October 22, 2003 by

Jack Elam


Categories: Actors

Jack Elam, a character actor who spent six decades playing villains in westerns and gangster films, died on Oct. 20. Cause of death was not released. He was 84.
Elam had a gruff, cockeyed look that was disconcerting but memorable. He obtained it during a childhood fight when a fellow Boy Scout stabbed him in the left eye with a pencil, blinding him.
Originally an accountant, Elam started landing small parts in feature films during the 1940s and 1950s. He helped arrange financing for the movie, “The Sundowners,” in exchange for a decent role in the film. But it was his appearance in the 1951 film, “Rawhide,” that made Elan a star.
One of the most sought-after supporting actors in Hollywood, Elam appeared in over 100 films, including “The Man From Laramie,” “Sonora,” “High Noon” and “Gunfight at the OK Corral.” He also acted in two TV reunion shows for the western, “Bonanza.”
Elam was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1994.

21 Responses to Jack Elam

  1. Buddy Rivers

    Goodbye Jack Elam
    I once heard you say that their was 3 stages in your movie life
    who is Jack Elam Get me Jack Elam Who is Jack Elam I Know A Great Western Actor who will be sadly missed in my home Rest Jack

  2. Claude M. Rossman

    i considered jack to be one of the very best charactor actors. Loved him in all the TV westerns he was associated with. and various western movies he wasa in. I will miss him.

  3. Bart

    I have seen Jack in many, many westerns, I don’t think he ever got the recognition he deserved. One of the best western actors ever, as his filmogrophy represents.

  4. Alexis Hover

    Mr. Elam was one of the most distinctive western actors that ever lived. Although not blessed with the looks of a Cary Grant, from what I have read he he had the heart of a king! Recently I purchased a home in Tucson AZ from built in 1947. After some shuffling through records I came to understand Mr. Elam lived in my little house, preobably while doing work at Old Tucson Studios for Support Your Local Sheriff. What an honor. Rest in Peace Jack!

  5. janice

    Jack Elam’s cock-eyed look could make the hairs on your neck stand straight, but with one line from him showing gentleness and a smile, you wanted to take him home with you. Rest in peace and give us a smile once in a while.


    Im still colecting Jacks movies and I have 36 and am still looking… I didnt like to see him shot or killed too early in the movie.. Great actor!!

  7. Gaylene

    Every once in awhile I think of Jack Elam. Today I thought of him and had the opportunity to log on. I knew he was getting up there in age, but still am sorry to find out that he passed away in 2003. Always wanted to write him a letter, because I live in Oregon, too.

  8. Geoff Brandner

    I briefly met Jack Elam on a ferry ride across the Straits of Juan de Fuca. He looked in 1991 exactly as he did in the western movies he made. Several passengers recognized him and he was very friendly and happy for the recognition. In fact he was so generous with his time that I felt compelled to buy him a beer on board. He gulped it down then smiled as well as telling me that I helped a thirsty man but could I get him a shot of ” redeye “. Always the actor that Jack.

  9. Ismari Gauthier

    I live in Georgia USA but, I was born in Puerto Rico.One day I was watching a film of Mr. Jack Elam and a friend of mine said that he was a puertorrican descendant, I always felt proud of him because he was puertorrican,but even if he was or not it doesn’t matter, what does matter is that he was a great actor!

  10. Darlene Phelps

    I worked briefly with Mr. Elam in 1987, while he was an actor in the movie “Hawkens Breed”. He was such a pleasurable person to have been acquainted with. He really was a drinker like his friend, Mr. Hassan, has stated. He was so much fun to work with. I feel so honored that I had the opportunity to meet this wonderful man.

  11. marv miracle

    I loved to watch jacks movies my dad loves westerns we went to old tuson in the 70s and MR ELAM was shooting amovie it was a vampire western i would sure like to seeit they changed the title of it after the filming mydad told me the story about his eye it was sad but it sure made him the actor he was miss you MR ELAM.

  12. Joseph Kinneary

    If you haven’t seen Jack Elam in the epic “Once upon a time in the West” then you haven’t seen it all. What a great role he had, although short, with Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, and Janson Robards. The ultimate!!! This was a spaggetti Western!!!!!!

  13. bobby

    jack was one of a kind, he was a good actor, there’s not to many good actors left today that when i was a kid growing up the best are gone now i miss that alot i wish they where still here i dont enjoy the ones to today there not here to entertain us, jack rest in peace

  14. Joseph Caro

    During an interview with actor Jack Elam who is billed as “The Man We Love To Hate” because his historic rolls as the “bad guy” Jack told me how he loves to play poker on Friday night and uses aluminum Hoppy coins as chips! I was determined to get to the bottom of what seemed to me a highly ironic story about how the “baddest of the bad” (jack) ever crossed trails with the “goodest of the good” (Hoppy).
    Like many film stars, Jack Elam began his career in a totally different line of work. Jack was a Hollywood accountant with the proven ability of the financial workings of film-making in Hollywood. Jack actually went to work for Bill Boyd in the fledging Hopalong Cassidy productions company that Bill started when he bought the ‘rights’ for the films in 1945. Boyd needed someone who had the savvy to get film production money for at least 12 more Hoppy films.
    Jack’s story as told to Joe Caro:
    “We were small, really small back then” Jack stated, “but we all saw the potential and worked almost around the clock”.
    In the beginning, there were only three of us in a small rented office on Vine street. Bill had the middle office with connecting doors to my office and that of the film producer, Lou Rachmil. Getting financial interest in a new company was really my job. Anyway, Bill had this idea to promote his new film interest by starting a series of Hopalong Casssidy Rodeo’s and selected Hawaii to be the location of the first one, because nobody had ever done a rodeo there. So we all flew down.
    As a promotion for the rodeo parade, Bill and I got the idea to design a keepsake coin that he would pass out when in the parade and guest appearances. We came up with the idea of having Hoppy’s head stamped on both sides and he could toss them out to the crowds of fans. So I went to work, on short notice, and had 100,000 made from aluminum. The cost us somewhere around 1/10 of a cent each.
    To make a long story short, the rodeo idea really bombed. On the first day, we had maybe 2,500 folks there in a stadium that sat 25,000. The next day we were down to 1,500 and by the third day it was less than 1,000. We lost a lot of money on the rodeo scheme, and remember, it was all borrowed funds. Anyway, we ended up flying back to California with a few buck left, and nearly 94,000 Hoppy coins!
    I left Bill in 1948 because my eyesight was failing as an accountant and under my doctors advice. I decided to try acting and do a western or two myself. I was cast as the ‘heavy” in a few films and presto, I became the ultimate bad guy in films.
    Oh, the Hoppy coins . . . I end up throwing them all away except for one bag of 1,000 which I kept as a memento of the Hawaii disaster! I built a coffee table in the shape of a horseshoe and inlaid about 300 coins there and used the rest, to this day, for poker chips! I’ve been offered $15.00 for any of the first Hoppy coins made, but I won’t sell ’em. But I sometimes wish I could remember just where I dumped the other 94,000!
    More Resources:
    Hopalong Cassidy Collectibles by J. Caro
    Dan Spiegle, Hopalong Cassidy Illustrator More Cowboy Heros

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