Almost six years ago, on May 24, 2011, I posted an article I had written on my Havasu Magazine website entitled Ron LaRue, a Havasu Character. Since that time, I have turned my attention to my fiction writing, and the Havasu Magazine website has been revamped and minimalized—which included removing most of the content. I simply no longer had the time to keep it fresh and updated.
However, there were some articles I removed that I want to share here. One of those was about Ron LaRue.
Ron LaRue, a Havasu Character
by Bobbi Ann Johnson Holmes
Ron LaRue bore a striking resemblance to his handsome father, western star, Lash LaRue. Unlike his famous dad, Ron didn’t crave the limelight, yet he did have a zest for life.
I first met Ron LaRue and his wife Patti in the summer of 2002, when Don and I went to work for McCulloch Realty. Like Don and I, Ron and Patti were a husband and wife real estate team. It was after Ron invited us to join them on their annual Lake Powell houseboat trip in 2005 that we became good friends, not just co-workers.
Ron was diagnosed with skin cancer shortly after we went to work for McCulloch Realty. What I recall most about Ron’s fight with cancer, he continued to live, throw himself into those things that interested him, and never seemed to complain.
During his final weeks, when confined at home, yet still cognitive and not yet restricted to his bed, I interviewed Ronnie. We met for the afternoon, me with tape recorder in hand and a list of questions, while we discussed Ronnie’s rich and rewarding life. Several weeks after the interview, Ronnie passed away.
Ron LaRue was born Ronald Alfred Wilson on October 24, 1937, to parents Alfred Wilson and Wilda Cruthers Wilson, in San Francisco California. Ron’s parents were about 18 years old, in love, and Alfred, like Alfred’s mother, was a hairdresser. Alfred had not yet become an entertainer and hadn’t yet changed his surname to LaRue.
According to Wikipedia, Alfred “Lash” LaRue was born Alfred LaRue in Louisiana, yet notes that California death records cite Alfred’s father’s surname as Wilson, and that Alfred was born in Michigan. According to Ronnie, the LaRue was his father’s invention, a stage name he assumed as his legal name. Ron eventually legally changed his own surname from Wilson to LaRue.
Another discrepancy on Wikipedia is Lash’s birthday. Wikipedia cites Lash LaRue’s birth year as 1921, while the California Death Index at Ancestry.com lists the birth year as 1917, which corresponds with the information given to me by Ronnie.
By the time World War II broke out Ron’s parents separated, and Wilda moved to southern California with her young son. Wilda’s parents were longtime residents of San Francisco, but Wilda thought Southern California of the 1940’s would be a healthier environment for her son.
Shortly after Ron and his mother moved to Southern California Alfred moved to the area. Yet, it was not for a reconciliation. After about eight years of marriage Alfred and Wilda officially divorced. Alfred pursued his career as an entertainer, creating the western persona known as Lash LaRue, with his trademark whip.
Wilda was a secretary and researcher working for writer Erwin Stone and for the motion picture industry. She was an expert in the Wyatt Earp era. She would often take her son to lunch at the commissary at the Desilu Studios, yet Ron wasn’t impressed with the Hollywood glitz, nor was he interested in pursuing a career in the motion picture industry.
Ron lived with his mother in Laurel Canyon, California. Coincidently, his father also lived in Laurel Canyon. Yet, until Ron was about 12 years old he rarely, if ever, saw his father. That all changed shortly before his teen years.
Ron told me, “When I was twelve years old I was on my way home, and he had a Cadillac convertible. It had a piece of leather on the side of the car door that said Lash. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, I said, you know what, my dad lives in that house over there, and I knocked on the door…I went up and knocked on the door and said, is Lash here? And they said who are you? Tell him his son is out here.”
After that, Ron saw his father regularly, with the approval of his mother. According to Ronnie, throughout the years Lash and Wilda had an amicable relationship. Wilda married four times, and according to Ron, Lash married about 16 times. One piece of advice Lash gave his son, never talk poorly of an ex-wife, after all…you married her.
Early Years in Laurel Canyon
Ron’s childhood memories included hiking through the canyon and riding his bike. He loved anything mechanical, was passionate about motorcycles and automobiles, and couldn’t wait to get his first car, which was a black, 1940 Chevy.
Ron was also an animal lover, and one of his first pets was a cat, which he hauled with him everywhere, in the basket of his bike.
He attended Hollywood High School during the Rick and David Nelson era, who also attended Hollywood High. Ricky was younger than Ron, and David was older.
Ron’s First Marriage
Ron’s first marriage was to Marlene, granddaughter of evangelist Aimee McPherson, when he was about 18 years old. They first met when he attended a football game at her high school. Ron was immediately smitten, and they lived together for a while before marrying, which was quite scandalous for the era and frowned upon by Marlene’s parents. The famous grandmother had passed away years earlier.
The marriage only lasted for about three years and produced Ron’s only biological child. Ron said he and Marlene fought like cats and dogs and had a turbulent relationship.
Traveling the Carnie Circuit with Lash LaRue
During his first marriage, for the three years after graduating high school Ron and his bride joined Lash LaRue on the road, living the carnival life. The carnival included a freak show, western show, black show, female dancers, and sometimes motorcycles.
They worked during the summer season, staying a week or so in one spot, traveling the Canada circuit. During the first year they traveled the Royal American, a railroad show, and stayed in a stateroom car.
Ron helped keep his dad’s books, worked the midway, and was a barker, calling out to the potential audience. Sometimes there would be friendly competition between the western show and girl’s show, to see who could attract more of an audience.
Ron recalls the experience was a good one, which he enjoyed. Since it was his father’s show, Ron was granted much leeway in how he performed his duties. In later years, Ron was not anxious to do a great deal of traveling, as he’d traveled so much during those brief years with the carnival.
