William Scott "Jack" Elam (November 13, 1920 – 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 misaligned eye. Before his career in acting, he took several jobs in finance and served two years in the United States Navy during World War II.
William Scott Elam
November 13, 1920
Miami, Arizona, U.S.
|Died||October 20, 2003 (aged 82)|
Ashland, Oregon, U.S.
Jean L Hodgert
(m. 1937; died 1961)
Margaret M. Jennison
Elam performed in 73 movies and in at least 41 television series.
Born in 1920 in Miami, Arizona—a small mining town located 85 miles east of Phoenix—Jack was one of two children of Alice Amelia (née Kerby) and Millard Elam. Jack's father supported the family by working assorted jobs over the years, including stints as a carpenter, "millman", and accountant.[a] The Elams by 1924 had moved from Miami to the nearby community of Globe, Arizona, where in September that year Alice died at the age of 30, succumbing to what state medical records cite as a three-year struggle with "general paralysis". After their mother's death, young Jack and his older sister Mildred went to live with various family members until Millard married again in April 1928, then to Kansas native Flossie Varney. Federal census records show that two years later the children, their father, stepmother, and Flossie's own mother were residing together in Globe, where Millard had a new job as an investigator for a loan company. Flossie was employed as well at the time as a public school teacher, while Jack also contributed to the family's income by periodically working on nearby farms gleaning cotton.
In 1931 Elam suffered a severe injury to his left eye during an altercation with another boy, an injury that ultimately blinded him in that eye and permanently damaged the muscles surrounding it. As Jack grew older, the impaired muscles caused his eye increasingly to "drift" within its socket and not track in unison with his right eye, often giving him a cockeyed appearance. Percy Shain, a veteran film and television critic for The Boston Globe, interviewed Elam in 1974 and quoted the actor's comments about the injury:
"I lost my eye when I was 11 in a fight at—would you believe it?—a boy scout [sic] meeting...It was a big initiation night but I got into a scrap with this other kid and he put a pencil through my eye.
"There was no doctor there and it wasn't looked at until sometime afterward. They finally took out the lens and made it sightless. It was 20 years, though, before it started drifting. If it became an issue I could have it operated on, but at this stage of life I probably won't.
"There was a time, though, when I was making 'Rawhide,' the movie , that I mentioned to Darryl Zanuck [head of 20th Century-Fox] that I could have it fixed. He said, 'Don't do it. It's part of your mystique.' So I never got back to it and it's become my trademark, in a way.
"At this stage, it only causes me minor inconvenience. Sometimes I'm a little off center, or when I'm talking to someone I do it at a slight angle."
Zanuck's remarks about Elam's eye proved to be wise career advice, for despite any lifelong disadvantages that his "lazy eye" created for him personally, it proved to be an asset professionally, at least as a performer. His eye's distinctive appearance, combined with Elam's natural acting abilities, drew the attention of many casting directors of films and television series throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Education, military service and jobs prior to actingEdit
Before becoming an actor, Elam completed his high-school education, got married, attended college, worked in a variety of jobs, and, despite being blind in one eye, served two years in the United States Navy during World War II. He completed his secondary education in Arizona, graduating from Phoenix Union High School in the late 1930s and then moving to California, where he majored in "business studies" at Modesto and Santa Monica junior colleges.[b] During that time, he was also employed in several positions before entering military service, including work as a salesman for a "house trailer agency", as an accountant for the Standard Oil Company, a bookkeeper at the Bank of America, and a manager at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. For a few years after his discharge from the navy, Elam continued to apply his business training as an accountant for Hopalong Cassidy Productions and as an independent auditor for Samuel Goldwyn and other moguls and companies associated with the film industry. That work required Jack to spend long hours each day reading and examining in detail large quantities of financial records, a routine that put too much strain on his right eye, his "good eye". "'I only see out of one eye'", he explained in an interview published in The Baltimore Sun in 1974, "'and that eye kept going shut.'" While Elam was widely recognized in Hollywood as "a leading independent auditor in motion pictures", by 1947 he found it necessary to quit that successful occupation entirely. He added, "'I had [my right eye] operated on several times and finally the doctor said he couldn't open it any more. He told me I had to get out of the business immediately or go blind.'"
