James Ellison (born James Ellison Smith; May 4, 1910 – December 23, 1993) was an American film actor who appeared in nearly 70 films from 1932 to 1962.
Ellison was born in Guthrie Center, Iowa, the son of Edward James Smith and Ona Mary Ellis. He worked for a time in a film laboratory and while there was offered a screen test. He developed the film footage himself, and after he saw it, decided it was not satisfactory so he would not show it to the director. But the director saw it anyway and Ellison got a contract.
He spent much of his career in westerns, including a stint in the mid-1930s as Johnny Nelson, the sidekick of Hopalong Cassidy in Paramount’s highly successful series. Although he was a “supporting player” in the series, his name is oddly billed the same size and format as veteran actor and matinee idol William Boyd’s. Though it is not confirmed, this is believed to be because the character Johnny Nelson is very prominent in the original Hopalong Cassidy book series.
In 1936, he played his highest-profile role as Buffalo Bill in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman, which also starred Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. Although this film was a success, DeMille reportedly hated Ellison’s performance and wanted to be certain the young actor never appeared in a film of equal quality again.
In 1938, he played the role of Keith Morgan in the romantic comedy Vivacious Lady, receiving third billing to Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart.
The same year, he played a charming, romantic character opposite Lucille Ball in the RKO Pictures comedy Next Time I Marry. He later shared top billing with Ball in 1940’s You Can’t Fool Your Wife.
Ellison spent most of the remainder of his career shuttling between cowboy pictures and more varied roles, primarily in B movies like Mr. District Attorney in the Carter Case and The Undying Monster. He had a supporting role in 1941’s Charley’s Aunt (which starred Jack Benny) and played the romantic lead in 1943’s The Gang’s All Here, a Twentieth Century Fox musical in which he seemed somewhat lost among the vivid antics of Carmen Miranda, Charlotte Greenwood, and Edward Everett Horton (and was the only principal not to sing a note). He also co-starred with Tom Conway and Frances Dee in Val Lewton’s production of I Walked with a Zombie, directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Ellison landed another romantic lead role as Jerry Gibson in the musical film Lady, Let’s Dance (1944) which starred ice-skating sensation Belita. In 1950, Ellison landed the leading role in a series of B-western movies for Lippert Pictures, where he was billed as “Shamrock” Ellison.
In the early 1950s, Ellison moved from acting to real estate. Joining fellow veteran Jackie Coogan, Ellison returned to the screen to play Axel ‘Longhorn’ Gates in a picture called When the Girls Take Over (1962).
James Ellison died at age 83 in Montecito, California after suffering a broken neck as the result of a fall. He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.
Play Girl (1932) – Elmer
The Famous Ferguson Case (1932) – Lane–Reporter (uncredited)
Central Airport (1933) – Amarillo Pilot Crossing Fingers (uncredited)
Eight Girls in a Boat (1934) – Romantic Boy (uncredited)
Carolina (1934) – Dancer (uncredited)
Death on the Diamond (1934) – Cubs Player (uncredited)
Student Tour (1934) – Student (uncredited)
Buried Loot (1935, Short) – Bob – Detective (uncredited)
The Winning Ticket (1935) – Jimmy Powers
After Office Hours (1935) – Harvey (uncredited)
Reckless (1935) – Dale Every
Hop-Along Cassidy (1935) – Johnny Nelson
The Eagle’s Brood (1935) – Johnny Nelson
Bar 20 Rides Again (1935) – Johnny Nelson
Hitch Hike Lady (1935) – Jimmy Peyton
The Leathernecks Have Landed (1936) – Mac MacDonald
Heart of the West (1936) – Johnny Nelson
Call of the Prairie (1936) – Johnny Nelson
Three on the Trail (1936) – Johnny Nelson
The Plainsman (1936) – Buffalo Bill Cody
Trail Dust (1936) – Johnny Nelson
Borderland (1937) – Johnny Nelson
23 1/2 Hours’ Leave (1937) – Sgt. Robert Gray
The Barrier (1937) – Lieutenant Burrell
Annapolis Salute (1937) – Bill Martin
Vivacious Lady (1938) – Keith Morgan
Mother Carey’s Chickens (1938) – Ralph Thurston
Next Time I Marry (1938) – Anthony J. Anthony
Almost a Gentleman (1939) – Dan Preston
Zenobia (1939) – Jeff Carter
Sorority House (1939) – Bill Loomis
Hotel for Women (1939) – Jeff Buchanan
5th Ave Girl (1939) – Mike
You Can’t Fool Your Wife (1940) – Andrew ‘Hinkie’ Hinklin
Anne of Windy Poplars (1940) – Tony Pringle
Play Girl (1941) – Thomas Elwood Dice
They Met in Argentina (1941) – Tim Kelly
Charley’s Aunt (1941) – Jack Chesney
Ice-Capades (1941) – Bob Clemens
Mr. District Attorney in the Carter Case (1941) – P. Cadwallader Jones
Careful, Soft Shoulder (1942) – Thomas Aldrich
Army Surgeon (1942) – Capt. James ‘Jim’ Mason
That Other Woman (1942) – Henry Summers
The Undying Monster (1942) – Robert Curtis
Dixie Dugan (1943) – Roger Hudson
I Walked with a Zombie (1943) – Wesley Rand
Best Foot Forward (1943) – Cadet (uncredited)
The Gang’s All Here (1943) – Andy Mason
Lady, Let’s Dance (1944) – Jerry Gibson
Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1944) – Mike O’Brien
Hollywood and Vine (1945) – Larry Winters
G.I. War Brides (1946) – Steve Giles
Calendar Girl (1947) – Steve Adams
The Ghost Goes Wild (1947) – Monte Crandall
Last of the Wild Horses (1948) – Duke Barnum
Hostile Country (1950) – Shamrock Ellison
Everybody’s Dancin’ (1950) – Jimmy Ellison
Marshal of Heldorado (1950) – James Shamrock Ellison
Crooked River (1950) – Shamrock Ellison
Colorado Ranger (1950) – Shamrock Kid
West of the Brazos (1950) – James Everett Parkington ‘Shamrock’ Ellison
Fast on the Draw (1950) – Shamrock Ellison
I Killed Geronimo (1950) – Capt. Jeff Packard
The Texan Meets Calamity Jane (1950) – Gordon Hastings
Kentucky Jubilee (1951) – Jeff Benson
Oklahoma Justice (1951) – Clancy
Whistling Hills (1951) – Sheriff Dave Holland
Texas Lawmen (1951) – Sheriff Tod Merrick
Texas City (1952) – Jim Kirby
Man from the Black Hills (1952) – Jim Fallon
Dead Man’s Trail (1952) – Dan Winslow
When the Girls Take Over (1962) – Axel ‘Longhorn’ Gates (final film role)
Actor James Ellison – Wikipedia