HAROLD RUSSELL Biography - Military related figures


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Name: Harold Russell                                                                   
Birth name: Harold John Russell                                                       
Born: 14 January 1914 North Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada                               
Died: 29 January 2002 Needham, Massachusetts                                           
Harold John Russell (January 14, 1914 - January 29, 2002) was a Canadian-American     
World War II veteran who became one of only two non-professional actors to win         
an Academy Award for acting.                                                           
Harold Russell was born in North Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada and moved to             
Massachusetts with his family in 1933. In 1941, he was so profoundly affected by       
the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor that he enlisted in the Army on the           
following day, December 8.                                                             
While an Army instructor, and training with the U.S. 13th Airborne Division           
stateside in 1944, a defective fuse detonated an explosive he was handling while       
making a training film. As a result, he lost both hands and was given two hooks       
to serve as hands. After his recovery, and while attending Boston University as       
a full-time student, an Army film called Diary of a Sergeant about                     
rehabilitating war veterans was made featuring Russell.                               
When film director William Wyler saw the film on Russell, he cast him in the           
film The Best Years of Our Lives starring Fredric March and Myrna Loy. Russell         
played the role of Homer Parrish, a sailor who lost both hands during the War.         
For his role as Parrish, Russell won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor       
in 1947. Earlier in the ceremony, he was awarded an honorary Oscar for "bringing       
hope and courage to his fellow veterans." The special award had been created           
because the Board of Governors very much wanted to salute Russell, a non-professional 
actor, but assumed he had little chance for a competitive win. It is the only         
time the Academy has awarded two Oscars for the same role.                             
Upon completion of the film, Wyler told Russell to return to school since there       
"weren't many roles for actors without hands." Russell returned to Boston             
University and graduated with a business degree in 1949.                               
Russell authored two biographies: The Best Years of My Life in 1981 and Victory       
in My Hands in 1949.                                                                   
Russell appeared in only two other films after his debut, Inside Moves in 1980         
and Dogtown in 1997. He also appeared in a two-part episode of the television         
series China Beach in 1989.                                                           
Russell became active in AMVETS, serving three terms as National Commander. As         
such, he wrote to President Truman in 1951, supporting his decision to dismiss         
General MacArthur. In his letter, Russell wrote: "The issue is whether the             
ultimate civil authority of the United States can tolerate actions in contempt         
of constitutional lines of authority. Any lessening of civil power over military       
power must inevitably lead away from democracy."                                       
From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, Russell served as the Chairman of the         
President's Commission on Employment of the Handicapped, an unpaid position.           
In 1992, Russell needed money for his wife's medical expenses. In a                   
controversial decision, he sold his Oscar to a private collector for $60,500.         
Russell defended his action, saying: "I don't know why anybody would be critical.     
My wife's health is much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will       
be here, even if Oscar isn't." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and                 
Sciences has required all Oscar recipients since 1950 to sign an agreement             
forbidding them from selling their award.                                             
On January 29, 2002, Russell died of a heart attack.