Actor Kurt Russell is known for his roles in such action-adventure flicks as Escape from L.A., The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China.” To those who grew up with Kurt, however, he’s still remembered as the all-American “apple pie and ice cream” kid who starred as Dexter Reilly in Disney’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Strongest Man in the World. Over the years, Kurt has never lost his boyish charm, nor forgotten his Disney roots.
“The Disney years were my education in the film business,” he later recalled. “I was fortunate to be able to work there consistently.”
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 17, 1951, Kurt was raised in Los Angeles where his father, Bing Russell, starred as Deputy Clem on the Bonanza television series. Kurt loved baseball and, at the age of nine, decided to go into acting when he heard that his sports heroes Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were planning a movie, Safe at Home! He didn’t get the part he auditioned for, but did win a role in Elvis Presley’s It Happened at the World’s Fair; this led to television’s Travels with Jamie McPheeters and, ultimately, to the Disney Studios.
At 15, Kurt was cast in his first Disney picture, Follow Me, Boys! starring fellow Disney Legend Fred MacMurray. Walt Disney took an instant liking to Kurt and signed him to an exclusive Studio contract, making him the Studio’s teen star of the 1960s and ‘70s. Kurt made 12 Disney features in all, including The Barefoot Executive, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, Charley and the Angel, and Superdad. In the 1968 Disney musical The One and Only, Genuine Original Family Band, Kurt met a young dancer named Goldie Hawn; she would later become his real-life leading lady.
He narrated the 1970 animated short Dad, Can I Borrow the Car? and later voiced Copper, the young hunting dog, in the animated feature The Fox and the Hound.” Kurt also appeared in Disney television shows, including Willie and the Yank and The Secret of Boyne Castle. Alongside the Osmond Brothers, he hosted the 1970 The Wonderful World of Disney episode “Disneyland Showtime;” in the show, he introduced viewers to a new Disney theme park adventure, the Haunted Mansion.
Unlike many child stars, Kurt made a successful transition into adult roles. In 1979, his career came full circle when he earned an Emmy® nomination for his role as Elvis Presley in the John Carpenter telefilm Elvis. Other credits include Silkwood, Stargate, Executive Decision, Backdraft, and Soldier.
In 1992, Kurt returned to The Walt Disney Studios to star in Touchstone’s Captain Ron; in 1993, he portrayed Wyatt Earp in Hollywood Pictures’ Tombstone. Kurt tackled another biographical role, that of United States Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks, in 2004’s Miracle. The film relates the story of the “miracle on ice”—the gold-medal triumph of the underdog American hockey team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. In 2005, Kurt starred as the world’s most famous superhero in the Disney family comedy Sky High.