On this day in comedy on September 15, 1918 Comedian, Julius “Nipsey” Russell was born.
The Atlanta, Georgia native attained fame as a favorite at the Apollo Theater. He was also noted for his frequent appearances as a panelist on game shows, where he was known for his improvisational poems. He was seen regularly on To Tell the Truth, Match Game, Password, Pyramid and the Hollywood Squares and known by other celebrity panelists as the ‘poet laureate”.
After returning from the Army as a medic following the end of World War II, Russell found his true calling while working as a carhop. He’d make his customers laugh and got paid more money for doing it. We call it be tipped. Russell saw it as a future career. He began performing in night clubs and was soon discovered. By the mid-1950s he had partnered with Mantan Moreland and one of their more popular routines was the “interrupted sentence” originated by Moreland and former partner, Ben Carter.
Russell performed on The Ed Sullivan Show”. Being seen on that variety program was always a boost for any act and Russell was no exception. That appearance got him a role in the sitcom “Car 54 Where Are You?” He was co-host of “The Les Crane Show”, co-star of “Barefoot in the Park” and was constantly co-signing on “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast”. He made “party albums” and was the Tin Man in the film, “The Wiz”.
A mainstream favorite, Russell worked throughout his career. He played Las Vegas with Sergio Franchi. He bounced from one sitcom guest starring spot to the next and whatever game show they could come up with. In 1964 Russell earned the distinction of being the first black panelist regular on the game show, “Missing Links”. He’d shot two game show pilots, but neither was picked up by a network. Russell popped up on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” frequently and gained a new following. Then on October 2, 2005 at the tender age of 87 Nipsey Russell passed away from stomach cancer.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
Check out this clip: