Friday, November 11, 2016

Podcast: Interview with Harold Russell (1981)

Harold Russell and Marlene Aames in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

It's Remembrance Day today and Critics at Large has decided to pay tribute by posting a special interview as a podcast. When Canadian-born Harold Russell appeared in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), a powerful and moving drama about servicemen returning home from World War II, he was an army instructor who had training with the U.S. 13th Airbourne Division in North Carolina. Russell, who became an American after moving to Massachusetts with his family in 1921, lost both his hands when trying to detonate an explosive he was handling while making a training film. Given two hooks to replace them, Russell went on to attend Boston University as a full-time student and, a non-actor, was later featured in an Army film titled Diary of a Sergeant about rehabilitating war veterans. When Wyler saw the film, he immediately cast Russell in the moving role of Homer Parrish, a Navy sailor who lost both his hands during the war. For his role, Russell won an unprecedented two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actor and a special award created by the Board of Governors who wanted to salute him for his wartime sacrifice. Russell authored two books, Victory in My Hands (1949) and The Best Years of My Life (1981). After the release of the latter, Russell came to Toronto, where I had a chance to talk on CJRT-FM's On the Arts about his work on Wyler's seminal film. Harold Russell passed away in 2002, at the age of 88.

– Kevin Courrier

Here is the full interview with Harold Russell as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1981.

 Kevin Courrier is a freelance writer/broadcaster, film critic and author (Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of ZappaRandy Newman's American Dreams33 1/3 Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, Artificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles Utopian Dream). Courrier teaches part-time film courses to seniors through the LIFE Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto and other venues. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism.

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