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Subject: ARCHIVE: November 13, 1920 ~Hollywood veteran character actor extraordinaire JACK ELAM, whose talents spanned over 50 years in screen roles in drama and comedy, in films and TV roles from memorable performances as in the classic "Once Upon A Time in the West", to TV's "Twilight Zone", parlaying his cock-eyed persona into character gold, was born 100 years ago today! ...
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. Elam played in 73 movies and made appearances in 41 television series. Some of his more memorable performances were in Once Upon a Time in the West, High Noon, Support Your Local Sheriff!, and on the anthology series The Twilight Zone, and on the series Gunsmoke.
Early life ...
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. By 1930, he was living with his father, older sister Mildred, and their stepmother, Flossie Varney Elam. He grew up picking cotton. Elam lost the sight in his left eye when he was stabbed with a pencil during a boyhood altercation with a fellow Boy Scout.
...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, also attending Santa Monica Junior College in California.
Elam 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. For a time, he was the manager of the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.
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. During this period, however, Elam appeared most often in Westerns and gangster films, usually in roles as a villain.
...On television in the 1950s and 1960s, he made multiple guest-star appearances on many popular Western series, 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?". 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". In 1963, Elam received a rare chance to play the good guy, reformed gunfighter and Deputy U.S. Marshal J. D. Smith, in the ABC/Warner Bros. series The Dakotas, a Western intended as the successor of Cheyenne, but The Dakotas was telecast for only 19 episodes. He played George Taggart, a gunslinger-turned-marshal, in the NBC/WB 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 26 weeks.
In 1966, Jack Elam co-starred with Clint Walker in the Western film 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. In a classic,
mainly silent scene, Elam spends a memorable performance trying to trap an annoying fly in his gun barrel. ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pA3rlIHLFco
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 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 short-lived comedy series, The Texas Wheelers', inwhich he played the long-lost father returning home to raise his four children after their mother dies. 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 (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 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, Cannonball Run II, w/Burt Reynolds. ...
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. The documentary I Am Not a Freak shows the closeness of 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 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), David Huddleston 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. (Huddleston said this on a George Plimpton ABC
documentary about the making of Rio Lobo; Ricardo Montalbán later used the recitation numerous times in speeches with his own name.)
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 ...
Jack Elam was married twice, first to Jean Hodgert from 1937 to her death in 1961, and later married Margaret Jennison,
from 1961 until his own death. Jack Elam died of congestive heart failure in Ashland, Oregon, in 2003, just one month
before his 83rd birthday, and is survived by his second wife and daughter, and a son and daughter from his previous marriage. ...