Extra! Extra! Yamashiro – Hollywood

The front page of the September 3, 1934 issue of the Los Angeles Times reported the unusual death of up-and-coming singer Russ Columbo, 26, who lived with his parents at 1940 Outpost Circle (one of the roads that snake around the hill towards Yamashiro).

Columbo had apparently been showing an ancient Civil War pistol to his friend and photographer Lansing V. Brown Jr. when it accidentally went off. Brown told police that he was test-firing the gun with a match in his hand; the match accidentally touched the percussion cap and the gun fired, the ball ricocheting off a nearby table into Columbo’s eye and into his brain – he died hours later.

The death was ruled an accident, and the thousands of funeral guests included rival crooner Bing Crosby and Carole Lombard, who was romantically linked with Columbo – there had been talk of marriage – and was due to have had dinner with him the next night. Singers Jerry Vale and Tiny Tim both recorded tribute albums in 1958 and 1961 respectively, and Neil Diamond lists him in his 1970 song “Done Too Soon”.

Not at the funeral was Columbo’s mother who, at the time of his death, was in hospital having recently suffered a heart attack and was initially told that he was “abroad winning fame”. Amazingly, even after leaving hospital she was never informed of her his death, and the family’s “merciful fraud” (hatched out fears for her health and easier because she was nearly blind) used all kinds of schemes including fake letters “from Europe” until her death – which only came some ten years later.