When his career began to wane, the handsome cowboy, once known as the screen's "King of the Bullwhip," often found himself arrested for drunkenness, vagrancy, misdemeanors, small crimes, and drugs. While destitute, he chose a lead role in a pornographic film, Hard On The Trail, and, after being married twelve times, found God and became a preacher on the rodeo and country music circuit.
Alfred La Rue was born in Gretna, Louisiana June 15, 1917. After military school, he attended college in Long Beach, California, where, intending to become a lawyer, he also studied dramatics to correct his lisp and stammer. Instead, he became a hairdresser who desperately wanted to be in the movies, but throughout the 1940's was often rejected by directors who felt he looked too much like Humphrey Bogart.
La Rue refused to give up and began to win small bit parts. A friend, actor George Brent who starred in several films with Bette Davis, suggested Al try his luck at Universal Studios. There, he met star Deanna Durbin, who put in a good word for him. He was placed under contract and appeared in Durbin’s musical, Lady On A Train (1945). La Rue followed this small success with a tiny part in The Master Key (1945), and then he won a secondary role in the new Eddie Dean western series. In Song of Old Wyoming (1945), La Rue played “The Cheyenne Kid,” who, dressed in black, began as a bad guy and ended up on the side of the law. As Cheyenne, he learned to expertly and sadistically use an 18-foot bullwhip, which he wrapped around his holster, lashing it lightning fast and loud as a bullet.
For this performance, La Rue received tons of fan mail...more than the star. Many people who did not know his name simply addressed their envelope to "The Man With The Whip." A co-star, character actress Sarah Padden, remarked about La Rue's resemblance to Bogart and asked him if the two were related. La Rue replied that he did not believe so. After a pause, Sarah queried, "Did your mother ever meet Humphrey Bogart?"
With his new popularity, the handsome Al La Rue, now billed as Lash La Rue in honor of his bullwhip talent, was elevated to his own series in 1947 in which, still dressed in black, he continued to play Cheyenne, with his perpetual snarl. The first film was Law Of The Lash (1947), which was quickly followed by Return Of The Lash (1947). By the 1950's, Lash dropped the Cheyenne moniker and played a character with his own name, Lash La Rue. In 1951, he narrrated his own 15 minute televison show in which he introduced clips from his movies. A Lash La Rue comic book soon followed. His best film is considered by many to be Lash Of The West (1953).
In the early 1950's, most of the matinee movie cowboy heroes had ridden into the sunset, though Gene Autrey and handsome Roy Rogers along with his beautful wife Dale Evans, had very successful television shows. The production of cheap "B" westerns began to wane, and Lash, though very popular in these movies, was never a big movie star. Soon, La Rue became a headliner in rodeos and carnivals.
In 1956, La Rue was arrested in Memphis for receiving stolen property. In 1958, he tried to kill himself with sleeping pills after his then-wife refused a reconcilliation. When his tenth marriage broke up in 1963, his wife received the restaurant-motel business they owned, and four days later his entire collection of fantastic western costumes, whips, guns and saddles was stolen. In 1964, he took out a large ad in a Hollywood trade paper, apologizing for his behavior and asking for acting work. He was reportedly selling furniture in Atlanta in 1965, and in 1966 was arrested for vagrancy in Tampa. Not long after, Lash stated, "The Lord opened my spiritual eyes," and he became an evangelist preaching around the nation at the same rodeos and country music festivals he used to perform at. In 1974, Lash tried to trade one of his bibles for marijuana with two teenage hitchhikers he gave a ride to. He was tried and convicted.
In 1971, destitute Lash appeared as "Slade" in a hardcore pornographic film, Hard On The Trail. Though fully dressed in his usual black attire, Lash said he always felt embarrassed for accepting the role. In 1975, La Rue's interview in Oui Magazine was entitled Lash Whips It Out, where the religious man talked about star Hugh O'Brian, whose Wyatt Earp televison show he once appeared on, declaring "I wish the Lord had allowed me to snuff that twerp."
La Rue also appeared in Chain Gang (1984) and the science-fiction films Dark Power (1984) and Alien Outlaw (1985). He made a cameo appearance in the television remake of Stagecoach (1986), and had roles in Escape (1990), and Pair Of Aces (1990).
In his last years, La Rue continued to drive around Hollywood in his 1968 black Cadillac hearse with a bumper sticker that read "God Loves You" and lived on social security and "love offerings." La Rue was also a popular speaker at western and nostalgia conventions and film festivals.
Cowboy Lash La Rue died in Burbank, California, of emphysema, May 21, 1996.
Whatever Became Of....Eighth Series by Richard Lamparski
Lash La Rue websites
Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect- Art Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications, 1991. A designer, artist, photographer, writer and chronicler of movie stars he is also the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in Art Deco photo frames and artifacts and celebrating its 39th anniversary in 2006. Steve Starr's personal collection of over 950 gorgeous, original Art Deco frames is filled with photos of Hollywood's most glamorous stars.
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