This story, for me, really began about four years ago while working up a sweat on an elliptical cardio machine at the fitness center on Dallas Hill Road.  It reached a very enjoyable (initial) conclusion a couple of weeks ago, thanks to the streaming service, Netflix, while maintaining a safe “sheltering in place” existence in, and near, our log home on Gull Pond.

Finding out more local details regarding the fascinating career of former Rangeley resident, Bing Russell (and his son, Curt) in Hollywood, California and with minor league baseball in Portland, Oregon…took a bit more sleuthing, and an enjoyable and informative interview very near the Main Street of beautiful downtown Rangeley.

The above paragraphs beg an explanation I suspect, therefore:

Over the past 20 years, while living full-time in the Rangeley Region in the cabin we built in the late ‘80s, I had been hearing very brief stories about local resident, and colorful character, Bing Russell who, in the late ‘50s packed up his young family, (to include his young son, and successful actor, Kurt) and drove across the country to Hollywood, CA to fulfill a lifelong dream of being an actor in movies.

So, three or four years ago during mud season, while pumping away on that elliptical machine, I was, as usual, also reading something to fight the boredom of indoor, repetitive exercise under the florescent lighting (despite the facility’s stunning view of Rangeley Lake below).  Often, that reading material was a book or magazine from home.  On that day, it was a well-worn Sports Illustrated magazine that I had picked out of a magazine rack.

I soon came upon a feature story about professional sports and its recent connections with the entertainment industry, most specifically the motion pictures and television programming produced in Hollywood and the surrounding towns filled with movie sets and inhabited by many of the stars.  Two or three of the paragraphs were devoted to the entertaining documentary film recently produced (in 2014) entitled “The Battered Bastards of Baseball” about the retired actor, Bing Russell, and his minor league baseball team in Portland, Oregon….AND, the film was directed by two of Bing’s grandsons!

Those three paragraphs got my wheels turning.  “I wonder if we can get that film shown at the resurgent Lakeside Theater and its growing movie offerings”, I thought to myself.  I couldn’t wait to make the suggestion to Valerie and Jeff Zapolsky, Rangeley Friends of the Arts board members…and in charge of the organization’s movie-showing efforts.  Valerie and Jeff showed interest, given the local Rangeley connection, and said they would see what they could do.  A couple of weeks later, I continued my efforts and asked what they found out.  The news wasn’t encouraging.  I also learned about the complexities of movie distribution and movie rights, etc.  They were running into some insurmountable brick walls, but said they would keep trying….and they did, but to no avail.

I brought up the subject occasionally in the three years since my initial suggestion.  The answer was always the same…”We are still not able to obtain the rights to show the film here in our small theater in this admittedly small town” (with a big heart, I might add).  I want to give credit where credit is due, however; … Jeff and Valerie gave it their best efforts.

Fast forward to our current “hunkered down” state during the Covid-19 pandemic.  We had never before subscribed to a streaming service to watch movies.  Whatever our basic DirecTV HD receiver can pull down from its satellites would be good enough.  That was, in fact, good enough….until the coronavirus entered the equation.  I successfully lobbied for a subscription to Netflix !

In spite of having dozens of battered and scuffed baseballs of my own during my youth and early adulthood…this is the only baseball that remains to accompany this column’s theme…my 2004 “signed” by the World Champion Boston Red Sox…official baseball! Allen Wicken

One early evening, after weeks of watching one or two episodes of “Better Call Saul” every other evening or so until I ran out of unwatched seasons,…I started searching Netflix for something else to distract my attention and disgust from our administration’s inept and lackluster efforts at controlling the virus in the U.S., I came across the “Documentaries” selections.  You guessed it. the title THE BATTERED BASTARDS OF BASEBALL soon jumped out at me!

Within minutes, I was watching it.  It proved to be much more enjoyable than expected!

And even though I love baseball, having played on my high school and college teams in Minnesota before landing in New England in the early ‘70s whereby I soon became a Red Sox and Fenway Park fan…this film will be enjoyed by anyone who is not a diehard baseball enthusiast.  It is a compelling story about Bing Russell and his enthusiastic new ownership of a foundering minor league Single A-level, independent team, the Portland (OR) Mavericks and his battle with the powers in professional baseball.

Other than my excitement in telling all the readers of this column that you can find the film on Netflix…and that you can find all the details about the film, as well as the movie careers of both Bing and Kurt Russell on Wikipedia…including the fact that the retired actor who played the deputy sheriff on the very successful TV show of the ‘50s and ‘60s, Bonanza, I will just tell you that in 1974 the influential Sporting News baseball newspaper Bing won its Minor League Manager of the Year award!

So, my advice is: Watch the film at home on Netflix, or find a friend who subscribes and convince them to allow you to come over to their home to watch it (an offer to bring beverages and snacks might increase the chances of an invitation).

I want to now leave you with a few anecdotes and memories about Bing and his years in Rangeley from someone who knew him well.  I began another sleuthing effort after watching the film.  As a result of asking a few long-time residents about whom they would suggest, all recommendations pointed to Scott Morton, of Morton and Furbish Real Estate.  Last week, Scott graciously agreed to sit down with me for 45 minutes in the conference room of the realty office to talk and reminisce about Bing.  A few of his answers to my many questions and follow-up questions…during our delightful and interesting conversation are as follows:

*    Bing graduated from high school in Rangeley.  * Bing’s parents owned and operated Kennebago Lake Camps (the camps are all now privately owned).  * Scott knew Bing when he was in his ‘70s, and Scott was in his ‘40s.  * Gregarious and fun-loving Bing tended to hang out with folks who were younger than he was…apparently his age-cohorts weren’t as energetic as he was! Kurt was close to Scott’s age, and a summertime friend.  * Bing’s father, Bud, was a pilot for a seaplane service in Florida.  It was while in Florida that he got to know his dad’s friend, Lefty Gomez, who played , and starred, for the New York Yankees.  During spring training, Bing became the unofficial “mascot” of the Yankees.  Clearly his love of baseball came from those spring training experiences.  * Bing and his wife Lou summered in Rangeley after his film career came to a close.  Kurt and his wife, Goldie Hawn, would visit Rangeley occasionally up to a few years ago.  * Kurt’s most recent return to the area was to visit with his grandmother on her 100th birthday! *  Bing coached the Rangeley High School basketball team for a while.  * Bing was a popular storyteller and golfer in Rangeley during his later years.  He would often regale friends and others with his stories in the tavern at the Country Club Inn.

Bing passed away in 2003 in Thousand Oaks, California in his mid-‘80s. (Wikipedia).

Scott, Thank you for graciously spending some with me answering my many questions about your old friend, Bing…and I must offer my sincerest apologies:   You may soon be finding a few local friends and acquaintances (of which there are many, I’m sure) starting conversations with you at the post office or elsewhere (at a safe 6 ft+ distance, of course) about that colorful Rangeley expatriate, Bing….and/or his son Kurt!

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.

Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone…

Pomplamoose

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are quite welcome, Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and attach it to a piece of memorabilia from the 1974 Portland (OR) Mavericks and slip it inside the log door on our mudroom on the west shore of rockbound Gull Pond…or simply fire off an email to  [email protected]


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