Benny was born to Fox and Emma Russell in 1924. His father left home when he was child while his mother died in 1938. (DS9 novelization: Far Beyond the Stars) He was an American of African descent living in New York City in the mid-20th century. He served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theatre during World War II, and later became a writer for the science fiction magazine Incredible Tales of Scientific Wonder. He was dismissed from this job when he refused to change a story he had written in which a "Negro" commanded a space station. The conflict with his editor led to a mental breakdown, and Russell was institutionalized. (DS9 episode and novelization: "Far Beyond the Stars")
Russell was placed under the care of Dr. James Wykoff. He continued to write even after Wycoff forbid him paper, at which point he resorted to writing on the walls. (DS9 episode: "Shadows and Symbols") Russell refused to give up his "story" about Benjamin Sisko, and Wycoff eventually relented, allowing Russell to continue his writing as a form of therapy. (DS9 short story: "Isolation Ward 4")
In Vaughn's encounter with Russell (in which he takes on the alter ego of "Eli Underwood"), Russell has earned the trust and respect of the institute's staff, and was given enough free rein of the Riverdale Asylum to show Eli around. The two shared a love of baseball and quickly became friends. (DS9 novel: Unity)
- Historical references in Unity, such as that to Hurricane Hilda, puts Underwood's encounter with Russell in late 1955, contradicting the specific dating used in "Isolation Ward 4". However, the assertion in Unity that Cassie was at the same time pregnant with his child also seems to contradict the implied 1953 setting for "Far Beyond the Stars". Given the nature of Prophet visions, such contradictions of the linear timeline are perhaps to be expected.
- One early script treatment of Far Beyond the Stars ended on the revelation that everything that had occurred on screen -- the Occupation, the Dominion War, the discovery of the Celestial Temple -- had been one of Benny Russell's stories. Though the idea was seriously considered for some time, it was ultimately discarded, in part because the concept was too confusing.