FROM BIG SCREEN TO TROUT STREAM
Character actor Elisha Cook Jr.
He was a small man with worried eyes who played two-bit gunsels and losers in film noir movies of the 1940s and 1950s. In all, he acted in 21 films noir, more than any other actor or actress, in a career that began in 1930 and lasted 60 years.
Before his transformation to small-time gangsters and luckless cowboys, Elisha Cook Jr. was in vaudeville, and on the Broadway stage, notably in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness in 1933.
After a string of frivolous movies, the 5-foot-5 Cook became, if not a household name, a household face, one of the most recognizable character actors in the gangster movies The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet, and in the western Shane with Alan Ladd and Jack Palance.
Elisha Cook Jr. in The Maltese Falcon, 1941
Elisha Cook Jr. in the western classic Shane, 1953
Thereafter came scores of guest parts in TV shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason and The Twilight Zome, and memorable roles in movies that included Electra Glide in Blue (1973) and Tom Horn (1980).
LIVED ALONE IN A CABIN IN THE MOUNTAINS
Cook was never part of Hollywood society. He was married twice but had no children; his second wife pre-deceased him. When he wasn’t making movies with Bogie, he lived alone in a cabin in the small California town of Bishop and fished for trout in Lake Sabrina in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
He had no phone. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent word up to his mountain retreat by courier. He would come down, do the picture, and go back to his hideaway. His solitary life in the mountains reminds me of the last years of St. Elsewhere actor Ed Flanders.
Elisha Cook Jr died in a nursing home on May 18, 1995, in the small Sierra-Nevada town of Big Pine, at the age of 91. He had the best of both worlds: money and fame; and solitude.
He was the last surviving member of the main cast of the 1941 film noir classic The Maltese Falcon.