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Korean War veteran, former 'Kojak' actor Mark Russell to be honored at BOLDERBoulder Memorial Day ceremony

Russell's service to his country was followed by a career in movies and TV shows.
Posted at 11:04 AM, May 23, 2024

AURORA, Colo. — At 95 years old, Mark Russell lives a relatively quiet life in Aurora these days. But his home is decorated with photos of his heroic service to our country, and a career that brought him celebrity status.

In the early 1970s, Russell played the role of Detective Percy Saperstein in the show “Kojak.”

“That was the beginning of my beautiful career. I wasn’t a big star, but I worked with the best,” he said.

But before he would grace the big and small screens in supporting roles, Russell served in the U.S. Army. Like many in his generation, his youth was interrupted by war in Korea.

After training in Japan, Russell’s company was sent to the front lines in Korea. In 1952, he came under fire at Heartbreak Ridge.

Mark Russell as Detective Saperstein in "Kojak"

“This mortar came in and it took one of my men. It opened up my whole right arm and my fatigues (combat uniform) were soaked with blood, and someone got ahold of a walkie-talkie and said, 'Get MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals) unit up here, get the medics to come,'” Rusell remembered.

It was a scene reminiscent of the film "M*A*S*H," which Russell said he was never a big fan of. But he did love movies and television, and after the war, he returned to California, where he had worked in the mail room at Paramount Studios.

“They said, 'Mark, you don’t have to be in the mail room anymore. We’re going to put you in the story department,'” he said.

His passion was always acting and singing and within a short time, Russell was being cast in small roles in some of the biggest shows in the 1960s. His IMDB credits include roles in "Bonanza," "The Twilight Zone," "Hogan’s Heroes," and "The Fugitive," just to name a few. But his biggest break came when "Kojak" premiered in 1973. Russell was cast in the recurring role of Detective Percy Saperstein. He still gets residual checks from his various roles to this day, though not as big as the $100,000 a year he was earning at one point just from residuals.

Throughout his career, Russell was primarily a family man. He and his wife Evellyn had five children. They were married 59 years before she passed away. Reflecting on his many adventures, Russell is grateful.

“It’s such a great honor for me to represent my buddies who are not with me anymore. I have lost some good friends,” he said.

BOLDERBoulder is honoring two veterans, including Russell, at a Memorial Day ceremony.

Watch his interview with us below.

Veteran, former 'Kojak' actor Mark Russell to be honored at BOLDERBoulder

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