|Birth name||Julius Russell|
September 15, 1918|
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Medium||Stand-up comedy, television, film|
|Influences||Michael Gough, Dean Martin, Pat Hingle, James Brown, Milton Berle, Foster Brooks, Orson Welles, Redd Foxx|
|Influenced||Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, Nipsey Hussle, Bernie Mac|
Russell is best known today for his appearances as a guest panelist on game shows from the 1960s through the 1990s, especially Match Game, Password, Hollywood Squares, To Tell the Truth and Pyramid. His appearances were distinguished in part by the short, humorous poems he would recite during the broadcast. These lyrics became so closely associated with Russell that Dick Clark, Bill Cullen, Betty White, and others regularly referred to him as "the poet laureate of television." He also had a leading role in the film version of The Wiz as the Tin Man. He was also a frequent guest on the long-running "Dean Martin Celebrity Roast" series.
Rusell was born in Atlanta, Georgia.
He went to Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta and attended the University of Cincinnati for a single semester in 1943. He served as a medic in the United States Army during World War II, enlisting as a private on June 27, 1941, and returning from Europe in 1945 as a 2nd lieutenant.
He got his start in the 1940s as a carhop at the Atlanta drive-in The Varsity, where he increased the tips he earned by making customers laugh. He was discovered after he began performing in nightclubs in the 1950s. He subsequently made many "party albums," which were essentially compilations of his stand-up routines.
In the mid-1950s Russell joined forces with the popular movie comedian Mantan Moreland for a stage act, replacing Ben Carter as Moreland's dapper straight man. One of their bits was an old routine that Moreland and Ben Carter had performed in vaudeville and in Charlie Chan films. In the "interruption routine" (or "incomplete sentences") Moreland would engage Russell in conversation, only to be interrupted by Russell, who in turn was interrupted by Moreland:
- Moreland: Guess who I saw? I saw old —
- Russell: Is he back again? I thought he was —
- Moreland: He was, but he got out.
- Russell: Is that so?
- Moreland: Yeah, he was over —
- Russell: Is that so?
Soon the entire conversation was conducted in incomplete sentences, with each man anticipating or contradicting the other. Moreland and Russell's act can be seen in 2 all-black-cast compilation films, Rhythm and Blues Review and Rock and Roll Revue. Another variation of the "interruption routine" performed by Tommy Davidson and Savion Glover, was featured in Spike Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled.
In the late 1950s, Russell appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, which led to a supporting part as a New York policeman in the sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? in 1961. In 1965 he became a co-host of ABC's Les Crane Show. During the 1970s, he was a co-star in the ABC sitcom Barefoot in the Park and appeared regularly on The Dean Martin Show and The Dean Martin Comedy World. Scattered appearances on television series followed, as well as occasional guest-host stints on The Tonight Show during the Johnny Carson era. Russell also appeared frequently in Las Vegas; including a series of appearances with Sergio Franchi at the Frontier Hotel in 1978 and 1979, and with Franchi in 1979 at the Sands Hotel Copa Room.
Game show careerEdit
Russell became the first black performer to become a regular panelist on a daily network game show when he joined ABC's Missing Links in 1964. Another ABC show, Rhyme and Reason, had poetry for a premise, making Russell's participation a necessity:
- Host: Conny Van Dyke looks like a girl I once dated...
- Russell: And now, all my dreams are strictly X-rated!
- Host: Jack said to Jill as they went up the hill...
- Russell: We're not going for water — I hope you're on the pill!
In 1971 he started as a featured panelist on To Tell the Truth, which led to his being hired for The Match Game when Goodson-Todman Productions revived it two years later. He also served as panelist in 1968 on the syndicated version of What's My Line? Producer Bob Stewart featured him regularly as a panelist on Pyramid throughout its 1970s and 1980s runs. Russell would also host the short-lived 1985 game show Your Number's Up as well as the early-'80s revival of Juvenile Jury.
He was a trained dancer, influenced in his youth by legendary performer Jack Wiggins. Russell put these talents to use in the 1978 musical The Wiz as the Tin Man. He also appeared on the big screen in 1994's adaptation of Car 54, Where Are You?, reprising his role as Anderson, who had now been promoted from sergeant to captain.
Later career and deathEdit
During the 1990s, Russell gained popularity with a new generation of television viewers as a regular on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Russell would often appear during comedy sketches between scheduled guests and deliver his trademark rhymes.
Russell's final TV appearance was as a panelist on a game show-themed week on the final season of the Tom Bergeron version of Hollywood Squares.
He died in 2005 at the age of 87 in New York City, after suffering from stomach cancer. His ashes were scattered into the Atlantic Ocean.
During his appearances on game shows, at some point in the broadcast the host would give the floor to Russell, who would recite a self-penned poem from memory, looking straight into the camera. These poems from 1980s episodes of The $25,000 Pyramid and The $100,000 Pyramid and even one from the 2004 Hollywood Squares are typical of his style and wit:
- The girl who would make my life complete
- need not be young and fair;
- Just be a nymphomaniac
- and a multimillionaire.
