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Today we celebrate the birth of a movie bad guy

Dan Webster

Above: Jack Elam in the 1970 Western "Rio Lobo." (Photo:

Some of us remember when Patsy Clark’s was still a restaurant. I certainly do, since it was where Mary Pat Treuthart and I held our wedding dinner in 1995.

A few years before that, though, was when I had my Jack Elam moment.

Elam, as most movie fans will know, was a veteran television and movie star who famously played villains. His page shows 206 credits as an actor, ranging from noirs (“Kiss Me Deadly”) to Westerns (“Rio Lobo”) to comedies (“The Cannonball Run”).

I started thinking about Elam this morning because, though he died in 2003 at the age of 82, today is his birthday.

Just recently, I watched him in a MeTV episode of the Western series “The Rifleman.” That night at Patsy Clark’s I got a much closer view.

Elam and a woman I presumed was his wife walked past our table on their way to a back room. I recognized him at once, which wasn’t difficult. Elam had one of the most recognizable faces in film history.

So I asked our server to send a bottle of wine to his table, and I included a hand-written note that said something like “Thanks for all the great movie memories.” My scrawl was so bad that he might have found it illegible.

In any event, he didn’t respond. Which didn’t bother me. I just hope he enjoyed the wine as much as I’ve enjoyed his performances over the years.

(And to be perfectly frank, if by chance the guy wasn’t Elam, I hope whoever the guy was enjoyed the wine as well.)

Besides his acting, another thing I liked about Elam was his humility. His page has a quote I particularly admire:

“The heavy today is usually not my kind of guy,” he said. “In the old days, Rory Calhoun was the hero because he was the hero and I was the heavy because I was the heavy – and nobody cared what my problem was. And I didn't either. I robbed the bank because I wanted the money. I've played all kinds of weirdos but I've never done the quiet, sick type. I never had a problem – other than the fact I was just bad.”

To which it’s easy to add, few movie actors were ever so good at being so bad.

Below: Jack Elam gets bested by Lee Marvin in the 1958 series "M Squad."

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