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the perils of Scouting

December 7, 2012

Jack Elam had a Hollywood career that spanned 50+ years and 200+ roles. His trademark

look was his bulging eyes, the left one of which was sightless and immobile.  When he was

12, a fellow Boy Scout stuck a pencil in it.

 

Wikipedia states that he debuted in 1949’s “She Shoulda Said ‘No’!” as Henchman

Raymond.  It was a wildly inaccurate portrayal of marijuana use, following in the

hysterical footsteps of Reefer Madness.  The authoritative website imdb lists Elam’s

first role as The Killer in the short Trailin’ West.

 

Elam broke out in 1950, when he was in nine movies.  He had been running a successful

accounting service, but the strain of all-day paperwork was harmful to his one good eye.

He told a client who was having trouble finding financing for three Westerns that he

would arrange the money in exchange for roles in each film.

 

He specialized as a villain in oaters and crime dramas for years.  He appeared on many

classic TV Westerns, including Zorro, The Rifleman, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and Bonanza.

In 1963 he got his own series and got to be a good guy in the short-lived The Dakotas.

 

Comedic roles trickled in.  In 1960 he starred with Phil Silvers and Jack Benny in the TV

movie The Slowest Gun in the West.  Five years later he was on the satirical Western

series F Troop.  At the end of the decade, Elam appeared in Support Your Local Sheriff!

and The Over-the-Hill Gang.

 

In 1979 he starred in another series that ran for only three episodes.  Called Struck by

Lightning, he played Frankenstein’s Monster for humourous effect.  Apparently nowhere

near enough humorous effect.

 

This sampling of dialogue may shed light on its demise.  Elam’s character, explaining to his

new master — a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein — that he needs the doctor to make him a

special serum he takes every 50 years to stay alive: “If you don’t, I’ll die.  Let me put it

another way.  If you don’t, you’ll die.”

 

He once described the arc of his career in five stages: “Who is Jack Elam?” , “Get me Jack

Elam.”, “I want a Jack Elam type.”, “I want a younger Jack Elam.” and “Who is Jack Elam?”

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