Elam made his screen debut in 1949 in She Shoulda Said No!, an exploitation film in which a chorus girl's habitual marijuana smoking ruins her career and then drives her brother to suicide. Over the next decade as an actor, Elam continued to perform most often in gangster films and Westerns, firmly establishing himself in those genres as a reliable and memorable villain or "heavy". In fact, by the end of the 1950s various American news outlets and moviegoers were referring to him as "'the screen's most loathsome character'".
On television in the 1950s and 1960s, he made multiple guest-star appearances on many popular Western series, including The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, The Rifleman, Lawman, Bonanza, Cheyenne, Have Gun – Will Travel, Zorro, The Rebel, F Troop, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Texan, and Rawhide. In 1961, he played a slightly crazed bus passenger on The Twilight Zone episode "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?". That same year, he also portrayed the Mexican historical figure Juan Cortina in "The General Without a Cause", an episode of the anthology series Death Valley Days. In 1962, Elam appeared as Paul Henry on Lawman in the episode titled "Clootey Hutter".
Elam in 1963 received a rare opportunity to portray the good guy, appearing as a reformed gunfighter, Deputy U.S. Marshal J. D. Smith, in the ABC/Warner Bros. series The Dakotas, a Western intended as the successor of Cheyenne. The Dakotas ran for 19 episodes. He was then cast as George Taggart, "a former gunfighter who has become a U.S. marshal", in the 1963–1964 NBC/WB series Temple Houston.
In 1966 Jack Elam was cast in his first comedic role by Paramount Pictures, playing Hank in the Western film The Night of the Grizzly starring Clint Walker. The next year, for the Harold Hecht production The Way West, he was chosen for another light-hearted role, playing Preacher Weatherby and providing support to costars Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, and Kirk Douglas in a story about a wagon train traveling the Oregon Trail. Then, in 1968, Elam performed in the opening scenes of Sergio Leone's celebrated "spaghetti Western" Once Upon a Time in the West. In that film he portrays one of a trio of gunslingers sent to a train station to kill Charles Bronson's character. Elam in one sequence spends a good portion of his screen time simply trying to rid himself of an annoying fly, finally capturing the elusive insect inside the barrel of his pistol.
In 1969, he played another 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 directed him a total of 15 times in features and television.) Between those two films, he also played a comically cranky old coot opposite John Wayne in Howard Hawks's Rio Lobo (1970). In 1974–1975, he was cast as Zack Wheeler in The Texas Wheelers, a short-lived comedy series in which he portrayed a long-lost father returning home to raise his four children after their mother dies. Also on television, in 1979, he performed as Frankenstein's monster on the CBS sitcom Struck by Lightning, but the show was cancelled after only three episodes (the remaining eight were unaired (and remain so) in the U.S., though all 11 were aired in the UK in 1980). He then appeared in the role of Hick Peterson in a first-season episode of Home Improvement alongside Ernest Borgnine (season one, episode 20, "Birds of a Feather Flock to Tim").
Elam portrayed Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing, a "crazed proctologist", in the 1981 action-comedy film The Cannonball Run; and three years later, he reprised the role for the production's sequel, Cannonball Run II. Elam then played the character Charlie Hankins, a town drunk, in the 1986 "Weird Western" picture The Aurora Encounter. During production, Elam developed what would become a lifelong relationship with an 11-year-old boy in Texas named Mickey Hays, who suffered from progeria. The 1987 documentary I Am Not a Freak portrays the close friendship between Elam and Hays. 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 made-for-television 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 Oklahoma City, OK.
