Monday, 4 February 2013

The Tumultuous Life of Jack La Rue

He would be known by contemporary film audiences as a hard-hitting film gangster and often the second fiddle to greater stars Humphrey Bogart, George Raft and Gary Cooper. In reality Jack La Rue’s life was more colourful and controversial then a simple, one-dimensional supporting role. Over his 81-years, he appeared in over 100 films, several Broadway productions, had intense political ambitions, endured three hostile marriages and several public run-ins with the police.

Jack La Rue was born Gaspere Biondolillo in New York City, New York on May 3, 1902. His acting career began in the early 1920’s when – after graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School – he was offered a role as an extra while working as a piano tuner. He began trying to land more film roles but soon discovered stage work was easier to find and debuted at the Empire Theatre in 1921 in a production of “Blood and Sand”. La Rue followed this with roles in stage plays “The Crooked Square” (1923), “Crime” (1927) and “Los Angeles” (early-1928).  

However, it was during the maiden run of Mae West’s famous production “Diamond Lil” in April 1928 playing one of her lovers ‘Juarez’ that he was discovered by director Howard Hawkes and brought to Hollywood to audition for the role of Rinaldo in a film called “Scarface” (1932). The film, unfortunately, proved to be the movie debut for George Raft who nabbed the role La Rue was vying for, mainly, because Hawke concluded La Rue was too tall for the part. However, La Rue’s palpable screen persona of the dark, cruel yet sexy gangster was becoming a popular film staple and he began working steadily in supporting, often uncredited, roles as henchmen and assistants to the gang leaders. These include films, such as, “Night World” (1932) and “While Paris Sleeps” (1932).

His first break-through role was in the Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes adaption of the Ernest Hemingway play, “A Farewell to Arms” (1932). Although, it was only a small role La Rue diverted from playing his signature ‘bad-man’ type to perform the role of the priest. He was featured in a staggering 12 films during 1932, including notable movies, “Three on a Match”, “Virtue”, “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” and “Mouth Piece”.  

His next big break and first starring role would come the following year in Paramount’s controversial film, “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933). An adaption of William Faulkner’s novel ‘Sanctuary’, George Raft was originally scheduled to play the part of ‘Trigger’ but he refused and was put on suspension. La Rue then promptly took over the role of the sadistic bootlegger who rapes complicated socialite Temple Drake (Miriam Hopkins) while she is resting in a barn connected to a mansion come speakeasy. He then abducts her and forces her into prostitution until, frustrated and broken, she kills him. The part was extremely demanding and shocking but allowed La Rue to extend his acting skills and successfully carry a film.

Although, La Rue never received a role equalling the notoriety and interest of his part in “Temple Drake”, his was not without work completing countless other movies and television series until his last appearance in the film, “Paesano: A Voice in the Night” (1977).

Jack La Rue’s personal life was more complex, public and turbulent then his professional one. He was married three times. The first was his longest union to socialite Connie Simpson which lasted from 1938 to 1946. The couple’s very public ups and downs culminated in even more flagrant divorce proceedings when La Rue followed Simpson to Reno where he resisted arrest by police who then claim he yelled, “I’m the gangster you see in movies. I’m a tough guy.”  It was shortly after the divorce that he was caught in another scuffle with police. It was reported in 1946 that La Rue was concussed during a fight at a Hollywood party allegedly involving Lawrence Tierney, Diane Barrymore and a mannequin named Mona who was previously owned by Errol Flynn.

It was a year later that La Rue would make a more interesting decision running for a seat in the Los Angeles City Council. He was quoted as commenting that a win would mean his retirement from pictures; however, he was unsuccessful in his bid. In 1949, he married again, to Austrian Baroness Violet Edith von Roseberg which lasted a brief one month and 19 days. It was later annulled when La Rue testified that von Roseberg only married him in order to become an American citizen. He was married a third and last time to Anne Giordano from August 1962 to February 1967.  
His acting career was not exceptional nor was he a traditional star, but his persona, appearance and acting-style were typically ‘Precode’ and La Rue, therefore, had a substantial impact in creating that great era of film history. Jack La Rue died January 11, 1984 from a heart attack and is the father of actor Jack La Rue Jr.       
Jack La Rue on the set of "A Farwell to Arms"


  1. I've always thought he was very sexy indeed....the original 'bad boy'!

  2. He was also a successful restauranteur. His La Rues on the Sunset Strip was a popular celebrity hangout for many years.

  3. He had an interesting role in the comedy/mystery of 1936, IT COULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED (but it did). The movie starred Evelyn Brent, Reginald Denny, LaRue, Inez Courtney, et al. Inez Courtney, a pretty and humorous secretary steals the movie. LaRue's role was that of a gangster boss, Smiley Clark, with a sense of humor. He appears throughout the movie and fits his character like a glove. A young Hugh Marlowe (later to appear in TWELVE O:CLOCK HIGH (1949) starring Gregory Peck) has the role of a smitten stage actor. This is a very entertaining movie, one of my favorites.

    Chis N: Jack Larue had no ownership in LaRues on THE STRIP. His restaurant was on Ventura Blvd.

    1. Hi Ronald. Could you please get in touch with me? I am writing about LaRue's restaurant.

  5. my mother always said that 'Jack' was her cousin. I was a kid and never paid much attention. My question to you is - do you know his mother's maiden name? Edward N.

    1. Hi Edward, I'm not 100% sure but I have read that it was Saglimbenes. Although I have to admit much of what you read about Jack doesn't look to be correct.

  6. Jack Larue's mother's maiden name was LOBUE from Palermo, Sicily

  7. I worked for Jack LaRue at his restaurant in 1966 & 1967. Actually his sister Mary ran things, and I also reported to the bartender Young. I was a high school kid living in Studio City, and got the job parking cars through my step father who played poker with Jack. No salary, just tips and all the Italian food I could eat. Met a few few of his friends, and he would let me know when someone important was coming in like the Berl brothers, Jack Palance or ex governor Knight. Also, met many actors and stuntmen (Gunsmoke & Wild wild West) who worked around the corner at CBS.
    I left in late 1967 just before the shooting. There was more to that than published.
    Recall restaurant closed a few years later and I think became a club called C’est la vie.
    All in all it was a great experience meeting so many people and driving many cool cars even though only a 100 ft at a time. Just a side note, my favorite person who was a regular was Noah Berry Jr. He always took the time to say hello and talk a bit to the “kid”.