College, the Military, and Beyond
When not with the carnival, Ron attended LA City College, majoring in psychology. Initially he wanted to get into business law. Yet, he only finished about two years of college and went into the army in 1960.
Ron stayed stateside during his army years, advancing to Sergeant within two years, spending most of the time in New York. He considered making it a career and looked back fondly and with pride at his three years in the service.
Ultimately, Ron chose his son over a career in the military. By the time Ronnie joined the army, he was divorced from Marlene and seeing a preacher’s daughter named Elaine, who would become his second wife. While he was in the service, Marlene took her own life. After Marlene’s death, Ron felt it best to get out of the service to care for his son.
After Ron got out of the military he worked for the Teamsters and then for Anheuser-Bush, from which he eventually retired.
Ron and Patti
Ron met Patti long before she and he began to date. Patti’s brother-in-law from her first marriage was Wilda’s third husband, and Ron was close friends with Patti’s husband. When Patti went into labor with her daughter Debbie, she and Debbie’s father were having dinner with Ron and Elaine. Ron drove Patti to the hospital, and according to Patti Ron saw Debbie before she did.
That first meeting with Debbie must have been providence, for when we knew Ronnie, Debbie was as much a daughter to him as she was to Patti, and he adored Debbie’s children. He told me he enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren and being part of their lives.
Ron and Patti got together years later, when Patti moved from Texas to California, and both were divorced. Ron and Patti married in 1972, yet the marriage ended in divorce in 1983. They continued to live together amicably for another year in separate rooms while their house was for sale. After going their separate ways for a time, they reunited and remarried. They remained together until Ronnie’s death on December 12, 2007.
Passion for Life
One thing I remember vividly about Ronnie is how he would throw himself into his passions. In 1980 that passion was flying. He earned his Instrument Rating, Commercial Rating, and became a certified flight instructor. He would have loved a full time flying career, yet by the time he became a pilot, he was considered too old to take it up as a full-time profession.
He became a licensed real estate agent in 1993 and retired from Bush the following year and moved to Lake Havasu City with his wife Patti. He was a top producer with Century 21 and eventually moved to McCulloch Realty. After McCulloch Realty sold to Coldwell Banker, he and Patti moved to Heirloom Realty.
His stepdaughter Debbie also moved to Lake Havasu City and lived practically next door to Ron and Patti. It afforded Ron and Patti ample time to spend with their family, something they both enjoyed. Ron told me he loved Lake Havasu City and that it offered everything he enjoyed.
In his later years, Ronnie became passionate about competitive shooting. We were working with him and Patti at Heirloom Realty, and there were frequent ammunition deliveries to the office. We often teased him that our office was probably on some terrorist watch list.
Ron loved to share his passions. If he thought someone was interested in shooting, even if he barely knew the person, Ron would readily take him or her to the shooting range.
Lake Powell Houseboat Trips
Ronnie loved to water ski and his favorite vacation destination was house boating on Lake
Powell. Don and I joined Ron and Patti on their last two houseboat trips in 2005 and 2006. We weren’t scheduled to go on the 2007 trip, as we had other family commitments, yet by the time the trip rolled around Ron wasn’t up to making the voyage. Instead of house boating that summer we threw a “mock” houseboat trip at Lake Havasu City, gathering together the friends who normally joined them on Lake Powell. It was a special week.
During the interview, I asked Ron a couple random questions. I asked him to recall his favorite childhood memory. He thought a moment and then told me that his grandmother and aunt shared an apartment, and he remembered one Christmas they celebrated there, and recalled the lighting of the tree in the evening. I asked him what made it special; he said he enjoyed having all the people together, the festivities, such as singing Christmas carols and the tree lighting.
Ron the Preacher
I asked Ron about his religious beliefs. His mother’s second husband was Jewish, and during his youth, to please a stepfather he liked, he converted to Judaism. The conversion only lasted as long as the marriage, which was about three years. During those years, they didn’t celebrate Christmas, but they did celebrate Hanukah. Ron told me he considered himself a Christian.
At one time Ron seriously considered attending Bible school. It wasn’t from an overwhelming desire to be closer to God, but a more practical consideration, as he felt he would be able to make a good living as a preacher, seeing himself in the same light as many other charismatic evangelist preachers, considering his experience in the carnival circuit.
While Ron didn’t pursue his notion of becoming a preacher, he reached out in other constructive ways, through his involvement and membership in the Masons, Shriners, and Elks.
Favorite Entertainers and Memories
I asked Ronnie who his favorite movie stars were. He told me he was madly in love with Sophie Loren, and his favorite male actor was Humphrey Bogart. His favorite musician during Ron’s younger years was Elvis Presley.
As for one of his favorite memories, it was when he graduated from basic training. His mother and father went, and Lash entertained. The officers whom had been ordering the men around all during training found themselves at the end of Lash’s whip during the show.
Losing his Parents
His parents died within a decade of each other, with Lash passing away in 1996 and his mother passing in the late 1980’s of breast cancer. When Ron spoke of his mother, he portrayed a woman who was attractive, intelligent and independent, who dressed well, emotionally supported her son, and was an excellent cook.
During his childhood, he considered Thanksgiving the most important of holidays, as it gave his mother an opportunity to display her culinary talents, and it was an occasion for the family to gather. Ron enjoyed gatherings as he enjoyed people and spending time with family and friends.
It’s hard for me to believe it has been 3 ½ years since Ronnie and I sat down with a tape recorder. I do believe that our spirits move on to another plane or existence after we die. I don’t know what that place is or if it resembles the notion that some have of heaven. Yet, whatever or wherever it might be, I am certain Ron is enthusiastically participating in whatever it has to offer.
May 24, 2011