Author and journalist Bruce Russell traveled the world, but he always ended up back in Marina del Rey

By Ivor Davis

Bruce Russell probed local history for 2014’s “Chinatown County”
Photo by Ivor Davis

Ivor Davis, author of “The Beatles and Me: On Tour,” was a reporter for the Santa Monica Evening Outlook in the 1960s and a lifelong friend of Bruce Russell.

Robert Bruce Russell, the legendary Australian-born foreign correspondent who wrote bluntly about the checkered history of Marina del Rey in his 2014 book “Chinatown County: The Sell-Out of Marina del Rey,” died Monday at UCLA Hospital after an extended illness. He was 88.

Russell, known simply as “Bruce” to his colleagues worldwide, made his home in Marina del Rey for the past 17 years. He was the consummate journalist, and his global career (perhaps too unbelievable for Hollywood) spanned nearly half a century as he wrote for the fabled international news agency Reuters.

After starting his career working for Sir Keith Murdoch (father of Rupert Murdoch) at the Adelaide Examiner and Melbourne Herald, Bruce jumped on a freighter in 1953 to see the world. To use his words, “Australians inevitably yearn for seeing the world beyond their tight big island, and in 1953 I set off for Canada aboard a freighter to explore.” His early adventures hitchhiking around the world were chronicled in his first book, “Carnival Bound,” published in 1956.

A year later he landed a job with Reuters in London, and the youthful and exuberant Bruce quickly evolved into the living picture of a fearless correspondent — one who could have been plucked out of the pages of a Graham Greene novel. As a star reporter for Reuters, he actually jogged behind tanks as they slowly moved into the Philippine city of Manilla to crush a rebellion. Bruce flitted from one trouble spot to another covering civil wars and riots, along the way incurring the wrath of dictators from Vietnam to the Congo.

He travelled with President Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam and Yugoslavia’s revolutionary communist leader Marshall Tito. While on vacation, Bruce happened on the very spot where South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee was overthrown — and of course phoned in an eyewitness story.

After years of reporting from the most dangerous war zones of the times, Bruce was sent on an even more hazardous assignment in 1968: He was to open the new West Coast Bureau for Reuter’s in the roiling streets of Los Angeles amidst civil unrest from many directions.

Bruce sported a green convertible Mustang as he traversed the streets of L.A.; it served as his traveling office as he covered the biggest stories in California for more than a decade: the Charles Manson murders and ensuing trial, the assassination of Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel, and the trials of Angela Davis and Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg among them. He also covered stories such as Charlie Chaplin’s return to Hollywood and the scandalous and stormy divorce of Marlon Brando from Anna Kashfi.

Bruce was admired as a one-man whirling dervish, singlehandedly covering the biggest stories in California for Reuters, while matching and competing with much larger staffs working for outlets like the Associated Press, United Press International, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Herald Examiner and Agence France-Presse.

In 1978, Bruce was sent on another serious assignment. He became a bureau chief for Reuters in Washington. Bruce held that job for 13 years but maintained that “the world of congressional debate, diplomacy and government regulation was never as much fun as Los Angeles.”  Perhaps the current day chaos and shenanigans in Washington would have captivated him.

After retirement, Bruce briefly moved back to Australia with his family but longed for life in Southern California. So he moved back and his investigative reporter mind kicked in again, which led to his penning and self-publishing “Chinatown County.” His investigative book chronicled the Machiavellian history about the tumultuous creation of Marina del Rey while simultaneously arguing to protect its natural environment.

Bruce structured his later life with Marie Louise to spend half the year in France, where he loved to hike the Pyrenees, swim in the Mediterranean, and enjoy the food, friends and quality of life of her family home in the village Saint Genis des Fontaines, a place he came to cherish.

He is survived by Marie Louise; his daughter Sophie, in San Francisco; his son Guy, in Barcelona; and his family in Australia: sister Helen Heard, niece Mary, nephews Adrian and Sam, and their families.

A celebration of life is planned for early September.