Jack Elam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Jack Elam
Jackelamkansas01.jpg
Born William Scott Elam
(1920-11-13)November 13, 1920
Miami, Arizona, U.S.
Died October 20, 2003(2003-10-20) (aged 82)
Ashland, Oregon, U.S.
Years active 1944–1995
Spouse(s) Jean L Hodgert
(1937–61; her death) 1 daughter, 1 son
Margaret Jennison
(1961–2003; his death) 1 daughter
Children 3

William Scott "Jack" Elam (November 13, 1920[1] – October 20, 2003), was an American film and television actor best known for his numerous roles as villains in Western films and, later in his career, comedies (sometimes spoofing his villainous image). His most distinguishing physical quality was his squint. Before his career in acting, he took several jobs in finance and served two years in the United States Navy during World War II.

Elam played in 73 movies and made an appearance in 41 television series. His best known works consist of Once Upon a Time in the West, High Noon, Support Your Local Sheriff, and the television program The Twilight Zone.

Early life[edit]

Elam was born in Miami in Gila County in south central Arizona, to Millard Elam and Alice Amelia Kirby. His mother died in 1922 when Jack was two years old.[2] By 1930, he was living with his father, older sister Mildred, and their stepmother, Flossie Varney Elam.

He grew up picking cotton and lost the sight in his left eye during a boyhood accident when he was stabbed with a pencil at a Boy Scout meeting.[3] He was a student at both Miami High School in Gila County and Phoenix Union High School in Maricopa County, graduating from there in the late 1930s.

Elam attended Santa Monica Junior College in California. After that, he worked as a bookkeeper at the Bank of America in Los Angeles and as an auditor for the Standard Oil Company. In World War II, he served two years in the United States Navy and subsequently became an independent accountant in Hollywood; one of his clients was movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn.[4] At one time, he was the manager of the Bel Air Hotel in Los Angeles.[2]

Acting career[edit]

In 1949, Elam made his debut in She Shoulda Said No!, an exploitation film in which a chorus girl's marijuana smoking ruins her career and drives her brother to suicide. He appeared mostly in westerns and gangster films playing villains.

Elam made multiple guest-star appearances in many popular Western television series in the 1950s and 1960s, including Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Lawman, Bonanza, Cheyenne, Have Gun – Will Travel, Zorro, The Lone Ranger, The Rebel, F Troop, Tales of Wells Fargo and Rawhide. In 1961, he played a slightly crazed bus passenger on The Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"

In 1963, Elam got a rare chance to play the good guy, Deputy U.S. Marshal and reformed gunfighter J. D. Smith, in the ABC/Warner Brothers series, The Dakotas, a western that was telecast for only nineteen episodes. He played George Taggart, a gunslinger-turned-marshal in the NBC/WB western series, Temple Houston, with Jeffrey Hunter in the title role. Elam got this part after James Coburn declined the role. Unfortunately for him, that series ran for only twenty-six weeks.[5]

In 1966, Jack Elam co-starred with Clint Walker in the western The Night of the Grizzly. In 1968, Elam had a cameo in Sergio Leone's celebrated spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West. In that film he played one of a trio of gunslingers who were sent to kill Charles Bronson's character. Elam spent a good part of the scene trying to trap an annoying fly in his gun barrel. In 1967 Elam appeared in The Way West with Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark and Kirk Douglas as the light hearted Preacher Weatherby taking part in a wagon train on the Oregon Trail. In 1969, he was given his first comedic role in Support Your Local Sheriff!, which was followed two years later by Support Your Local Gunfighter, both opposite James Garner. After his performances in those two films, Elam found his villainous parts dwindling and his comic roles increasing. (Both films were also directed by Burt Kennedy, who had seen Elam's potential as a comedian and would direct him a total of 15 times in features and television.) In between those two films, he also played a comically cranky old coot opposite John Wayne in Howard Hawks's Rio Lobo (1970). In 1979 he was cast as the Frankenstein monster in the CBS sitcom Struck by Lightning, but the show was cancelled after only three episodes. He then appeared in the role of "Hick Peterson" in a first-season episode of Home Improvement alongside Ernest Borgnine (Season 1, episode 20 "Birds of a Feather Flock to Tim").