Personal life and deathEdit
Elam was married twice, first to Jean Louise Hodgert from 1937 until her death from colon cancer on January 24, 1961.[c] Seven months later, in August 1961, Elam married again, then to Margaret M. Jennison. The couple remained together for 42 years, until 2003, when Jack died of congestive heart failure at their home in Ashland, Oregon.
|Mystery Range||1947||Burvel Lambert|
|Wild Weed||1949||Raymond – Henchman|
|The Sundowners||1950||Earl Boyce|
|Key to the City||1950||Councilman||Uncredited|
|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|
|Rancho Notorious||1952||Mort Geary|
|The Battle at Apache Pass||1952||Mescal Jack|
|High Noon||1952||Charlie – Drunk in Jail||Uncredited|
|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|
|Gun Belt||1953||Rusty Kolloway|
|Appointment in Honduras||1953||Castro|
|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|
|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|
|Artists and Models||1955||Ivan|
|Jubal||1956||McCoy – Bar 8 Rider|
|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|
|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|
|Never a Dull Moment||1968||Ace Williams|
|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|
|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|
|Hot Lead and Cold Feet||1978||Rattlesnake|
|The Norseman||1978||Death Dreamer|
|The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again||1979||Big Mac|
|The Sacketts||1979||Ira Bigelow|
|The Villain||1979||Avery Simpson|
|The Cannonball Run||1981||Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing|
|Soggy Bottom, U.S.A.||1981||Troscliar Boudreaux|
|Sacred Ground||1983||Lum Witcher|
|Cannonball Run II||1984||Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing|
|The Aurora Encounter||1986||Charlie Hankins|
|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|
|The Restless Gun||1957||Link Jared||"Trail to Sunset"|
|Lawman||1958||Flynn Hawks||"The Deputy"|
|The Restless Gun||1958||Tony Molenauer||"Hornitas Town"|
|Have Gun – Will Travel||1958||Joe Gage||"The Man Who Lost" (Written by Ida Lupino)|
|The Texan||1958||Tug Swann||"The Eastener"|
|The Rifleman||1958||Sim Groder||"Duel of Honor"|
|The Texan||1959||Luke Watson||"South of the Border"|
|The Texan||1959||Dud Parsons||"Lady Tenderfoot"|
|The Rifleman||1959||Gavin Martin||"Tension"|
|Tombstone Territory||1959||Wally Jobe||"Day of the Amnesty"|
|Gunsmoke||1960||Clint Dodie||"Where'd They Go"|
|The Twilight Zone||1961||Crazy Man||"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?"|
|Bonanza||1961||Dodie Hoad||"The Spitfire"|
|Cheyenne||1961||Count Nicholas Potosi||"Massacre at Gunsight Pass"|
|Gunsmoke||1961||Ben||"Love Thy Neighbor"|
|The Untouchables||1962||Jug Alverson||"Pressure"|
|Cheyenne||1962||Deputy J. D. Smith||"A Man Called Ragan"|
|Cheyenne||1962||Calhoun Durango||"The Durango Brothers"|
|Have Gun – Will Travel||1962||Arnold Shaffner||"One, Two, Three"|
|Gunsmoke||1964||Specter||"Help Me, Kitty"|
|Daniel Boone||1965||Petch||S1/E18 - "The Sound of Fear"|
|Gunsmoke||1965||Sam Band||"Clayton Thaddeus Greenwood"|
|Gunsmoke||1966||Jim Barrett||"My Father, My Son"|
|Bonanza||1967||Buford Buckalew||"A Bride for Buford"|
|The Wild Wild West||1967||Zack Slade||"The Night of Montezuma's Hordes"|
|Gunsmoke||1968||William Prange||"The First People"|
|Gunsmoke||1969||Pack Landers||”The Sisters”|
|Bonanza||1970||Honest John||"Honest John"|
|The Virginian||1970||Harve Yost||"Rich Man, Poor Man"|
|Gunsmoke||1971||Titus Spangler||"P.S. Murry Christmas"|
|Gunsmoke||1972||Pierre Audubon||"The River- Parts 1 & 2"|
|The Texas Wheelers||1974–1975||Zack Wheeler||Main role; 8 episodes|
|How the West Was Won||1976||Cully Madigan||2 episodes|
|$weepstake$||1979||Frank||Episode: "Billy, Wally and Ludmilla, and Theodore"|
|Easy Street||1986||Alvin "Bully" Stevenson||22 episodes|
|Home Improvement||1992||Hick Peterson||"Birds of a Feather Flock to Taylor"|
|Bonanza: The Return||1993||Buckshot||Television movie|
|Bonanza: Under Attack||1995||Buckshot||Television movie|
Awards and recognitionEdit
- 1983: The 1st Annual Golden Boot Awards
- 1994: National Cowboy Hall of Fame, at the Western Heritage Center.
