Russ Columbo: Age 26 | Cause Of Death: GUNSHOT / MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

(Birthdate: January 14, 1908, Died: September 2, 1934 at 7:30 pm)

Born: Ruggiero Eugenio di Rudolpho Colombo  A Photo

Russ Columbo spent most of Friday, August 31, 1934, at what would be his last session, recording the songs from Universal’s Wake Up and Dream for the Brunswick label. That evening, he attended the preview of this film at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard with Carole Lombard. His best friend of ten years, portrait photographer Lansing Brown, Jr., was also in the audience, but not seated near Lombard and Columbo. After appearing in close to a dozen films, Russ finally received top billing.  A Universal press release, prepared by John LeRoy Johnston ended with this quote from Columbo: “At 26, I find that I  have just about everything I want from life and am pretty happy the way things have turned out for me.”
On Saturday, September 1, Columbo drove to Santa Barbara for the out of town preview of Wake Up and Dream. That morning he had unsuccessfully attempted to telephone Lansing Brown, who had not given Russ his opinion of the film. Carole Lombard, exhausted from working on three productions in a row, heeded her doctor’s advice and went with her secretary Madalynne Fields to Lake Arrowhead to rest. Rumors would later abound that the two had a fight, but this is not true. She and  Columbo planned a late supper Sunday evening with Carole’s mother, Elizabeth Peters, and brother, Stuart. Feeling a  premonition of disaster, Lombard tried calling Columbo upon her arrival at Arrowhead, but found the telephone exchanges closed for the evening. They would never speak again…Lansing Brown kept a pair of antique dueling pistols on his desk. According to statements given at the inquest, Brown was toying with one of the pistols and holding an unlighted match in his left hand. The “trick” was that the hammer would ignite the match, although Brown would later testify that he did not know why he had the match and the gun, other than a sort of odd “habit.” Unfortunately, the old relic had both gunpowder and a vintage minie ball. Somehow, the match and the hammer  triggered the gun powder, and the bullet was discharged. Detectives later determined that the bullet must have ricocheted off the mahogany desk between the two men, striking Russ Columbo in the left eye, lodging at the back of his brain. He slumped in the chair and immediately lost consciousness. It was 1:45 PM. Although Brown’s father later testified that there was no evidence of  any quarrel, and no one had been drinking liquor that afternoon, rumor claimed that “servants” heard loud voices shortly before the shot. Brown, Sr., assuming Columbo had died instantly, contacted the police. When the coroner’s ambulance arrived to pick up the body, it was discovered that Russ was unconscious, but still alive. He was taken first to Hollywood Receiving Hospital, then transferred to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan.  Doctors attempted to save his life by surgery, but it was too late. Carole Lombard rushed down by automobile from Lake
Arrowhead after being telephoned by surgeon George W. Patterson, but it was close pal and actress Sally Blane who was at Columbo’s bedside when he died at 7:30 PM. He was 26 years old.  Burial: Forest Lawn, Glendale CA. Russ was buried on October 17, 1934-this delay was caused by his family’s debate on telling Julia Colombo her son was dead.   Russ is interred in the Sanctuary of the Vespers of the Great Mausoleum. Unlike the area where Carole Lombard is interred, this hallway is open to the public. Russ rests about a quarter of the way into the Sanctuary on the left side, about 8 feet from the floor. The crypt immediately beneath him is empty.  His brother Fiore, who died in 1929, is across from him, but on the top row.
The Colombo family ultimately chose not to tell Julia that her son had died, thus creating one of Hollywood’s most unusual legends. Julia Colombo died 10 years later, in 1944. ~ Max Pierce