RUSSELL FOR "THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES" (1946) - THE SPLENDID BOHEMIANS PRESENT A NEW SERIES WHERE THEY PAY TRIBUTE TO A NOTED CHARACTER ACTOR WHOSE CONTRIBUTION TO A FILM ENHANCED IT'S GREATNESS

Download Share
Runtime: 36:03 | Views: 77 | Comments: 0

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the classic 1946 film “The Best Years of Our Lives.” Director William Wyler’s post-World War II drama remains one of the most popular movies of all time. “Best Years” is remarkably contemporary in its appeal, still touching the hearts of millions of fans throughout the world. Ten years ago, the late movie critic Roger Ebert noted: “As long as we have wars and returning veterans, some of them wounded, ’The Best Years of Our Lives’ will not be dated.”

Watching the film recently on Turner Classic Movies, I was moved by seeing my old friend Harold Russell come back to life again on screen. His role as Homer Parrish, an injured soldier with a pair of prosthetic hooks where his hands used to be, is one of the most distinctive in the history of Hollywood.

Harold was the only actor to ever win two Academy Awards for the same part. The largely unknown actor and veteran walked home with the Oscar for supporting actor, and academy voters also gave him an honorary gold statuette for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.” (The movie also won best picture, taking seven Oscars in all.)

Harold’s memorable role in “The Best Years of Our Lives” was an exemplary case of art imitating life. The film’s original script was rewritten to reflect Harold’s own injury from a terrible accident he suffered during World War II. To feature a real-life amputee as a major character in a big Hollywood film was a groundbreaking moment for the 1940s.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” also launched Harold’s legacy as an advocate for the disabled. By 1961, Harold served on the President’s Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped, a post appointed by John F. Kennedy. It was in that unique role that I came to know Harold Russell.

Working as a producer on a television show in 1999, I was able to spend a week with Harold when he came to Los Angeles to appear on our program, “Hollywood Salutes Easter Seals.” Serving as both fixer and tour guide, I took Harold and his family around as he came back to Hollywood for what would be his final visit.

“Hollywood Salutes Easter Seals” was a celebration of the disabled community in the world of entertainment. Filmed as a live stage show at UCLA’s Freud Theater, the humanitarian effort attracted some of Hollywood’s finest talent. Since Harold was both a legendary actor and disabled veteran, I thought he was an ideal representative for the movie industry.

I tracked Harold down at his home in Needham, Mass. The producers of the program were concerned about his ability, at age 85, to travel across the country to California. Aside from a few cameo appearances, the actor had virtually vanished from the public eye. On the phone, Harold’s energetic humor soon convinced me that he was up to the task. “Let me put down my juggling balls and bingo game,” he said and laughed. “Let’s talk about the extra frills in my contract.”

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Harold was so moved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech that he joined the Army the next day. His training as a paratrooper and an explosives expert provided a new sense of purpose. At the age of 30, the young sergeant’s Army career came to a crashing halt on June 6th, 1944, “D-Day.” Working as a parachute corps instructor with the U.S.13th Airborne Division in North Carolina, Harold was horrified when a defective fuse ignited an explosive charge of TNT in his bare hands. The severity of his injuries required the amputation of both arms below the elbow. The shock of the dreadful event sent Harold reeling into a deep depression for months. When he finally came out of his stupor, Army doctors at Walter Reed Hospital suggested that Harold replace his limbs with a visually pleasing pair of plastic hands. Harold refused, saying, “I don’t need to be beautiful.”

BY MARK MONTGOMERY DEC. 10, 2016 6 AM PT


By Rich Buckland 09/07/2021 01:23 PM

Recent Comments

There are no comments yet.

Post Your Comment





Post comment