- ^ The spellings of Alice Kerby's first name and maiden name vary in both official and unofficial records. They are spelled "Alyce" and "Kirby" in some records, including on her 1918 marriage documents to Millard Elam and on her 1924 death certificate. The surname of her parents, however, is consistently spelled "Kerby" on the family's grave markers. See photographs of those markers at Find a Grave and refer to "Arizona, County Marriages, 1871-1964", license and certificate of Millard Elam and Alyce A. Kirby, September 28, 1918, Miami, Gila County, Arizona; original marriage documents preserved at Arizona Department of Libraries, Archives, and Public Records, Phoenix. Retrieved via FamilySearch, October 2, 2022.
- ^ According to Jack Elam's entry in the 1940 federal census, by April that year he had attained the equivalent of "C-1" or one year of college education. See "Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population Schedule", household of Jack M. Elam and Jean L. Elam, Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, California, April 29, 1940; digitized image of original census page, Enumeration District 14, 60-1131; NARA. Retrieved via FamilySearch, December 30, 2022.
- ^ Although California marriage records document that Jack Millard Elam and Jean Louise Hodgert married in Los Angeles on April 20, 1944, the U.S. Census of 1940 documents that the couple that year were already living together in the city as husband and wife. See the 1940 census reference previously cited herein as well as the "California, County Marriages, 1850-1952" database, which includes a microfilm copy of a 1944 marriage certificate of Jack Millard Elam and Jean Louise Hodgert.
- ^ 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 Archived October 1, 2020, at the Wayback Machine
- ^ a b "Arizona, Birth Certificates and Indexes, 1855-1930", William Scott Elam, Miami, Gilda County, Arizona, November 13, 1920, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Arizona State Board of Health, Phoenix. Microfilm image of original birth certificate signed by attending physician Cyril M. Crow, M.D.; retrieved online via FamilySearch archives, Salt Lake City, Utah, October 2, 2022.
- ^ "Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920 Population Schedule", household of Millard Elam, Miami, Arizona, January 23–24, 1920; digitized image of original census page, ED [Enumeration District] 42, sheet 11B, line 85, family 257; National Archive Records Administration. Image of original census page retrieved via FamilySearch, December 11, 2022.
- ^ "Arizona Deaths, 1870-1951", digital image of original death certificate of Alice Kirby Elam, September 7, 1924; Globe, Gila County, Arizona; Department of Library and Archives, Phoenix, Arizona. Image of original death certificate retrieved via FamilySearch, October 1, 2022.
- ^ a b c McCormick, Tiffany. "Jack Elam (1920-2003)", Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of Portland State University and The Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
- ^ "Arizona, County Marriages, 1871-1964," Millard Elam and Flossie I. Varney, April 8, 1928; Maricopa, Pinal County, Arizona; microfilm copy (004251440) of original marriage license and certificate, Arizona Department of Libraries, Archives, and Public Records, Phoenix. Retrieved via FamilySearch, October 2, 2022.
- ^ a b "Fifteenth Census of the United States: 1930 Population Schedule", household of Millard Elam, Miami, Gila County, Arizona, April 8, 1930; digitized image of original census page, ED 42, sheet 11B, line 85, family 257; NARA. Retrieved via FamilySearch, October 2, 2022.
