Jack Elam

Jack Elam

ASHLAND, ORE.--Venerable character actor Jack Elam, who often played deranged villains in Westerns such as "Rawhide" and "Wichita," but whom MSTies remember as deranged small-town pervert Jesse in episode 509- GIRL IN LOVER'S LANE, died at his home here Oct. 20 of an unspecified illness. He was 84.

Born in 1918 (not 1916 as most biographers state--Elam lied about his age to get into show business early) in Miami, Ariz., he spent most of his life blind in one eye due to an incident when he was 12: A boy threw a pencil at him and struck him in the eye.

By the 1940s, Elam had moved to California, and graduated from Santa Monica Junior College. After working as a theater manager and hotel manager, he got a job at Samuel Goldwyn Studios as a bookkeeper, and eventually became Office Controller for cowboy star William Boyd at Hopalong Cassidy Productions. While working there, he occasionally appeared onscreen in uncredited bit parts, and caught the acting bug.

He helped arrange financing for the 1950 film "The Sundowners" in exchange for a larger role--a performance that was quickly followed by a star-making turn in 1951's "Rawhide," starring Tyrone Power.

From there, Elam was in demand and worked steadily through the mid-1980s. In addition to his many Western villain roles, he also demonstrated a fine comedic sense, and played a number of offbeat roles in comedies as well.

His films included 1955's "Artists and Models," 1957's "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," 1968's "Once Upon a Time in the West," 1969's "Support Your Local Sheriff" and 1980's "Cannonball Run." He was also a co-star in six different TV series, and made dozens of guest-starring appearances in TV series over nearly four decades--including 20 episodes of the series "Gunsmoke." In the mid-1980s he began to slow down his work schedule, and his final screen credit came in 1993. The following year he was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

Elam is survived by his second wife, Jennie; a daughter and two sons.