Jack Elam

Active - 1947 - 2013  |   Born - Nov 13, 1920   |   Died - Oct 20, 2003   |   Genres - Western, Action, Comedy, Adventure

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Biography by Hal Erickson

A graduate of Santa Monica Junior College, Jack Elam spent the immediate post-World War II years as an accountant, numbering several important Hollywood stars among his clients. Already blind in one eye from a childhood fight, Elam was in danger of losing the sight in his other eye as a result of his demanding profession. Several of his show business friends suggested that Elam give acting a try; Elam would be a natural as a villain. A natural he was, and throughout the 1950s Elam cemented his reputation as one of the meanest-looking and most reliable "heavies" in the movies. Few of his screen roles gave him the opportunity to display his natural wit and sense of comic timing, but inklings of these skills were evident in his first regular TV series assignments: The Dakotas and Temple Houston, both 1963. In 1967, Elam was given his first all-out comedy role in Support Your Local Sheriff, after which he found his villainous assignments dwindling and his comic jobs increasing. Elam starred as the patriarch of an itinerant Southwestern family in the 1974 TV series The Texas Wheelers (his sons were played by Gary Busey and Mark Hamill), and in 1979 he played a benign Frankenstein-monster type in the weekly horror spoof Struck By Lightning. Later TV series in the Elam manifest included Detective in the House (1985) and Easy Street (1987). Of course Elam would also crack up audiences in the 1980s with his roles in Cannonball Run and Cannonball Run II. Though well established as a comic actor, Elam would never completely abandon the western genre that had sustained him in the 1950s and 1960s; in 1993, a proud Elam was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. Two short years later the longitme star would essay his final screen role in the made for television western Bonanza: Under Attack.

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