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He was known as "The Romeo of Song," "The Singing Valentino," and "Radio's Revelation." In the 3 years 1931-1934 Russ Columbo had become a top radio singer, Bing Crosby's only serious challenger, a major recording star who wrote 3 of his own hits "You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love (this was his theme song) "Too Beautiful For Words" and "Prisoner Of Love." He also was an emerging film actor and a bandleader who at one point had such jazz talents in his ranks as Gene Krupa, Joe Sullivan and Benny Goodman.
The youngest of 12 children, his full name was Ruggiero Engerio de Rudolpho Columbo. Early in his live he showed great talent for Italian opera as well as popular love songs. As a violinist in Gus Amheim's band he was influenced by it's singer - Bing Crosby, and succeeded him in that spot after Bing left.
Within a year Columbo had also started his solo career, and the two became embroiled in a mythical Battle of the Baritones. Bing was on CBS and Russ on NBC. Whereas Crosby was sometimes lighhearted and other times romatic, Columbo concentrated entirely on romance.
Every song he recorded was a love ballad sung as a violinist would play it, with tenderness and an easy flow of sound.
In spite of the fact that one director told him he was too Latin to get beyond bit parts, Columbo made 3 films - "Broadway Through a Keyhold", "Moulin Rouge" and "Wake Up And Dream." He was the star of the last film.
Actresses Carole Lombard and Sally Blane reportedly were in Love with him. Fan letters from other adoring but unknown women poured in every week. A gun ended it all. An antique dueling pistol used as a paperweight and believed to be unloaded. While his close fried, a leading Hollywood photographer, was striking a match against the pistol the gun accidentally fired and the bullet ricocheted off a desk and struck Columbo in the head.
He was 26 years old. For his funeral thousands filled the church and sidewalks outside. Bing Crosby was one of the pallbearers.
Though the pistol accident ended Columbo's read career, it started a mythical one that lasted another 10 years. Seriously ill at the time of the shooting and later blind, Columbo's mother was never told of her son's death. The family, including Carole Lombard, read "letters" from Russ in London, Paris and other cities, where an ever more demanding career kept him from coming home to visit her. Every month a check arrived, actually payment from his insurance policy. Mrs. Columbo died in 1944, happy for her son's success.
A more detailed biography is located at: Russ Columbo www.classicimages.com/1999/april99/columbo.html
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