What made the movie and television western so very successful wasn’t just the cowboy
heroes we came to idolize. It was those magnificent character actors who were the
sidekicks, saddletramps, bankrobbers, and plain old bad guys that convincingly made our
hero look so good. One of the finest of these was Jack Elam.
What made the movie and television western so very successful wasn’t just the cowboy heroes we came to idolize. It was those magnificent character actors who were the sidekicks, saddletramps, bankrobbers, and plain old bad guys that convincingly made our hero look so good. One of the finest of these was Jack Elam.
He had a most distinguishable look about him that enabled him to assume a lifetime of memorable roles as a character actor. Part of his “look” came from an off center left eye that was left sightless from a fight in his childhood. He was born November 13, 1916 in Miami, Arizona. As a boy he worked in the cotton fields. Later, he attended Santa Monica Junior College in California. He became an accountant and for a time, he managed the Bel Air Hotel. He obtained his first movie job by trading his accounting services for a role, and was on his way to becoming one of the greatest supporting actors in Hollywood for decades.
His movie career began in 1949 and lasted into the late eighties. His most memorable films include “The Sundowners”, “The Gunfighter”, “High Noon”, “Cattle Queen of Montana”, “The Far Country”, “Gunfight At The O.K. Corral”, “The Commancheros”, “Support Your Local Sheriff”, “Rio Lobo”, “Cat Ballou”, and so many, many, more. In television he appeared on the “Zane Grey Theater”, “Wanted: Dead Or Alive”, “Yancy Derringer”, “Wagon Train”, “Gunsmoke”, “Zorro”, “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”, “The Untouchables”, “The Big Valley”, and in a number of Warner Brothers Television westerns, “Bronco”, “Cheyenne”, and “Sugarfoot” as “Toothy Thompson”. He visited Northfork and “The Rifleman” on five occasions in various roles from 1958-61.
Recently, he related his thoughts on “The Rifleman” show and Chuck Connors: “The Rifleman” was one of the best series from the good old days of television when westerns were king. I miss those days! I knew Paul Fix, having worked with him more than once prior to “The Rifleman”. He was a fine gentleman, excellent actor, and father of Harry Carey Jr.’s wife Marilyn. My first meeting with Chuck Connors was on “The Rifleman”, although we worked together on feature pictures afterwards. I’m not sure how many of “The Riflemans” I worked in. It’s been so long since “The Rifleman” that my recollections of Chuck are clearer from “Support Your Local Gunfighter”, and “Once Upon A Texas Train”. I used to see him at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City. I stayed there when working in Los Angeles and Chuck frequently drove down from Tehachapi (where he lived) to have breakfast with me. Chuck was big, strong, and spirited. It was a great surprise to me when he passed away.”(Excerpt from a personal recollection to a friend of this web site). Jack Elam was inducted into the Cowboy Hall Of Fame in 1994.
Today, the actor is retired and lives in Oregon. It can almost safely be said there were very few movie or television westerns from the 1950’s through the 1980’s that didn’t include the fine acting talent of Jack Elam. If he didn’t appear in some, they were lacking a very key ingredient. Character actors often have that most recognizable face, but often their names are very hard to place. Everyone knows Jack Elam. That is a tribute in itself. Thank you for years of entertainment pleasure you have given us, Mr. Elam. We tip our hats to you.