What the Hell Happened to Kurt Russell?
Kurt Russell has had an extremely long career. So long that a lot of audiences probably don’t remember his career as a child actor. Russell started making TV appearances in the late 1950s through the 60s. In the 70s, he became the top star at Disney. In the 80s, Russell and director John Carpenter created iconic anti-heroes. Russell continued to work in various dramas throughout his career. And yet, over the course of his long career, he never quite reached A-list status.
What the hell happened?
Let me state up front that Russell had the kind of career most actors would kill for. He has worked steadily for decades without ever being pigeon-holed to a certain genre. Even in his 60s, the guy is still working in some pretty high-profile movies. So this article isn’t about a career implosion like some others in the series. The question here is why Russell wasn’t bigger. Why didn’t he achieve the same level of stardom as some of his co-stars?
Russell’s father, Bing Russell, was a character actor who appeared on several TV shows in the 50’s. He introduced his son to acting as a child. They frequently worked on the same projects. Bing had a guest role on the Western, Sugarfoot which lead to a recurring role for Kurt.
Wait! Sugarfoot was real?
As a fan of Arrested Development, I know Sugarfoot from an episode in which Jason Bateman tried to win favor by pretending to remember the show’s theme song. I always assumed that Sugarfoot was a funny-sounding name made up for the show. But no, it’s real. Russell played the role of “Boy” on the pilot episode. In case you ever need to sing the theme song to impress Dick Van Patten, here it is:
In 1962, Russell appeared as one of the neighbor kids in an episode of the popular sitcom, Dennis the Menace.
Russell made his movie debut with an uncredited role opposite Elvis Presley in the 1963 movie, It Happened at the World’s Fair. As we’ll see later, Presley is a significant figure in Russell’s career. Here’s a clip of a young Russell kicking the King in the shin:
In 1964, Russell made guest appearances on several popular TV shows. Here he is with Robert Vaughn on The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Russell also played Lt. Phillip Gerard’s son on the adventure series, The Fugitive.
Russell appeared in several Westerns including Gunsmoke and The Virginian. He starred in the short-lived Western series, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters. The final episode of the show was then expanded and adapted into a movie called The Guns of Diablo (pictured above with Charles Bronson).
In 1965, Russell guest starred on Gilligan’s Island. He played “Jungle Boy”.
Russell also appeared in five episodes of the Walt Disney hit show, Daniel Boone.
Russell appeared in so many TV shows in the mid-60s that I am cherry-picking here. Otherwise, this article would go on for days. Here he is in a 1966 episode of Lost in Space.
Next: The Disney Decade
Posted on August 3, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged Backdraft, Big Trouble in Little China, Disney, Elvis, escape from new york, Goldie Hawn, John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, silkwood, stargate, The Thing, Tombstone. Bookmark the permalink. 199 Comments.