(To which Betty White replied, "I'm not a multimillionaire but one out of two ain't bad.")
- What is the secret of eternal youth?
- The answer is easily told;
- All you gotta do if you wanna look young
- Is hang out with people who are old.
- If you ever go out with a schoolteacher,
- You're in for a sensational night;
- She'll make you do it over and over again
- Until you do it right.
- The young people are very different today;
- And there's one sure way to know;
- Kids used to ask where they came from;
- Now they'll tell you where you can go!
- I got a new girlfriend,
- No guy could ask for more,
- She’s deaf, dumb, oversexed
- And owns a liquor store!
- Those who think of women as the weaker sex
- Just can't see the trees for the woods
- Cause no matter how loudly a rooster may crow
- It's the hen who delivers the goods.
- Before we lose our autonomy
- And our economy crumbles into dust
- We should attack Japan, lose the war
- And let Japan take care of us.
- The opposite of 'pro' is 'con'
- This fact is clearly seen
- But if 'progress' means move forward
- What does 'Congress' mean?
- Hurricanes are named after women
- Because they start on the very same plan
- Start up over nothin', make a whole lotta noise,
- And can't be controlled by man!
- What would you say makes the hair grey
- Before you submit any bids
- Grey hair is hereditary
- And you get it from your kids.
- Washington threw a silver dollar
- Across the Potomac one day
- Since then politicians in Washington
- Have been throwing our money away.
- I am a bachelor, and I will not marry
- Until the right girl comes along
- But while I'm waiting, I don't mind dating
- Girls that I know are wrong.
- Pyramid is the best show on TV.
- Dick Clark is surely the best emcee.
- They won the Emmy, they pay a high fee
- How 'bout a few bucks for the audience and me?
- Show business should really change its style
- From the vulgar and the crude.
- People on stage should be properly dressed.
- The audience should be nude.
- More people are killed on the roads
- Than they are on the battlefield.
- It's not the tiger in the tank,
- It's the jackass behind the wheel.
When Russell appeared on Family Feud during a special game show emcee week, he had 2 poems to give:
- Playing Family Feud today
- Are some talented women and men;
- Lost their jobs giving money away,
- So now, they're trying to win!
- Each day we turn another page.
- You know you're reaching middle age
- When your pimples and your rashes
- Turn to wrinkles and hot flashes.
When Russell hosted Your Number's Up, he started the day with his poems, including this example from the premiere episode:
- If you owe too much on American Express,
- And your Diner's Club notes are too hard,
- Take a loan on your Visa,
- And pay it off with your MasterCard.
and on the finale:
- The strong take from the weak
- Thus fortunes rise and fall
- The wise take from the strong
- Internal Revenue taketh from all.
- The reason the marriage never works out
- When May gets married to December
- Is the sweet young thing has never learned how
- And the old goat doesn't remember
In 1984, Russell hosted an unsold pilot for a revival of Jackpot again he used several rhymes including:
- They just made a movie about a mermaid
- I don't understand the reason why
- Not enough woman to make love to
- And too much fish to fry
- Said Mr. Rabbit to Mrs. rabbit
- "This lovin' ain't nothing but a habit"
- Said Mrs. Rabbit to Mr. Rabbit
- "Shoot the habit to me Rabbit"
- If you get your baby a waterbed
- It could be very grim
- You'll never know if he's wetting the bed
- Or the bed is wetting him
- If they don't walk and talk by the time they're two
- We worry we fret and we frown
- But after that time it's all we can do
- To make them shut up and sit down
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/04/arts/04russell.html
- ↑ Nipsey J. Russell, born 15 September 1918, died 2 October 2005. Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index (Death Master File).
- ↑ U.S. Census, 1 January 1920, state of Georgia, county of DeKalb, city of Atlanta, enumeration district 180, page 4-A, family 75, Julius Russell, age 1 year 2 months.
- ↑ Gail Fredensborg, Associate Registrar, University of Cincinnati, 9 January 2006.
- ↑ National Archives and Records Administration. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 [database online]. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com, Inc., 2005.
- ↑ Passenger list of the S.S. General Harry Taylor, Port of New York, 13 September 1945, p. 233.
- ↑ Entertainment in Las Vegas. (September 1, 1978). Seattle Daily Times, Seattle, WA
- ↑ Entertainment in Las Vegas. (January 14, 1979). Seattle Daily Times, Seattle, WA
- ↑ Entertainment in Las Vegas. (May 18, 1979). Seattle Daily Times, Seattle, WA
- ↑ Entertainment in Las Vegas. (February 15, 1979). Seattle Daily Times, Seattle, WA
- Audio / video
- A Tribute to Comedian Nipsey Russell – audio clip from NPR's All Things Considered, October 4, 2005
- Nipsey Russell at YouTube
- Rhyming Funnyman Nipsey Russell Dies - Washington Post
- Nipsey Russell, a Comic With a Gift for Verse, Dies at 80 [sic] – New York Times
- Nipsey Russell at the Internet Movie Database
- Nipsey Russell at Find a Grave
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