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Elliot as Mike Hammer in I, the Jury
July 26, 1923
Lynn, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Died||August 15, 2012
Studio City, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Maine|
(m.1948-1974; her death)
(m.1977-2012; his death)
Biff Elliot (July 26, 1923 – August 15, 2012) was an American actor. He is perhaps best known for his role as popular detective Mike Hammer in the 1953 version of I, the Jury, and as his guest appearance in the Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark".
Elliot was born Leon Shalek in Lynn, Massachusetts, the son of Susan M. (née Bernstein) and Israel Michael Shalek. All of his grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a former semi-pro baseball player, then retiring and opening up a burlap-bag manufacturing business in Presque Isle, Maine.
Elliot had a childhood nickname "Bith" but later adapted it to "Biff" when he went into boxing. When he was 16 his family moved to Presque Isle, where he became involved in boxing and was known as Biff Harris. Eventually Elliot went on to become the North Maine champion and even reached the New England regional championship, but once his mother found out about his fighting she refused to allow him to continue boxing. In 1943 Elliot signed up for the United States Army and was placed in the 34th Infantry Division, later on being stationed to North Africa.
Once the war finished Elliot was discharged and decided to return to the University of Maine in 1945. He graduated from Maine in 1949 and moved to New York City in hopes of pursuing a writing career. After failing to make out as a writer, Elliot switched his attention to acting, and began taking acting courses at the actors' studio.
He first started doing stage and television work, mostly playing tough, working-class characters. When he was spotted by a Hollywood attorney while performing a television episode, the attorney recommended him to Victor Saville, the producer who was preparing the first film adaption of Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury. When accepted for the audition, Elliot was brought to Hollywood, and began preparing for his role by cramming himself with Mike Hammer novels and spending the whole night re-reading them. After a successful 15-minute audition Elliot was selected to become the first actor to portray the famed Mike Hammer in a motion picture, and thus his first leading role on film. Over the next few years, Elliot was a prominent fixture in classic war films of the 1950s and '60s, appearing in ones such as Between Heaven and Hell, The Enemy Below, Pork Chop Hill, and PT 109. But mostly he worked in television. In 1959, Elliot got a seemingly good break when playwright Clifford Odets happened to see I, the Jury and offered him a role in The Story on Page One, which Odets wrote and directed. Thereafter Elliot was mostly seen on television over the next decade, including an appearance on Frank Lovejoy's detective series, Meet McGraw, and an appearance on Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr. In 1966, he portrayed a government agent in an episode of the comedy series The Dick Van Dyke Show. In 1967, he appeared in the Star Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark". He guest-starred in an episode of Gibbsville in 1976. In 1977, he had a memorable supporting role in Telly Savalas's Beyond Reason with Diana Muldaur. A late notable role came in 1981 when he co-starred in Back to the Planet of the Apes, a TV movie. Elliot would make his final film appearance in 1986 in a comedy, co-starring with Jack Lemmon in a scene from That's Life!. His last appearance on television was in 1986 on the set of the television series of Starman, and he retired in 2001.
After Elliot's retirement he continued to work in radio sports, covering Los Angeles sports for CBS Radio Network. Elliot was previously married to Betty Cole a former model, whom he met during his tenure at the University of Maine and married her in his sophomore year in 1948, she died in 1974. Elliot remarried in 1977 to Connie and both resided in Los Angeles.