By Danny Haralson
April 17, 2013
Even if you do not know him by name, you know him by his face and Jack Elam lived for a short time in Safford when he was 10 or 11 years old.
He was born Nov. 13, 1918, in Miami, Ariz. His parents were Millard and Alice Amelia Kirby Elam. It was Alice who had the local connection, with her parents being Alma Kirby and Amelia Rogers. Jack, whose real name was William Scott Elam, had an older sister Mildred. When Jack's mother died in 1924, Mildred and Jack were pretty much of a burden to the father and although he disliked most Mormons, Millard disliked his wife's family even more. He had grown to like, know and trust a nearby LDS member named Nephi Lot Smith and his wife Zetta who lived in Pima before moving to Miami and later back to Safford. Nephi and his wife never had children of their own and in 1930 Jack's sister Mildred went to live with the Smith family and Jack became an infrequent visitor. The Smiths later took in Jack's half brother and sister Raymond and Kay Jean and adopted them. They too attended school in Safford with Raymond becoming a horse jockey.
Jack worked as a youngster, gleaning cotton in the fields and probably attended school in Safford in 1927 or 1928. He lost his left eye when he was 12 in an accident at scout camp by playing with a knife. He attended Phoenix Union High School and after graduation, moved to California where he attended Modesto and Santa Monica junior colleges. He worked as a hotel manager and then as an accountant for Standard Oil. He served two years in the U.S. Navy during World War II and upon return, he joined “William Boyd's Hopalong Cassidy Productions” as an auditor.
In 1948, Elam quit work as an accountant after being warned that he was risking the use of his good eye in that type of work. He used his accounting skills to help raise money for three low budget films in return for acting parts and in 1949 made his film debut in “Trailin West.” It was the first of many character parts in television and mostly western movies.
In most of Elam's parts, he made good use of his dead eye, heavy brows and stubbled face, along with his gravelly voice and after seeing him in his many parts, it was almost always him you remembered best and last.
He died of heart failure on Oct. 20, 2003, in Ashland, Ore.