Harold Russel Harold John Russell (Born January 14, 1914 at Sydney, Nova Scotia, d. January 29, 2002 at Needham, Massachusetts) was a Canadian-American World War II veteran who became one of only two non-professional actors to win an Academy Award for acting.
Harold Russell was born in Canada and moved to Massachusetts with his family in 1933. He was so profoundly affected by the attack on Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Army on December 8, 1941.
While an Army instructor, and training with the U.S. 13th Airborne Division stateside in 1944, a defective fuse detonated an explosive he was handling while making a training film. As a result, he lost both hands and was given two hooks to serve as hands. After his recovery, and while attending Boston University as a full-time student, an Army film called Diary of a Sergeant about rehabilitating war veterans was made featuring Russell.
When film director William Wyler saw the film on Russell, he cast him in the film The Best Years of Our Lives starring Fredric March and Myrna Loy. Russell played the role of Homer Parrish, a sailor who lost both hands during the War.
For his role as Parrish, Russell won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1947. He was also awarded an honorary Oscar for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." It was the only time the Academy awarded two Oscars for the same role.
Upon completion of the film, Wyler told Russell to return to school since there "weren't many roles for actors without hands." Russell returned to Boston University and graduated with a business degree in 1949.
Russell appeared in only two other films after his debut, Inside Moves in 1980 and Dogtown in 1997. He also appeared in a two-part episode of the television series China Beach in 1989.
Russell became active in AMVETS, serving three terms as National Commander. As such, he wrote to President Truman in 1951, supporting his decision to dismiss General MacArthur. In his letter, Russell wrote: "The issue is whether the ultimate civil authority of the United States can tolerate actions in contempt of constitutional lines of authority. Any lessening of civil power over military power must inevitably lead away from democracy."
In 1992, Russell needed money for his wife's medical expenses. In a controversial decision, he sold his Oscar to a private collector for $60,500. Russell defended his action, saying: "I don't know why anybody would be critical. My wife's health is much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will be here, even if Oscar isn't." The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences now requires all Oscar recipients to sign an agreement forbidding them from selling their award.
Preceded by: James Dunn for A Tree Grows In Brooklyn Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor 1946 for The Best Years Of Our Lives Succeeded by: Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street