Filled Under: Elisha Cook Jr.
Elisha Cook, Jr. was an American character actor whose acting career spanned more than 60 years with roles in films such as “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), “The Big Sleep” (1946) and “Shane” (1953).
Elisha Cook was born December 26, 1903 in San Francisco, California. He grew up in Chicago and started out in vaudeville by the age of fourteen. Cook made his first big screen role at the age of seventeen in “The Unborn Child” in 1930. Cook spent his next few years as a traveling actor in the East Coast and the Midwest before arriving in New York City where Eugene O’Neill cast him in his play “Ah, Wilderness!”, which ran on Broadway for two years (1933-35). After his Broadway run Cook settled in Hollywood where he began a movie career of playing weaklings, sadistic losers, and small time gangsters, quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s most notable fall guys. Although short and slight of frame his ability to play these type of roles, many times with such passion and ferocity, he was often referred to as the movie industry’s lightest ‘heavy’.
Elisha Cook’s most memorable Hollywood film role was as the “gunsel” Wilmer Cook who tries to intimidate Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” (1941). It was to Cook whom Bogart spat, “The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter”. Cook is also remembered for the sexual innuendo in his scene as the mysterious drummer Cliff March after encountering Ella Raines in “Phantom Lady” (1944). Other notable roles included the doomed informant Harry Jones in “The Big Sleep” (1946), a henchman of the murderous title character in “Born to Kill” (1947), the pugnacious ex-Confederate soldier ‘Stonewall’ Torrey in “Shane” (1953), and George Peatty, the shady, cuckolded husband in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” (1956).
Cook also had roles in movies such as “Ball of Fire’ (1941), “Dark Waters” (1944), “House on Haunted Hill” (1959) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968). He also made a couple rare appearances in slapstick comedy as the cameo role of The Screenwriter in “Hellzapoppin'” (1941) and in “A-Haunting We Will Go” (1942) with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
During his career Cook appeared in many television series including “Adventures of Superman”, “The Real McCoys”, “The Wild Wild West”, “The Fugitive”, “Perry Mason”, “Star Trek”, “Batman” and had a long-term recurring role as Honolulu crime lord ‘Ice Pick’ on CBS’s hit series “Magnum, P.I.”.
Cook lived most of his adult life California, typically summering on Lake Sabrina in the Sierra Nevada. According to the legendary director John Huston, who directed him in The Maltese Falcon: “[Cook] lived alone up in the High Sierra, tied flies and caught golden trout between films. When he was wanted in Hollywood, they sent word up to his mountain cabin by courier. He would come down, do a picture, and then withdraw again to his retreat.”
Cook was married twice, to Mary Lou Cook in 1929 (divorced in 1942) and Peggy McKenna Cook in 1943, a union which lasted until his death. He had no children.
Elisha Cook Jr. died of a stroke on May 18, 1995 in Big Pine, California, aged 91. At the time of his death Cook was the last surviving member of the main cast of “The Maltese Falcon”.