Elisha Cook, Jr.

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Not to be confused with Elisha Cooke, Jr..
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, U.S.
Nationality American
Education St. Alban's College[citation needed]
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, probably best remembered as 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, starting 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 film[edit]

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). 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 Hellzapoppin' (1941). In Universal's Phantom Lady (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).[2]

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

Cook may be best-remembered for playing Wilmer, the "gunsel", in The Maltese Falcon (1941), Other notable roles included the doomed informant Harry Jones in The Big Sleep (1946), a henchman (Marty Waterman) of the murderous title character in Born to Kill (1947)), the pugnacious ex-Confederate soldier 'Stonewall' Torrey in Shane (1953), and George Peatty, the shady, cuckolded husband 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).[2]

In television[edit]

Cook appeared on American television. He played a private detective in an episode of Adventures of Superman television series entitled Semi-Private Eye (1953). That same season, he guest starred on NBC's The Dennis Day Show. In 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 episode "The Bequest" of the ABC western series, The Rebel (1960), starring Nick Adams. He appeared in the second episode of ABC's 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" (1967), 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.. He also appeared in The Bionic Woman episode, "Once a Thief" (1977).[2]

Personal life[edit]

Cook was married twice, to Mary Lou Cook in 1929 (divorced in 1942) and Peggy McKenna Cook in 1943, a union which lasted until his death. He had no children.[2][1]

Cook lived in Bishop, California, typically summering on Lake Sabrina in the Sierra Nevada. 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."[3]

Death[edit]

Cook died of a stroke on May 18, 1995 in Big Pine, California, aged 91.[1]

Selected filmography[edit]

Television[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d 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. ^ a b c d Elisha Cook, Jr. at the Internet Movie Database
  3. ^ Huston, John (1994). An Open Book. Da Capo Press. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-306-80573-8. 
  4. ^ ""The Equalizer on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp". Internet Movie Database. April 16, 1957. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 

External links[edit]