Actor Jack Elam

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.

Elam performed in 73 movies and in at least 41 television series. Some of his more memorable roles are in Once Upon a Time in the West, High Noon, Support Your Local Sheriff!, and on the series The Twilight Zone and 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 September 1924, when Jack was only three. 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.


Before his acting career, Elam worked as a bookkeeper at the Bank of America in Los Angeles and as an auditor for the Standard Oil Company. He then served two years during World War II in the United States Navy and subsequently became an independent accountant in Hollywood, where one of his clients was movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. For a time, he was also 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, 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”.

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. The Dakotas was ran for 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. That series ran for 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. 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 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, in which 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.

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.

Personal life and death

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.



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 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
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
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 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
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


Title Year Role Episode
Have Gun – Will Travel 1958 Joe Gage “The Man Who Lost” (Written by Ida Lupino)
The Texan 1958 Tug Swann “The Eastener”
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 Madora’s Husband “Where’d They Go”
The Twilight Zone 1961 Crazy Man “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”
The Untouchables 1962 Jug Alverson “Pressure”
Gunsmoke 1964 Hector “Homecoming”
Bonanza 1961 Dodie Hoad “The Spitfire”
Bonanza 1967 Buford Buckalew “A Bride for Buford”
Bonanza 1970 Honest John “Honest John”
Gunsmoke 1971 Lucas Murdoch “Murdoch”
The Texas Wheelers 1974–1975 Zack Wheeler Main role; 8 episodes
How the West Was Won 1976 Cully Madigan 2 episodes
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 T.V. Movie
Bonanza: Under Attack 1995 Buckshot T.V. Movie

External Links

Actor Jack Elam – Wikipedia

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