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Song of the Day for September 2: "Prisoner of Love" by Russ Columbo

Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo at a table
Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo at a table

Russ Columbo is a forgotten footnote in Hollywood history. He was a virtuoso violinist, a crooner, a songwriter, actor and soon-to-be husband of Carole Lombard when he died September 2, 1934, from an accidental gunshot wound to the head. He was only 26.

The story of his death and the aftermath were made for Hollywood. He was visiting a close friend, who was showing him an ancient pistol. His friend placed the head of a match under the rusty hammer, then pulled the trigger to ignite the match to light a cigarette. The pistol still housed a charge of powder and an old bullet. The click of the hammer caused the charge to explode. The corroded bullet ricocheted off the top of a table, striking Columbo in his left eye, entering his brain.

The story turned crazier after the death of Russ Columbo. His seven brothers and sisters came up with a plan to hide the death from their mom, who had suffered a heart attack two days before. They kept up the ruse for ten years, telling her he signed a five-year contract for shows in Europe. They wrote letters to her signing his name. They told guests to talk as if he was alive. Colombo’s mom’s final words were “Tell Russ I am so proud and happy.”

Columbo wrote the music for the Song of the Day, “Prisoner of Love” in 1931. He sang it on his radio show and recorded it for RCA Victor. Perry Como, the Ink Spots, and James Brown also recorded it. Brown’s version reached 18 on the pop hits chart, the Ink Spots’ reached number 9. Como’s version reached number one.

Sheldon Zoldan is a former editor of The News-Press and guest contributor on Fridays to WGCU Public Media. See all other Songs of the Day on his Facebookpage.