Elam played "Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing," an eccentric doctor in the 1981 movie The Cannonball Run. Three years later, he returned in the same role in the film's sequel The Cannonball Run II.

In 1985, Elam played Charlie in The Aurora Encounter. During production, Elam developed what would become a lifelong relationship with an 11-year-old boy named Mickey Hays, who suffered from progeria. As shown in the documentary I Am Not a Freak[6] viewers see how close Elam and Hays really were. Elam said, "You know I've met a lot of people, but I've never met anybody that got next to me like Mickey."

In 1986, Elam also co-starred on the short-lived comedy series Easy Street as Alvin "Bully" Stevenson, the down-on-his-luck uncle of Loni Anderson's character, L. K. McGuire. In 1988, Elam co-starred with Willie Nelson in the movie Where The Hell's That Gold?

In 1994, Elam was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

In a wry and oft repeated comment on Hollywood superficiality, attributed first to Hugh O'Brian,[7] Elam classified the stages of a moderately successful actor's life, as defined by the way a film director refers to the actor suggested for a part. (He said this on a George Plimpton ABC documentary about the making of Rio Lobo; Ricardo Montalbán would later use the recitation numerous times, with his own name, in speeches.[8])

Stage 1: "Who is Jack Elam?"
Stage 2: "Get me Jack Elam."
Stage 3: "I want a Jack Elam type."
Stage 4: "I want a younger Jack Elam."
Stage 5: "Who is Jack Elam?"

Personal life and death[edit]

Jack Elam was married twice, first to Jean Hodgert from 1937 to her death in 1961, and then to Margaret Jennison from 1961 until his own death. Elam died of congestive heart failure in Ashland, Oregon in 2003, just a month before his 83rd birthday. He was survived by his wife Margaret; their daughter, Jacqueline; and his daughter and son from his previous marriage, Jeri and Scott.

Film and television work[edit]

Television[edit]

Bonanza 1966 "A Bride for Buford" Buford

Home Improvement 1992 "Birds of a Feather Flock to Taylor" Hick Peterson

Bonanza: The Return 1993 - Buckshot

Bonanza: Under Attack 1995 - Buckshot

Films[edit]

