When you watch the amount of westerns I did growing up you can’t help but begin to focus in on the guy to the left of the central villain. Actors like Robert J. Wilke, Strother Martin and of course the guy with the odd stare, Jack Elam.
Jack has appeared as more back shooting characters than I can recall without a list in front of me. In Rawhide opposite Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward he isn’t above killing a child, he was on the wrong end of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral opposite Burt and Kirk and turned up in Firecreek tormenting Jimmy Stewart. Throughout the fifties and early sixties he appeared opposite most of the rugged leading men of the era. Usually on the wrong side of the law and rarely making it through the final reel.
As the sixties came to a close, Jack seemed to find a niche in comedy roles which offered both him and we the viewer a nice change of pace. In Night of the Grizzly opposite Clint Walker he played a kindly old timer who takes a shine to Walker and Martha Hyer’s new homesteading family nicknaming their little girl Buttercup. Then there was the two Support films ( one and two)opposite James Garner. How about his hilarious comedic role as the blind gunfighter in Cockeyed Cowboys. That’s a role he essentially redid in a television film opposite Willie Nelson that joined him with many of his western fraternity like Royal Dano, Gene Evans, Ken Curtis and Dub Taylor.
Let us not forgot his opening scenes in the Leone classic Once Upon a Time in the West. “Frank sent us.”
Even though I won’t sing the praises of Cannonball Run it was funny to see him as the needle crazed Doc in the back of Burt Reynolds ambulance.
His television work was extensive and with the western reaching a fever pitch in the late fifties and early sixties he would turn up regularly on shows like Gunsmoke. Later on I recall a brief series he starred in opposite Loni Anderson called Easy Street.
All in all seeing Jack turn up in any film from any genre is always a pleasure.
Here are a couple youtube links to enjoy.
Jack appearing on David Letterman displaying a wonderful sense of humor and comedic timing.
Clint Walker talking Jack.
Jack Elam 1920-2003