Elisha Cook, Jr.

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Elisha Cook, Jr.
Elisha Cook, Jr.jpg
Cook, Jr. in 1944
Born Elisha Vanslyck Cook, Jr.
(1903-12-26)December 26, 1903
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died May 18, 1995(1995-05-18) (aged 91)
Big Pine, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Stroke
Resting place
Cremation
Residence Big Pine, California
Nationality American
Other names Elisa Cook
Elisha Cook
Education St. Alban's College
Alma mater Chicago Academy of Dramatic Arts
Occupation Actor
Years active 1930–1988
Home town Chicago, Illinois
Spouse(s) Mary Lou Cook (m. 1929–42)
Peggy McKenna (m. 1943–95)

Elisha Vanslyck Cook, Jr. (December 26, 1903 – May 18, 1995) was an American character actor who made a career out of playing cowardly villains and weedy neurotics in dozens of films. He is best remembered for his portrayal of the "gunsel" Wilmer, who tries to intimidate Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon,[1] but his acting career spanned more than 60 years, with roles in films such as The Big Sleep, Shane, The Killing, and House on Haunted Hill.

Career[edit]

Cook was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Elisha Vanslyck Cook, Sr., a pharmacist. He grew up in Chicago. He started out in vaudeville and stock by the age of fourteen. He was a traveling actor in the East Coast and the Midwest before arriving in New York City, where Eugene O'Neill cast him in his play Ah, Wilderness!, which ran on Broadway for two years.[1]

Cook meeting a typical sticky end at the hands of Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947).

In 1936, Cook settled in Hollywood and, after playing a series of college-aged parts, began a long period playing weaklings or sadistic losers and hoods. Cook's characters usually ended up being killed off (strangled, poisoned or shot); he was perhaps Hollywood's most notable fall guy for many years. He made a rare appearance in slapstick comedy in the cameo role of The Screenwriter in 1941's Hellzapoppin'. In Universal's Phantom Lady of 1944, he portrays a slimy, intoxicated nightclub-orchestra drummer to memorable effect. He had a substantial uncredited role as Bobo in I, the Jury (1953).

Cook, Jr. in the trailer for The Maltese Falcon, (1941)

Other notable roles included Wilmer the "gunsel" in The Maltese Falcon (1941), a henchman (Marty Waterman) of the murderous title character in Born to Kill, the doomed informant Harry Jones in The Big Sleep (1946), the pugnacious ex-Confederate soldier "Stonewall" Torrey in Shane (1953), and George Peatty, the crooked hen-pecked husband to Marie Windsor, in Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). He also appeared in William Castle's horror film House on Haunted Hill (1959) and Rosemary's Baby (1968).

Cook appeared on American television. He played a private detective in a 1953 episode of Adventures of Superman television series entitled Semi-Private Eye. That same season, he guest starred on NBC's The Dennis Day Show.

On December 15, 1960, he was cast in the episode, "The Hermit", of the ABC sitcom The Real McCoys, with Walter Brennan. He appeared as Jeremy Hake in the 1960 episode "The Bequest" of the ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. He appeared in the second episode of ABC's popular crime drama, The Fugitive.

Cook made two guest appearances on the CBS courtroom drama series Perry Mason. In 1958 he played Art Crowley in "The Case of the Pint-Sized Client," and in 1964 he played Reelin' Peter Rockwell in "The Case of the Reckless Rockhound."

Cook played lawyer Samuel T. Cogley in the Star Trek episode "Court Martial", Isaac Isaacson on the Batman television series, Weasel Craig in Salem's Lot, and later had a long-term recurring role as Honolulu crime lord "Ice Pick" on CBS's Magnum, P.I., starring Tom Selleck.

He also appeared in The Bionic Woman episode "Once a Thief" in 1977 opposite Lindsay Wagner.

Personal life[edit]

Cook married twice. His first marriage was to Mary Lou Cook in 1929, but they divorced in 1942. His second marriage, which lasted until his death, was to Peggy McKenna Cook in 1943. He had no children, although he spent time raising a niece. He lived in Bishop, California, typically summering on Lake Sabrina in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

According to John Huston, who directed him in The Maltese Falcon:

"[Cook] lived alone up in the High Sierra, tied flies and caught golden trout between films. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent word up to his mountain cabin by courier. He would come down, do a picture, and then withdraw again to his retreat."[2]

Death[edit]

Cook died of a stroke on May 18, 1995 in Big Pine, California.[1]

Selected filmography[edit]

Television[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Thomas Jr., Robert McG. (May 21, 1995). "Elisha Cook Jr., Villain in Many Films, Dies at 91.". New York Times. "Elisha Cook Jr., whose intense, bug-eyed portrayal of Wilmer, the psychotic, baby-faced killer in "The Maltese Falcon," made him a cult figure to a generation of moviegoers, died on Thursday at a nursing home in Big Pine, California. He was 91. He was the last surviving cast member of John Huston's 1941 film noir classic, whose company included Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Mary Astor." 
  2. ^ Huston, John (1994). An Open Book. Da Capo Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-306-80573-8. 
  3. ^ ""The Equalizer on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, April 16, 1957". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  4. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0594159/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

External links[edit]