Title Year Roles Notes
Mystery Range 1947 Burvel Lambert
Wild Weed 1949 Raymond - Henchman
The Sundowners 1950 Earl Boyce
Key to the City 1950 Councilman Uncredtted
Quicksand 1950 Man at Bar Uncredited
One Way Street 1950 Arnie Uncredited
A Ticket to Tomahawk 1950 Fargo Uncredited
Love That Brute 1950 Henchman #2 in Cigar Store Uncredited
High Lonesome 1950 Smiling Man
American Guerrilla in the Philippines 1951 The Speaker
The Texan Meets Calamity Jane 1951 Henchman Uncredited
Bird of Paradise 1951 The Trader
Rawhide 1951 Tevis
The Bushwackers 1951 Cree
Finders Keepers 1952 Eddie
Rancho Notorious 1952 Mort Geary
The Battle at Apache Pass 1952 Mescal Jack
High Noon 1952 Charlie - Drunk in Jail Uncredited
Montana Territory 1952 Gimp
Lure of the Wilderness 1952 Dave Longden
My Man and I 1952 Celestino Garcia
The Ring 1952 Harry Jackson
Kansas City Confidential 1952 Pete Harris
Count the Hours 1953 Max Verne
Ride, Vaquero! 1953 Barton
Gun Belt 1953 Rusty Kolloway
The Moonlighter 1953 Slim
Appointment in Honduras 1953 Castro
Jubilee Trail 1954 Whitey
Ride Clear of Diablo 1954 Tim Lowerie
Princess of the Nile 1954 Basra
The Far Country 1954 Frank Newberry
Cattle Queen of Montana 1954 Yost
Vera Cruz 1954 Tex
Tarzan's Hidden Jungle 1955 Burger
The Man from Laramie 1955 Chris Boldt
Man Without a Star 1955 Knife Murderer Uncredited
Kiss Me Deadly 1955 Charlie Max
Moonfleet 1955 Damen
Wichita 1955 Al
Artists and Models 1955 Ivan
Kismet 1955 Hasan-Ben
Jubal 1956 McCoy - Bar 8 Rider
Pardners 1956 Pete
Thunder Over Arizona 1956 Deputy Slats Callahan
Dragoon Wells Massacre 1957 Tioga
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral 1957 Tom McLowery
Lure of the Swamp 1957 Henry Bliss
Night Passage 1957 Shotgun
Baby Face Nelson 1957 Fatso Nagel
The Gun Runners 1958 Arnold
Edge of Eternity 1959 Bill Ward
The Girl in Lovers Lane 1960 Jesse
The Last Sunset 1961 Ed Hobbs
The Comancheros 1961 Horseface (Comanchero)
Pocketful of Miracles 1961 Cheesecake
4 for Texas 1963 Dobie
The Rare Breed 1966 Simons
The Night of the Grizzly 1966 Hank
The Way West 1967 Preacher Weatherby
The Last Challenge 1967 Ernest Scarnes
Firecreek 1968 Norman
Never a Dull Moment 1968 Ace Williams
Sonora 1968 Slim Kovacs
Once Upon a Time in the West 1968 Snaky - Member of Frank's Gang
Support Your Local Sheriff! 1969 Jake
The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County 1970 Kittrick
Dirty Dingus Magee 1970 John Wesley Hardin
The Wild Country 1970 Thompson
Rio Lobo 1970 Mr Phillips
Support Your Local Gunfighter 1971 Jug May
The Last Rebel 1971 Matt
Hannie Caulder 1971 Frank Clemens
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid 1973 Alamosa Bill
A Knife for the Ladies 1974 Jarrod (Sheriff)
Creature from Black Lake 1976 Joe Canton
Hawmps! 1976 Bad Jack Cutter
The Winds of Autumn 1976 J. Pete Hankins
Pony Express Rider 1976 Crazy Charlie
Grayeagle 1977 Trapper Willis
Hot Lead and Cold Feet 1978 Rattlesnake
The Norseman 1978 Death Dreamer
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again 1979 Big Mac
The Villain 1979 Avery Simpson
The Cannonball Run 1981 Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing
Soggy Bottom, U.S.A. 1981 Troscliar Boudreaux
Jinxed! 1982 Otto
Sacred Ground 1983 Lum Witcher
Lost 1983 Mr. Newsome
Cannonball Run II 1984 Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing
The Aurora Encounter 1986 Charlie
Hawken's Breed 1987 Tackett
Once Upon A Texas Train 1988 Jason Fitch
Big Bad John 1990 Jake Calhoun
The Giant of Thunder Mountain 1991 Hezekiah Crow
Suburban Commando 1991 Col. Dustin 'Dusty' McHowell
Shadow Force 1992 Tommy
Uninvited 1993 Grady

References[edit]

  1. ^ Other sources cite 1916 and 1918. The year 1920 is stated on both his birth and death certificates. Arizona Certificate of Live Birth for William Scott Elam
  2. ^ a b "Jack Elam at westernclippings.com". Retrieved 27 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Douglas Martin (October 23, 2003). "Jack Elam, Lazy-Eyed Movie Villain, Is Dead". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  4. ^ Paul Wadey (October 23, 2003). "Jack Elam Archetypal villain in film and TV westerns". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-27. 
  5. ^ Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), p. 106
  6. ^ "I Am Not a Freak" (1987) on IMDb . Retrieved 2009-11-27.
  7. ^ garson. "The Five Stages of an Actor's Career - Quote Investigator". 
  8. ^ "Crowds Gather to Inaugurate Montalbán Theatre". http://www.startrek.com. 5 November 2004. Retrieved 2009-01-14.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]