RUSS COLUMBO DIES FROM ACCIDENTAL GUN WOUND
Radio and Screen Singer Succumbs as Condition Balks Operation; Witness Tells of Tragedy
Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1934
Russ Columbo, 26 years of age, radio and motion picture singer, died at the Good Samaritan Hospital last night from a bullet wound in his brain which he received early in the afternoon from the accidental discharge of an old Civil War cap and ball pistol which he and Lansing V. Brown, Jr., Hollywood photographer, were examining in the trophy room of the Brown home.
At the hospital when Columbo died were his brother John, a brother-in-law, Joseph Benedetti, and several friends of the family. None of the visitors was permitted to see him.
DIES BEFORE OPERATION
The gravity of Columbo‘s condition was first reported by Police Surgeon Malony of the Hollywood Receiving Hospital, who, when the singer was taken there for emergency treatment, said he had “only a slight chance of recovery.”
From the receiving hospital he was taken to the Good Samaritan Hospital, where preparations were made to perform an operation for the removal of the bullet which had lodged in his brain. Dr. George W. Patterson, brain specialist, was summoned, but the patient succumbed before an operation was performed.
PASSES THROUGH BRAIN
After Columbo‘s death Dr. Patterson said he was amazed the singer had lived so long in view of his condition. X-ray pictures show, he said, that the bullet entered the orbit of the eye, destroying it, and pushed through the center of the brain to the back of the skull where a fracture resulted. It was impossible to operate to remove the bullet, he said, and efforts to stimulate the patient so his condition would permit performing the delicate operation were unavailing. Columbo never regained consciousness after receiving the wound.
The County Coroner’s Office took charge of Columbo‘s body last night but reported that no definite time for the inquest would be set until today and that it will not be known what witnesses will be called until further investigation.
BROWN TELLS OF SHOOTING
Questioned at the Hollywood Police Station by Detective Lieutenants Page and Patrick, Brown said he and Columbo had been friends for many years and that the singer was a frequent visitor at his home and studio.
Shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday, Brown said, Columbo drove up to the Brown home, entered the house and for some time engaged in conversation with the friend, and his father and mother, who were at home at the time. Later, Brown said, he and the singer stepped to an adjoining room where they were examining a brace of Civil War pistols, purchased some time ago by Brown for his collection.
IGNITED BY MATCH
The pistols, of the old-fashioned cap and ball type, were fired by a percussion cap, and Brown said he had snapped the triggers of each gun on many occasions with no evidence of an explosion.
On this occasion, however, Brown said, while he was toying with one gun and Columbo with the other, he accidentally dropped a lighted match on the percussion cap of the gun in his hand.
The cap, which probably had been in the gun since Civil War days, apparently was ignited by the match, Brown told police, for as the match fell to the floor the pistol discharged.
The old ball slug, Brown said, first hit the top of a mahogany table near which Columbo was sitting, then ricocheted and struck the singer above the left eye. The bullet embedded in Columbo‘s brain.
Attracted by the explosion of the pistol, Mr. and Mrs. Brown, Sr., rushed into the room where they found Columbo unconscious. An ambulance was summoned immediately, and the singer was taken to the hospital for emergency treatment.
Brown, who conducts a photographic studio at 3729 Wilshire Boulevard, is one of the most widely known photographers in Hollywood and numbered among his patrons many stage, screen and radio celebrities.
After being questioned by police regarding the accident, he returned to his home.
MOTHER SERIOUSLY ILL
Columbo‘s mother, Mrs. Nicholas Columbo suffered a heart attack two days ago and was said to be in serious conditon at the Santa Monica Hospital. She was not informed of the death of her son for fear of the consequences.
Columbo lived with his mother and father, at 1940 Outpost Circle, Hollywood. One of his sisters is Mrs. Joseph Benedetti of 1606 Court Street.
RADIO AND FILM SINGER
Columbo had been an active member of the screen colony since his arrival here about a year ago to take up motion-picture work. He had established a reputation as a radio and night club singer, gaining ascendency with Bing Crosby and other radio stars.
He was unmarried and was recognized as one of the most popular of Hollywood’s eligible bachelors. Since his arrival in Hollywood his name had been linked in a romantic way with various stage and screen actresses.
Columbo, christened Ruggiero Columbo, was born in San Francisco on January 14, 1908, the youngest of twelve children. [NOTE: Other sources claim that he was born in New Jersey.] He received his grammar school education in the northern city and later attended Belmont High School in Hollywood.
FEATURED ON RADIO
Young Columbo, eager for a career as a musician, quit school in 1925 and toured the country as a concert violinist. Later he studied under Alexander Bevani, operatic coach, and was subsequently featured as a crooner with Prof. Moore’s orchestra at the opening of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
It was Prof. Moore who launched Columbo on the career which was to lead him to fame and fortune as a radio artist and later as a screen actor. Moore featured Columbo on his radio programs and within a short time practically every important orchestra leader in the West was bidding for the young singer’s services.
Columbo, however, decided to remain in Los Angeles until he was sure of his success. He left Moore and joined Gus Arnheim’s orchestra at the Cocoanut Grive and remained one year, during which he made thousands of friends and increased his popularity as a radio artist.
A friendly rival sprang up between Columbo and Bing Crosby, a member of Arnheim’s orchestra, and who, like Columbo, also was seeking fame as a crooner.
Columbo suddenly decided he wanted to have his own orchestra. He quit Arnheim and organized a dance band and opened the Pyramid Cafe in Hollywood. He was there only a short time when Con Conrad, author of numerous successful song hits, chanced to hear him sing. Conrad became so enthusiastic over the way Columbo “put over” his songs, that he promptly took Columbo to New York City.
He made his stage debut in 1930 at the Paramount Theater in New York. The young artist made an immediate hit and his success became so pronounced that he was kept there for ten weeks. Radio stations vied for his services and soon Columbo was nationally known on the networks.
SIGNS PICTURE CONTRACT
In addition to his radio work, Columbo organized a dance orchestra and opened the New Waldorf-Astoria Hotle supper room. Returning to Hollywood last year, he was signed to a long-term contract by Universal Pictures.
Columbo teamed with Conrad and wrote several song hits, among them “You Call It Madness and I Call It Love.” Later he and Leo Robins wrote “Time On My Hands,” “Just Another Romance” and other songs which enjoyed great popularity.
He had appeared in a score of motion pcitures. He recently finished his first starring picture, “Wake Up and Dream,” produced by Universal. Columbo recently confided that he planned to study for opera.