- ^ a b c d e Exshaw, John (2003). "Jack Elam: Veteran baddie, he acted in more than 50 films", obituary, The Guardian (London, UK), October 28, 2003, p. 25. Retrieved via ProQuest Historical Newspapers (Ann Arbor, Michigan) through subscription at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, October 2, 2022.
- ^ a b Martin, Douglas (2003).
- ^ a b Shain, Percy (1974). "Mean Jack Elam really isn't", The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), September 22, 1974, p. B7. Retrieved via ProQuest, October 2, 2022.
- ^ "Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population Schedule", household of Jack M. Elam, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, April 29, 1940; digitized image of original census page, Enumeration District 14, 60-1131; NARA. Retrieved via FamilySearch, December 30, 2022.
- ^ Magers, Boyd. "Characters and Heavies: Jack Elam", Western Clippings, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
- ^ Wadey, Paul (October 23, 2003). "Jack Elam Archetypal villain in film and TV westerns". The Independent. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved November 27, 2009.
- ^ a b c "Jack Elam hadn't been bad for years", interview, The Baltimore Sun, July 30, 1974, p. B4. Retrieved via ProQuest, October 4, 2022.
- ^ Aikman, Bonnie (1962). "D.C. Studios: We'd Better Dig Up a Sheriff...", Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), December 2, 1962, p. 35. Retrieved via "Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers", Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, D.C., January 11, 2023.
- ^ a b "The Dakotas (WB)(1963) Larry Ward, Jack Elam, Chad Everett, Mike Greene". January 11, 2023. Archived from the original on September 4, 2004.
- ^ "Jeffrey Hunter Will Star in Title Role of 'Temple Houston'", N.B.C. trade release issued July 18, 1963 by National Broadcasting Company, New York, N.Y. Retrieved via Internet Archive, San Francisco, California, January 11, 2023.
- ^ "The Night of the Grizzly (1966)", catalog, American Film Institute (AFI), Los Angeles, California. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
- ^ "The Way West (1967)", catalog, AFI. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
- ^ "Once Upon a Time in the West The opening sequence 1", seven-minute digitized segment from Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), posted by "prytz1000" on the streaming service YouTube "7 years ago" . Retrieved January 4, 2023.
- ^ "The Cannonball Run (1981)". Allrovi. Archived from the original on June 6, 2019. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
- ^ "The Cannonball Run (1981)" and "Cannonball Run II (1984)", AFI catalog. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
- ^ "'Aurora' paced well with kindly charm". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 7, 1986. pp. 1B, 2B. Retrieved via Newspapers.com, January 5, 2023.
- ^ "Where the Hell's That Gold (1988) Western Movie", digitized copy of full film (1:26:33), originally uploaded to YouTube by "Massmo" [c. 2015]. Retrieved January 5, 2023.
- ^ "Great Western Performers". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved January 4, 2023.
- ^ "California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994", database with images, microfilm copy of original death certificate of Jean Hodgert Elam, January 24, 1961; California Department of Health, Sacramento. Retrieved via FamilySearch archives.
- ^ "California Marriage Index, 1960-1985", database with marriage certificate of Jack Elam and Margaret M. Jennison, Los Angeles, California, August 23, 1961; Center of Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento. Retrieved via FamilySearch archives, December 31, 2022.
- McCormack, Tiffany. "Jack Elam". The Oregon Encyclopedia.
- Mahar, Ted (October 4, 1998). "A Sampling of Elam's Movies". The Oregonian. p. L10.
- 1920 United States Census, Arizona, Gila County, Miami
- 1924 September 7; Arizona Original Certificate of Death for Alice Amelia Kerby Elam
- 1930 United States Census, Arizona, Gila County, Miami
- 2003 October 20; Oregon Certificate of Death for Jack Elam
- Media related to Jack Elam at Wikimedia Commons
- Jack Elam at IMDb
- Literature on Jack Elam